David Cameron should reject calls to fast-track ethnic minority candidates into winnable seats, according to a Shropshire MP.
Mark Pritchard (Con The Wrekin) said Conservative MPs should be more representative of the population as whole - but this should be achieved without “tokenism” or giving extra help to candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds.
He was speaking as the party prepared to pick candidates in 80 key marginal seats which it will target during the general election campaign, with Birmingham Northfield one of the first in line for a selection contest.
In the run up to the 2010 election, Mr Cameron introduced an “A list” of potential candidates who Conservative constituency associations were encouraged to consider when choosing a candidate.
The aim was to get ensure more women, candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds and younger candidates were standing in winnable seats, in an attempt to make the party more representative.
But the policy, overseen by John Maples, the former MP for Stratford-on-Avon and former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, proved unpopular with some activists who felt they were being discouraged from selecting local candidates and possibly tacitly accused of prejudice.
Party Chairman Grant Shapps has already confirmed that the A list will not be used again.
Mr Pritchard, in an article published by website Politics Home, warned that the party leadership must give up any attempt to encourage constituency associations to pick ethnic minority candidates.
Instead, he said the party could attract ethnic minority votes by continuing to be “the natural political home for the innovative, creative, entrepreneurial, and those prepared to study and work hard”.
Mr Pritchard said: “It would be misguided if the party hierarchy were again tempted to set itself on a collision course with Conservative Associations by attempting to fast-track favoured ethnic minority candidates over equally talented white-British candidates.”
He added: “It is also politically naive to think that by merely increasing ethnic representation within the Parliamentary Party and rushing to diversify the ethnicity of government Ministers that Asian and Afro-Caribbean voters across Britain will experience some sort of ‘political epiphany’ and suddenly begin voting Conservative.
“It is also patronising. I never met anyone on any doorstep from any ethnic group who has said they were more likely to vote Conservative if they saw more Black or Asian faces sat on Conservative benches.”
And he said: “Tokenism has always been politically lazy. It can also go disastrously wrong as different religions, sects, and schisms within the same ethnic communities emerge over an election campaign.
“It is also worth remembering that whilst more MPs from Britain’s ethnic minorities would be a good thing, the majority of the electorate still rightly place more value on the calibre of a candidate rather than the colour of a candidate.
"Most want a candidate who share their values and are willing to fight their corner – irrespective of gender, race, or religion.”
The Government could do more to appeal to ethnic minority voters by cutting back on immigration, which tended to increase competition for public services in inner city areas which were already crowded, he said.
And the MP urged the Prime Minister to scrap his “misconceived same-sex marriage plans”.
He said: “Apart from antagonising the Tory grassroots and traditional Conservative voters, Number 10’s decision to press ahead with a Bill is likely to alienate large parts of the very same ethnic and religious groups the Party says it needs to attract to win the next general election.”
The Conservative Party hopes to gain an overall majority at the next election using a strategy it calls 40:40. It has identified 40 marginal seats it needs to hold, and another 40 it needs to gain from Labour or the Liberal Democrats, in order to win the next general election outright.
Only ten of the target seats have been named, and these include Birmingham Northfield, which Labour held with a majority of 2,782 over the Tories at the last election.