May: 'Conservatives are male, white ... and sexist'

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Indy Politics

In an outspoken attack on the party's failure to select more female and black MPs, Ms May will say most people from ethnic minorities "probably don't even think we like them".

She will call on the party to ditch its opposition to positive discrimination, and let women fight half of the party's top 100 target seats. She accuses Tories who opposed affirmative action of living in the "Dark Ages" and said it was "the ultimate no-brainer" that the Tory party should select more women MPs. Her remarks, in a speech to the Fawcett Society which promotes women in public life, are likely to cause a furore and will be interpreted by many as a bid for the Tory leadership.

She is expected to say the party which only has 17 women MPs - less than 10 per cent of the parliamentary party - "just doesn't look like the people that it is claiming to represent".

"If the Conservative Party were a multinational company, it would be investigated for its equal opportunities policies. Looking at its elected representatives, you will see a predominantly white, male party."

She will say the party needs to take drastic action to be more representative which would be painful for some members. Calling on the party to mirror Tony Blair's fight to reform Labour, she will urge the Tory party to find "its Clause 4 moment" to demonstrate that it can be trusted with power. "We cannot just pay lip service to the need to elect more women and members of ethnic minorities as Conservative MPs." The party "will have to throw away traditional stereotypes and accept new ways of doing things."

She will ridicule the party for "rejoicing that we have elected a single black MP".

"Look at our dynamic and diverse society, made up of so many races and religions. And then consider the question, 'why doesn't that same British society think that we are the party to represent it?' It is the ultimate no-brainer! Quite simply, people don't think we resemble or understand them or their priorities. In fact, they probably don't even think we like them."

Her remarks mirror an outspoken speech during the Conservative conference three years ago when she said the Tories were perceived as the "nasty party."

She is expected to tell her audience today: "It will take the Conservative Party 400 years to achieve the equal representation of women within its ranks" without positive discrimination.

"Having suffered a third successive defeat at the hands of the electorate - and having flatlined in the polls for another electoral term - it is time for us to accept that the issue of equality within the party is much greater than many realise."

Tories have argued against "gender specific targets", saying they will not "patronise" women by choosing an "A-list"of 100 candidates 50 per cent of whom are women to fight the top target seats at the next election. Ms May is expected to point out that the Tory membership - and not MPs - should have the ultimate choice of who should be the next party leader, because otherwise the new leader would be selected predominantly by men.

David Cameron, the leadership contender, said the reason the Tories had not been trusted was that they had failed to make it clear that they were a party for everyone and not just "the privileged few".

"We haven't made sufficiently clear that the Conservative Party are a party for everyone in our country: rich and poor, urban and rural: black and white," he said yesterday. "Our proposals for reform have sometimes given the impression that we want to help those who already have advantages escape from public services."