David Cameron credits himself for diversity of candidates in Tory leadership race

Of the initial 11 contenders for the top job, more than half were from an Asian or African background

Former prime minister David Cameron with Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi at the Conservative Party Conference in 2010. Mr Cameron said 'positive discrimination' under his leadership encouraged more women and people from ethnic minorities to join the Tory party. Getty Images
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Former UK prime minister David Cameron has had his say on the Conservative leadership race, attributing the diversity of candidates in the running to his role in modernising the Tories after he took over in 2005.

In an opinion piece in the Sunday Times, Mr Cameron reflected on the time he competed in, and won, the Tory party’s leadership race in 2005, when all seven MPs taking part were white and male.

The prime minister from 2010 to 2016 wrote that after his victory he had been “determined to modernise the party, starting by addressing the appalling lack of diversity of candidates and MPs.”

One of the notable aspects of the crop of Conservative candidates vying for leadership now is their diverse backgrounds. Of the initial 11 candidates, more than half were from an Asian or African background.

The remaining five contenders for the UK’s top job - Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Penny Mourdant, Tom Tugendhat and Kemi Badenoch – include two from ethnic minorities and three women.

There is therefore a strong chance that Britain’s next prime minister will be someone from a minority background or is a woman - or both, if the increasingly popular outlier Kemi Badenoch wins.

Taking credit for the current diversity on offer, Mr Cameron said that after he was elected leader of the Conservative party in 2005 he resolved to change the overwhelming majority of white candidates in the political party.

After putting a freeze on selection of Conservative candidates, Mr Cameron said he drew up a “priority list” where half would be female and a large proportion from ethnic minorities.

Mr Cameron said that his push for “positive discrimination” was “hard to swallow” for those on the right of the party and it faced “forceful” opposition.

Nevertheless, he said that his “pitch” was for “positive action” to “accelerate meritocracy” and that over the years, an increasing number of women and people from ethnic minorities entered a space that had been traditionally unwelcoming.

The former leader said that by 2010, the Conservative party had almost four times the number of female MPs and that in 2015 there were six times as many MPs from ethnic minorities.

Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim cabinet member, Sajid Javid, the first chancellor from an ethnic minority and Priti Patel, the first female home secretary from an ethnic minority, were all cited as examples of the party’s “list of British firsts.”

“Indeed, change has created its own momentum,” wrote Mr Cameron, referring to the many women and ethnic minority candidates who entered the leadership race at the outset.

A diverse party, wrote Mr Cameron, will be “vital” to prove that “our multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy can be a truly cohesive, united society based on opportunity.”

The remaining five candidates still in the contest will appear in a second televised debate to be screened on ITV on Sunday evening.

Updated: July 17, 2022, 2:05 PM