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Last Updated: Friday, 29 April 2005, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Diverse candidates bid for Westminster
The number of ethnic minority candidates standing for the major parties has increased by nearly two-thirds compared with the 2001 election. BBC News spoke to three who hope to enter Parliament for the first time.

Adam Afriyie canvassing in Windsor
Adam Afriyie was selected from than 270 candidates

Adam Afriyie is adamant he's a textbook Tory, and the CV of the Conservatives' parliamentary candidate for Windsor in Berkshire seems to support his assertion.

He is a self-made businessman with about 300 employees, a former Conservative Party branch chairman and a Eurosceptic who led a 'No to the Euro' campaign.

The only feature which some might say makes him an unusual Tory in a winnable seat is the colour of his skin.

Mr Afriyie, 39, is the son of a white English mother and Ghanaian father.

I don't see myself as different, I see myself as a human being, I see myself as a British citizen...
Adam Afriyie,
Conservative candidate, Windsor

In the last Parliament 12 of the 13 ethnic minority MPs represented Labour and the other was a Liberal Democrat.

In recent years the Tories have had just one MP from an ethnic minority - Nirj Deva, now a Conservative MEP, who represented the west London constituency of Brentford & Isleworth between 1992 and 1997.

But out and about in Windsor listening to potential supporters' concerns, Mr Afriyie says his ethnicity is not a major issue for him.

"I don't see myself as different, I see myself as a human being, I see myself as a British citizen and that's how I look at everybody else," he says.

'Incidental'

As he knocks on doors in the village of Puriton, in West Somerset, James Main, who is standing for the Liberal Democrats in the Bridgwater constituency, also insists race is not an issue.

James Main, Lib Dem candidate for Bridgwater greets a voter
James Main says race is not an issue on the doorstep

Hong-Kong born Mr Main, a dentist, says voters in the area want to focus on other issues.

"At the end of the day people here want to know what I'm going to do for them and it's those issues one needs to address first and foremost," he says.

"The fact if I get elected I'll be the only MP of Chinese descent in the House of Commons is great but incidental."

However, Yasmin Qureshi, a barrister standing for Labour in Brent East, north-west London, thinks it is important that, if elected, she will become the first Muslim woman to enter Parliament.

I think we all need to do more but Labour is the party which has delivered most so far on diversity
Yasmin Qureshi,
Labour candidate, Brent East

"Until a few years ago there weren't that many Muslim women coming forward in the political process," she says.

"In the last few years, there have been quite a number who have come forward and hopefully that will translate into reality, [with them] becoming members of Parliament in years to come."

Ms Qureshi feels prejudice has been one barrier holding back Muslim women and recalls problems with selection committees prior to winning the nomination in Brent East in 2004.

"Unless ethnic minorities are applying solely in seats with a big ethnic minority composition, it's quite a big hurdle to jump over," she says.

'Warm welcome'

All of Labour's 12 ethnic minority MPs in the last Parliament held seats in urban areas with substantial black and Asian populations.

Yasmin Qureshi delivers leaflets in Brent East constituency
Labour's Yasmin Qureshi backs "all-black" shortlists

But in Windsor, Mr Afriyie is fighting to represent a constituency which is largely rural and where most of the residents are white.

His selection for the seat won by the Tories in 2001 with a 21% majority has inevitably drawn comparisons with the case of black barrister John Taylor, selected in 1992 for the then-Tory held seat of Cheltenham.

At the subsequent election the seat was lost to the Liberal Democrats, prompting accusations of racism on the part of the local association and voters.

But Mr Afriyie is reluctant to talk about race issues, saying only he has never experienced any "resistance" from the local association members and has been warmly welcomed by Windsor voters in general.

He said the party, which is fielding 41 ethnic minority candidates - more than any of three main parties - was "perfectly comfortable now with selecting candidates who may be slightly different".

'All-black shortlists'

The Lib Dems are fielding 41 ethnic minority candidates.

However, the party has had just one ethnic minority MP - Parmjit Singh Gill who won Leicester South in a by-election in 2004.

Mr Main says the lack of ethnic MPs is an issue all parties need to tackle but that the Lib Dems do have particular problems.

"We don't have so many MPs so it stands to reason you're not going to get more ethnic MPs if your numbers are in comparison small to the other two big parties," he says.

"I'm sure as our party increases the number of MPs it's going to get elected we will also see an increase in the number of ethnic minority MPs."

Labour is fielding the fewest ethnic minority candidates - just 32 - and Ms Qureshi says she's in favour of "all-black" shortlists to boost their number.

"It is the case that the all-women shortlists haven't been fair enough, haven't delivered ethnic minority women. If they have come through it's been through open shortlists, like myself."

But she says Labour still is not doing so badly compared with the other parties with a "good number of candidates in safe seats".

"I think we all need to do more but Labour is the party which has delivered most so far on diversity," she adds.





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