Tory lawyer accuses party leadership of racial insensitivity: John Taylor admits race was a factor that cost him the Cheltenham seat. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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The Independent Online
SENIOR Conservative figures, including the Prime Minister, came under attack yesterday for racial insensitivity and inaction from John Taylor, the defeated black Tory candidate for Cheltenham.

Moreover, he said, the party as a whole was failing to build positive policies that would appeal to thousands of moderate people from the ethnic minority communities.

He said the tone of last week's party conference attack by Peter Lilley on foreigners claiming welfare benefits was 'nasty', and set communities against communities.

While Mr Lilley was arrogant and a 'squirt' who picked on other soft targets such as single mothers, John Major's description of the British National Party's by- election victory as 'unfortunate' was 'weak', and an understatement, Mr Taylor said. He added: 'It was disgusting that the BNP could win.'

Mr Taylor, a barrister and former ministerial special adviser, said he had written to Mr Major following last year's party conference at Brighton, pointing out that millions of television viewers saw no black or brown face on the platform. He received a pleasant but non-committal reply. 'He has to be more sensitive,' he said.

Mr Taylor said he left this year's Blackpool conference early after feeling 'physically ill' during Mr Lilley's speech.

There was a wider electorate than conference representatives, 'a multi-racial, multi- cultural society', he said. 'Black people . . . are not all scroungers and spongers. Many of this nation's heroes are black. We only talk about race in a negative context.'

Mr Taylor admitted for the first time yesterday that race was a factor that cost him the safe Tory seat at the 1992 general election. But he emphasised that it was not the factor, adding: 'I got 29,000 votes.'

He remains a committed Conservative principally on economic and law and order grounds. He admired Michael Howard's speech last week aimed at cracking down on crime, and he has not ruled out, contrary to the advice of friends, fighting Cheltenham again. He insisted yesterday that he intended no personal offence to Mr Lilley but was 'trying to be helpful to the party' from the inside.

'Conservative Central Office never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity,' he said. 'It's sad that 40 years since the last large-scale immigration to this country it almost seems that the best voice we have for the black community is Bernie Grant. I am trying to strike back for the moderate voice. I believe that black people are not extremists. They want a house, good education for their kids, a job, just like everybody else.'

Armed with 15,000 goodwill messages following the Cheltenham defeat (he also received three marriage proposals), Mr Taylor said he had approached Central Office to use him as a catalyst for wider discussions on racial issues. 'Here we go again,' he used to say to the black security guard on the front door.

He has since given up 'the subtle approach' and has accepted a string of media appearances. He said: 'I got blank looks. Their idea of a race relations policy is having three or four receptions for Asian millionaires. It isn't enough.'

(Photograph omitted)