I guess there must be shock all around the Commons’ tea-room this morning. Witham Tories did what, reportedly, a number of Conservative MPs thought very unlikely… they didn’t choose a middle-aged, white male but a young, Asian female – Priti Patel. Ali Miraj did himself no favours by recently adding to the tired media slur on the Tory grassroots. It is, of course, true that there is unacceptable prejudice within some Conservative Associations but that is increasingly exceptional.
Again and again Tory members defy the pigeon-holing by all too many MPs and journalists. Three of the safer Tory seats in the country have all chosen ethnic minority candidates in recent years. Windsor chose Adam Afriyie, Cambridgeshire NW chose Shailesh Vara and now Witham has chosen the highly able (and decidely Eurosceptic) Priti Patel. Before the last election the heartland seat of Arundel and South Downs chose the openly gay Nick Herbert. In the current selection process we have seen the openly gay David Golds adopted. Alan Duncan has not been ostracised for ‘coming out’… his constituency has been very supportive and he is, of course, now in the shadow cabinet.
Criticism of the Tory membership is understandable when it comes from the media but is unacceptable when it comes from Conservative candidates and MPs. The dismissive attitude reached its peak (trough?) when Michael Howard led an attempt to disenfranchise grassroots members in the choice of party leader. Fortunately that attempt was defeated and members voted for the apparently modernising, rather than the more traditionalist candidate.
Unfortunately the we-know-better attitude lives on in CCHQ. The attempts to restrict the freedoms of local association to choose Westminster and European candidates goes on. We can only hope that the party leadership that champions localism for the rest of the country will soon champion it for its own members, too.
Related link: Tory members deserve a little more respect from Tory MPs