Priti Patel takes Witham by storm

WITHAM Conservatives have chosen William Hague's former media adviser to be their candidate at the next General Election.Priti Patel's victory comes less than two weeks after a rejected Asian for the seat claimed that only white, middle aged men had any hope of being selected by the Conservative Party to contest winnable seats.

By Graham Dines

CONSERVATIVES in Witham have chosen William Hague's former media adviser to be their candidate at the next General Election.

Priti Patel's victory comes less than two weeks after a rejected Asian for the seat claimed that only white, middle-aged men had any hope of being selected by the Conservative Party to contest winnable seats.

The Witham constituency is a new seat in north Essex, which experts have calculated would have had a majority of 7,500 if it had existed at the last election and which would increase to more than 10,000 if the current opinion polls are correct.


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“It's a dream come true,” said Ms Patel, who was on the party's priority `A' list of candidates, drawn up by the Conservatives to reflect modern Britain and to encourage local Tory associations to choose more women, ethnic minority and young candidates to fight winnable seats.

“I'm genuinely delighted and honoured. It's a gruelling and long process to be chosen as a candidate - there are a number of interviews before the final selection meeting takes place

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“Witham is a new constituency and will need a lot of hard work to give it an identity. I was able to assure the party members that as I have been a grass roots activist for 16 years and am chairman of my local association in Erith, I know just what needs to be done to get the party in Witham up and running.”

Ms Patel, is 34, married, and works as a corporate relations director for Diageo, the international drinks company whose brands include Guinness, Smirnoff, Johnny Walker, and Baileys. She and her husband Alex will be moving to the constituency.

She was chosen from a shortlist of four, drawn up from the 90 applicants. In the final round, she defeated East of England Euro MP Geoffrey Van Orden, Hornchurch MP James Brokenshire - whose constituency disappears at the next election under boundary changes in London - and Charlie Elphicke, who contested St Albans in 2001.

Her success comes two weeks after Asian candidate Ali Miraj failed to make the shortlist and claimed that a number of Conservative MPs had told him they would be “shocked” if Witham did not choose a white, middle-aged man.

Mr Miraj hit out at the party, saying minority ethnic candidates had “a mountain to climb” to be chosen for safe Tory seats.

But on his internet site , he conceded Ms Patel's selection was “a bright day for the party and indicative of progress. Let us hope it continues.”

Under major boundary changes which have created an extra MP in Essex, the new seat has been carved out of four existing constituencies - Colchester, Maldon & Chelmsford East, Braintree and Essex North.

Anne Jenkin, who lives in the constituency and is founder and treasurer of Women2Win which is encouraging the party to choose females candidates in winnable seats, said she was “absolutely delighted” that Ms Patel had been selected.

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