Priti Patel: Quotas For Minority Parliamentary Candidates Are 'Demeaning'

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Then a prospective parliamentary candidate, Priti Patel addresses the Conservative Party Conference in 2002
Then a prospective parliamentary candidate, Priti Patel addresses the Conservative Party Conference in 2002

Last year's general election saw the number of ethnic minority MPs double from 14 to 27, with Priti Patel becoming the Conservative Party's first Asian female MP when she won the Witham seat in Essex.

"It's a fact," she says.” We don’t have enough women in public life at all really. Certainly not enough women from Asian backgrounds. It's incumbent upon all of us who are in public life in some shape or form to promote it."

But despite the predominance of white, male, middle class faces at Westminster, the 39-year-old says she believes people from minority backgrounds no longer see Parliament as beyond their reach.

"I feel quite positive about this, being of Asian origin I do spend time with Asian communities and there is a real, genuine interest now because there are more Asian MPs," she says.

Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Patel says she notices this particularly among second generation Asians, having seen others get elected. "They can recognise the barriers are not insurmountable, they can recognise if we can get there, then they can get there."

Patel herself is second generation, born in London's Islington in 1972 to Ugandan Asian parents who fled persecution at the hands of Idi Amin.

But she says there would be "nothing more demeaning" to women than the imposition of top-down quotas of the number of female or Asian candidates that local parties must pick as a way to increase minority representation in the Commons.

"It's not about ticking boxes. There's nothing more insulting to Asian women than to have that connotation that you're there because you tick a box," she says.

"Women and Asian women are highly capable individuals, they really are, they are successful in other fields. I'm not an advocate of it [quotas], nor is it a model I would propose. I firmly believe in this world we are all capable of making your mark and get on."

"I can only speak for the Asian community predominantly, but we have got leaders in particular fields and spheres, we have a lot of to offer."

And make her mark she has. Any mention of Patel's name is inevitably followed by the tag "rising star". The right-winger has become a leading voice on the backbenches, particularly on criminal justice issues - calling for the restoration of the death penalty and starting a petition to deny prisoners the right to vote.

Patel says she got where she is now through "sheer persistence and determination", a model she advocates for other young women. "To put it bluntly, hard work, one hopes, does pay off. If you have something in your sights and you want it, go out there and achieve it."

However she does acknowledge that young women need to go into the world of politics with their "eyes wide open". And as well as setting an example she wants to offer practical mentoring to those who want to follow in her footsteps.

Patel may have only been an MP for just over a year, but as Hague's former press secretary, an intern at the Conservative Research Department under Andrew Lansley and a director at the lobbying and public relations firm Weber Shandwick, she is no stranger to the workings of Westminster.

"It's all very well to say 'oh go into public life and become and MP', I think there is an important factor here is that people have to know what it is actually like and what is involved."

"I think if people genuinely want to do this and show the understanding and commitment and are prepared to give up a lot of time and dedicate themselves to pavement pounding and getting involved at a local level there's no reason they shouldn't."

While Patel found her way on the Cameron's 'A List' of candidates, she is far from a 'Cameron Conservative' and served as head of press for the eurosceptic Referendum Party in the mid-nineties when John Major's Tories were too europhile for her tastes.

"I have to say it’s very difficult to just call for a referendum immediately, you have to be pragmatic and practical about these things," she said.

Patel was speaking to The Huffington Post UK before the recent drama in Brussels that saw Cameron block a European treaty change. The prime minister has since come under fire for isolating Britain from the EU decision making process.

"The priority of the government quite rightly has to be safeguarding Britain's interest at such a vital time for our economy we’ve got to think about the protection of British jobs."

Unsurprisingly she is no fan of the coalition and one of five frustrated 2010 Tories who contributed to the book After the Coalition, which set out a plan for a more right-wing future Conservative majority government.

However it may be a government of which she is unable to take part, as her constituency is set to be abolished. But she is unlikely to give up without a fight.

Around the Web

Priti Patel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Priti Patel MP - Member of Parliament for Witham

New Statesman - 20 under 40: Priti Patel

CDC - Blogs - Safe Healthcare – Priti R. Patel, MD, MPH