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Tories break taboo with choice of lesbian as election candidate

The Conservative Party has chosen its first openly lesbian parliamentary candidate. Margot James, 46, a millionaire businesswoman, will challenge Labour's Frank Dobson in the London seat of Holborn and St Pancras.

Ms James said her selection yesterday as the first openly gay female Tory parliamentary candidate showed that the party was becoming more representative of the general population. "It is one of many signs that the Conservative Party has changed," said Ms James, who chairs a multi-million-pound public relations company. "We have quite a number of candidates from the ethnic minorities and 25 per cent of our target seats are being fought by women."

At present, the Tories have just just 13 female MPs.

Ms James, who was educated at Millfield School in Somerset and lives in South Kensington in west London, runs the Shire Health Group, the £12m a year company that she co-founded, which specialises in the pharmaceutical sector. She sold the company in 1999 to the PR giant WPP.

Ms James, whose partner is the television presenter Jay Hunt, who fronted the BBC show Would Like To Meet, said, however, that she was "irritated" with references to her sexuality. She said: "I think some of the things that appeared sum up the reason why some good people have been put off going into politics. I accept it; it's part of the real world and I accept it.

"I hope it won't be long before it's ignored by people. It's not as if I am the only person living in a same-sex relationship running for Parliament; it's a bit of a non-issue. It was certainly not raised by the people in Holborn and St Pancras."

The vast majority of Conservative MPs are white and male, although the Tory front bench already has an openly gay member in Alan Duncan, the shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs.

Theresa May, the former party chairman who was responsible for candidate selection, promised to expand the base of the party's prospective MPs.

The Holborn and St Pancras constituency is unlikely to send Ms James to Westminster, given that Mr Dobson boasts a solid 11,175 Labour majority. But her selection will put her in a strong position to fight a winnable constituency after the next general election. Ms James said: "I have spent the last 15 years in business, although politics has always been a keen interest. I have not got a long list of political credentials.

"Extraordinary things do happen in politics, but it would be very extraordinary indeed for a Conservative to beat Frank Dobson in Holborn and St Pancras.

"I would like to do a fabulous job there and open people's eyes to the Conservative message and engage them in that message. I do wonder why people continue returning Labour councillors and a Labour MP."