Duncan Smith appoints Asian vice-chairman

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Iain Duncan Smith will seek today to prove his commitment to multiculturalism by appointing the first Asian deputy chairman of the Tory party.

The Tory leader will appoint Shailesh Vara, a 41-year-old Asian solicitorwho was a parliamentary candidate at the general election, to the prominent post at Central Office.

Mr Duncan Smith will also appoint Mohammed Riaz as his special adviser on race issues, and recommend him as the Tory candidate for membership of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). Mr Riaz, who also fought a parliamentary seat unsuccessfully at the election, will be put forward for a vacancy that has arisen recently on the PCC.

But it will be Mr Vara's appointment that will receive the most attention, giving the Tories the chance to show that they take ethnic representation seriously. Mr Vara stood in the tight marginal of Northampton South at the election, but lost amid claims that Labour voters were encouraged to vote against him on racial grounds.

Tony Clarke, the Labour MP for the constituency, was forced to apologise last year when he claimed that racist voters would help him defeat Mr Vara. Mr Clarke plunged his party into an embarrassing row when he said his opponent was "exactly the right candidate – for all the wrong reasons".

Mr Vara told The Independent last night: "My appointment proves that the Tory party under Ian Duncan Smith is committed to multiculturalism and to appointments based entirely on merit."

Mr Duncan Smith is keen to rid the Tories of any links to racist opinion and moved swiftly to distance himself from the British National Party after it was revealed that one of his supporters was a sympathiser. The Tory leader also promised to investigate new claims that a Tory MP was a former deputy leader of the Klu Klux Klan in the United Kingdom.

But Mr Duncan Smith was facing a fresh controversy over extremism last night when it was reported that an Italian "neo-fascist" party, the Alleanza Nazionale, was seeking to team up with Tory MEPs in the European parliament.