Tories in candidate selection 'race bar'

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Indy Politics

William Hague was facing serious allegations last night that the Conservative Party's candidate selection process is inherently racist.

Andrew Thompson, a former agent for both Margaret Thatcher and John Major, has written to Michael Ancram, the party chairman, demanding an explanation why an eminent Asian barrister who has applied to be candidate in 13 safe seats has not been asked for interview by any of the constituency parties.

The stature of Mr Thompson, one of the party's most respected figures, means that the issue cannot be swept under the carpet by Mr Hague.

Mohammed Khamisa is mystified by his failure but is too loyal to the Tory party to suggest publicly that his rejections are racially motivated.

But his reticence is not shared by Mr Thompson, nor by black Tory peer Lord Taylor of Warwick.

As John Taylor he narrowly failed to become MP for Cheltenham in 1992 but his selection split the local Tory party and revealed deep-seated racism among many party members.

Lord Taylor, also a barrister, said: "This is monstrous. I'm shocked to hear Mr Khamisa hasn't even been given an interview. To my mind he is not only MP material, he is Cabinet material."

Mr Khamisa has been a member of the Conservative Party for 20 years, campaigned and canvassed for Mrs Thatcher in Finchley and stood against Roy Hattersley in 1992. He failed to get a seat in 1997 but his party record, which includes five years as a Barnet councillor, would normally secure an interview for a seat at the least.

But last night a senior Tory party source said: "Constituency chairman see his name and immediately bin the application. We have a hard enough time getting them to select women. Imagine how hard it is to get them to even consider a member of an ethnic minority."

Mr Khamisa's father fled Idi Amin's regime in Uganda in the 1970s with just £50 in his pocket. The family was welcomed in Finchley by Margaret Thatcher and has prospered. Mr Khamisa is now a criminal barrister specialising in corporate fraud.

Last night Mr Khamisa, who is determined to become a Tory MP, said: "If people with my party background don't even get an interview, then who are these constituencies selecting? I don't won't special favours or quotas but I do expect a level playing field from my party.

"I want to see the party become a mirror of the population and that means ethnic diversity as well as male and female diversity. That is the only way we can broaden our appeal to the electorate."

Lord Taylor took a blunter view. He said: "Tory party constituency chairman have to learn to look at CVs, look at whether the person can do the job, not at their name, colour of their skin or sex. All the parties have a problem with this but the Tories have a particular problem. The party is perceived as male, white and middle class and if that is not changed by placing people like Mr Khamisa in safe seats the party will never recover."

Mr Thompson said: "I think the Tory party can come back but not if loyal committed Tories like Mr Khamisa fail to even get interviews for seats."

A Tory party spokesman said he was not aware of Mr Thompson's letter to the chairman but insisted the party took the encouragement of ethnic minorities seriously. He added that Mr Hague was particularly concerned with the issue.