A-list scorned as white man picked for Howard's seat

A white man is picked to succeed Michael Howard in the safe Tory seat of Folkestone
A white man is picked to succeed Michael Howard in the safe Tory seat of Folkestone

David Cameron's attempts to improve the diversity of Conservative MPs have come under fire after a white man was picked to stand in Michael Howard's constituency.

Party activists in Folkestone and Hythe voted last night for Damian Collins, the managing director of an advertising firm, to represent them at the next election.

Mr Howard, the former Conservative leader, announced in March he would be stepping down as an MP after more than 20 years in politics. He had a majority of 11,680 at the last general election, making it one of the safest Tory seats.

In the race to succeed him, Mr Collins, 32, was up against two women, Laura Sandys and Harriet Baldwin, all three of whom were on Mr Cameron's A-list of top candidates.

The list, made up of 50 per cent women and ten per cent from ethnic minorities to reflect the general population, was introduced to try to change the Conservatives' image as a party dominated by middle-class, white men.

However, of the 32 candidates chosen so far, just ten are women and only two were on the A-list. There is one non-white candidate, black farmer Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, who was chosen to represent Chippenham in Wiltshire.

Mr Collins stood for the Northampton North seat in the 2005 general election and is a member of the Bow Group think tank. His supporters praise him as a "special candidate", but his selection has inevitably provoked claims that Mr Cameron's A-list is not working.

"The vacancy for the Folkestone seat presented David Cameron with a perfect opportunity to meet his own test of whether the Tories have really changed. It is a test they have failed," declared Labour chairwoman Hazel Blears.

In his speech to the Conservative spring forum, Mr Cameron told delegates that it was not enough to change the party leader - "every aspect of how we behave", including the kind of MPs that were elected, had to change.

But Ms Blears warned: "Once again, David Cameron has failed to back up his warm words with action.The news that Michael Howard will be replaced by yet another white man further proves that David Cameron's A-list just isn't working."

There are currently only 17 female Tory MPs - just nine per cent of the parliamentary party - compared to ten Lib Dem (16 per cent) and 98 Labour female MPs (28 per cent).

Tomorrow will be another test for Mr Cameron's policy, as the Conservative association of West Worcestershire picks a successor to Michael Spicer, the chairman of the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers, from a selection of A-listers.


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