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Thursday, September 23, 1999 Published at 06:31 GMT 07:31 UK

UK Politics

Tories launch ethnic drive

William Hague and then fiancée Ffion at 1997 Notting Hill Carnival

The Conservative Party is setting up a unit to recruit more people from ethnic minorities.

Tory leader William Hague attacked the party of the past in a speech on Wednesday, saying it had not always sent out the right message.

[ image: John Taylor was selected to fight Cheltenham in 1992 by Central Office]
John Taylor was selected to fight Cheltenham in 1992 by Central Office
The party was once perceived by some as bigoted, he said.

"Some Conservatives have been seen as intolerant or closed-minded. But now it's very different from that," he said.

He said he was now committed to change and the party valued diversity. There are no non-white Tory MPs.

The new unit is being set up to encourage members of ethnic communities to join the Conservatives, as well as to change attitudes within the party and have an effect on policy. This will roam the country talent-spotting.

The party hopes the unit will be so successful that it will be defunct within five years.

Its first test comes as several ethnic community candidates vie to be selected for winnable seats in the next general election.

'Huge task'

Black barrister John Taylor was chosen by Conservative Central Office to contest Cheltenham in Gloucestershire in the 1992 general election, but the local party did not welcome him and there were cheers when he lost.

Patrick Seyd, professor of politics at Sheffield University, who carried out a study of Tory membership before the 1997 election, said the cultural unit faced a large task.

"Only 1% of members are from an ethnic minority background, and in terms of attitudes they are fairly unsympathetic to immigration - 70% would like to introduce a voluntary repatriation policy for immigrants," he said.

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