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Saturday, 26 August, 2000, 08:24 GMT 09:24 UK
Norris attacks 'out-of-touch' Tories
Steve Norris during his campaign to become London mayor
Steve Norris lost the fight to become London mayor
The Conservative party must do away with its stuffy image and attract more women, homosexuals and ethnic minority groups, the party's new vice-chairman Steven Norris has warned.

The former London mayoral candidate said he detected "a polite form of racism and homophobia" among some fellow party members and said the Tories were increasingly out of touch and unrepresentative.

Women in Parliament
121 MPs are women
101 women MPs are Labour
34 ministers are women
80% of MPs are men
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mr Norris said the party must stop treating women as if their place was "in the back room licking envelopes".

Mr Norris claimed constituency panels which select prospective MPs were made up of women of a certain age - nicknamed the blue-rinse brigade - who were looking for a husband for their daughters.

"We have to decide whether we are a national, inclusive party or not.

"No party can be a national party which excludes one in 10 because they are from an ethnic minority or one in 10 because they are gay," the party vice-chairman said.

All-women shortlists

The party should reconsider initiatives like all-women shortlists and quotas for ethnic minority candidates, he added.

At present there are just 14 women Conservative MPs, compared with 101 on the Labour benches.

Mr Norris - who does not currently have a seat in Parliament, having stepped down ahead of the 1997 general election - was made vice-chairman of the Tories in July.

Steve Norris
Steve Norris: Backing tolerance
He is now in charge of the party's Cultural Unit and Conservative Future.

It was expected that the well-known Tory figure - who has warned against a lurch to the right - would try to bring more women, ethnic minority and young people into the party.

In the run-up to the elections for London mayor, Mr Norris refused to back party leader William Hague's campaign to keep Section 28 which bans the promotion of homosexuality within schools.

He once remarked that backing tolerance and equality would "burn off some people on the far right-wing of the party".

According to one of his aides, Ceri Evans, Mr Norris believed the core of the Tory party to be "unpleasant" as far as the equality agenda was concerned.

His comments follow similar criticism from senior Tory MP David Davis, who said the party must change if it is to be a serious contender against the Labour Party.

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See also:

24 Feb 00 | UK Politics
A woman's place is in the House
08 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Leak warns 'out of touch' Tories
02 Aug 00 | UK
Ivan Massow: Gay abandon
02 Aug 00 | UK
Compassion v conservatism
02 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Norris warns against move to right
27 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Norris rewarded with Tory party role
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