We are not anti-women or anti-gay, say Tories claim

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The Conservative Party attempted to dismiss claims that it was anti-women and anti-gay yesterday as Labour MPs seized on a leaked internal report claiming that the Tories' family policy could be as disastrous as "Back to Basics".

The Conservative Party attempted to dismiss claims that it was anti-women and anti-gay yesterday as Labour MPs seized on a leaked internal report claiming that the Tories' family policy could be as disastrous as "Back to Basics".

Tory MPs lined up to defend the party's record despite a report in The Independent that its members believed that William Hague's heavy emphasis on traditional values could alienate voters.

One MP, Peter Bottomley, even claimed that the first black or Asian prime minister would be a Tory.

The report of the Conservative Policy Forum (CPF), the official link between the grassroots and the leadership, found supporters were worried that Mr Hague was out of touch on women's issues and gay rights.

It also reflected concerns that the Tories have only 14 women MPs and only 17 women candidates have been chosen to fight Conservative seats where the current MP is standing down or has defected to Labour. All of them are white.

Following the defection of Ivan Massow, the CPF report was highly embarrassing to the party's attempts to appear more inclusive.

Yesterday, although Tory MPs denied the charges, some Tory activists backed the research, claiming that it was a reflection of the fears of members ahead of the election.

Fiona Buxton, the author of a pamphlet on women for the Bow Group, a Conservative think tank, said the leadership should take heed of the findings.

"Normally, the Conservative Policy Forum is not the voice of political correctness within the party and for them to be saying that we need to elect and encourage more women is extremely important," she said.

Ms Buxton, a one-time hopeful Tory parliamentary candidate, said that she gave up the search for a seat because she found some local associations were hostile to her as a young mother. But John Bercow, Tory home affairs spokesman, said the party under Mr Hague was reaching out to other groups.

"We have traditionally been the pro-family party. We want to continue that tradition, but to amend and evolve policy to reflect the changing challenges of our time," he told the BBC's Today programme on Radio 4.

"That is a very important part of the evolution of the Conservative Party, but we are certainly not anti-gay or anti-single women. We are a modern, forward-looking, inclusive, open political party. That's what, under William Hague, we shall continue to be."

Mr Bottomley denied that the CPF report showed prejudice within Tory ranks against those who do not fit into the traditional family structure.

Mr Bottomley, MP for Worthing West, told the Today programme: "There are plenty of reasons why married couples do very well and why children brought up by their biological parents do better, but that is no reason to damn the widow or damn anybody.

"The inclusiveness of the Conservative Party is demonstrated by the fact that we are likely to be the first party to have somebody who is black or Asian as prime minister.

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