Tories refuse to select their candidates on sex or colour

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Liam Fox, the Tory chairman, attacked the Government's "minorities" agenda yesterday, insisting his party would select candidates on merit alone and not because of their colour or sex.

In a break with his predecessor, Theresa May, Dr Fox said he did not back any form of positive discrimination to get more women or people from ethnic minorities into Parliament.

Dr Fox stressed the Conservatives had been most successful when at their most meritocratic, be it under Benjamin Disraeli or Margaret Thatcher. As if to underline his point, the party announced Shailesh Vara, one of its vice-chairmen, had been selected for the safe Tory seat of North West Cambridgeshire currently held by Sir Brian Mawhinney.

In a speech at Conservative Central Office, Dr Fox called on party activists to take pride in the "liberation conservatism" espoused by Mrs Thatcher while in office. It is understood Dr Foxwill resist any attempts to push for all-women shortlists or special arrangements for ethnic minority candidates. "We won three general elections under Maggie without any of this stuff," a senior Tory source said.

Dr Fox said: "For a meritocratic party to be effective it must be minority-blind. For us it does not matter where an individual comes from, who his parents were, or the colour of his skin."

* David Willetts, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, will announce today that the Tories will fund £2.5bn rises in the state pension by cutting the social security budget, phasing out Serps rebates and scrapping the second state pension.