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Tuesday, 17 April, 2001, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Tory candidates warned over racism
Michael Ancram and William Hague
Mr Ancram and Mr Hague: Opposed to racism
The Conservative Party has warned its general election candidates against expressing racist views.

Tory party chairman Michael Ancram has written to candidates telling them to "avoid using language which is likely to generate racial or religious hatred".

The Conservative Party is utterly opposed to racial discrimination

Michael Ancram memo
The letter, which is dated 26 March, was sent out just days before a Tory backbencher caused outrage by suggesting immigrants were undermining Britain's "Anglo-Saxon society".

News of the memo comes as a leading member of the shadow cabinet is warning the party that it needs to put itself forward as a credible alternative to the Labour Party.

Opposed to racism

According to the Independent newspaper, the memo states: "The Conservative Party is utterly opposed to racial discrimination.

"We believe in a Britain where what matters is your talent and effort, not the colour of your skin or who your parents were."

This view has been underlined by Tory MP Peter Bottomley, who predicted the party would be the first to elect a black or Asian leader.

Mr Bottomley told BBC News: "I suspect that in the same way that the Conservative Party was the first to have a prime minister of Jewish background, the first party to have a woman, we're quite likely to be the first to have a prominent black or Asian politician as our prime minister."

Archie Norman
Mr Norman: Need for 'right tone'
In an interview in the Times newspaper, leading frontbencher Archie Norman said there was a need for the party to adopt a measured tone on controversial issues.

"We have to be regarded as a party which is competent and sensible and acceptable as an alternative to Labour."

He said: "We need to sound like a potential government and that means sounding deeply competent.

"We need to grasp the issues, be hard-hitting when we need to be hard-hitting, funny when it is right to be funny, but choose the right tone for the right occasion."

'Tories worried'

But Labour MP Fraser Kemp said the Tories were worried about the possibility of "racist outbursts" from their candidates.

He added: "It's going to take more than a memo to shift the fundamentally right-wing and bigoted opinions of today's Tory party."

Lord Rennard, Liberal Democrat director of campaigns, said local Conservative associations were not towing the party's line on racist language.

He suggested some Tory candidates had already published leaflets which used "the most extreme language and pander to prejudice".

Racism-free election

The leaders of the main political parties have already agreed to conduct a racism-free election campaign.

They have promised "not to pitch one group against another for short term political or personal gain".

The leaders - including Tony Blair, William Hague and Charles Kennedy - have also pledged to discipline any of their members who act in a way likely to stir up prejudice.

The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru have also signed the agreement, drawn up by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) after public concern that politicians were playing the race card.

The leaders have accepted responsibility to "ensure that every alleged breach is properly investigated" and appropriate action taken.

Michael Ancram, Conservative Party chairman
"We're not trying to stifle debate on legitimate issues"
See also:

28 Mar 01 | UK Politics
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