A candidate who was in the running to replace Greg Barker as MP for Bexhill and Battle faced a “double whammy of being brown and a woman”, according to the branch president.
London barrister Suella Fernandes came third in the local selection process after 173 local party members selected Huw Merriman, a lawyer and councillor in a neighbouring constituency.
Local councillor John Barnes told the Financial Times that Ms Fernandes had given a “wowzer performance on the night” but that in a very strong field her skin colour and sex had been a “handicap”.
“I think if Suella was up against less strong opposition, it wouldn’t have been held against her but when you are battling three good men . . . She beat James [Cleverly] but she didn’t beat the other two.”
He added that he thought she would get a seat and stressed that all four candidates were “excellent”.
The 77 year old said that being from an ethnic minority made it harder to win in rural constituencies but added that “They [Conservative campaign headquarters] have won on women,” Mr Barnes said. “It really is unthinkable if a woman is the best on the night, you wouldn’t pick her. That is coming with ethnicity but it is more likely to come in urban seats than rural seats. And it is partly not about ethnicity, it is almost by definition [the case that] they know very little about countryside issues.”
Mr Barnes’s comments – which were not a reflection of who he would personally support as a candidate in the branch – were backed up by black Conservative candidate James Cleverly. He pointed out that being selected in a rural seat, where the Tories are strongest, is harder for ethnic minority candidates “given that ethnic Britain tends to be urban Britain”.
“A person with brown skin is very visibly a townie in rural Sussex and looking very urban in rural Britain means you are at a potential disadvantage,” he said.
A Tory party spokesman said: “These comments are unacceptable and they neither reflect the views of the Conservative party nor the reality, which is that people from all backgrounds are being selected to be candidates for the party.”
Ahead of the 2010 General Election the party HQ imposed an ‘A-List’ of candidates to promote women and ethnic minorities which resulted in those women elected being called ‘Cameron’s cuties’, singling them out because of their sex and highlighting the discriminatory nature of the process. It also meant those women who were selected on merit, without any promotion based on gender, were tarred with the same brush as those who did.
But this was not repeated ahead of the next General Election because of overwhelming opposition from local associations who did not want candidates ‘parachuted’ in to seats.