27/12/2012 06:24 GMT | Updated 27/12/2012 07:18 GMT

Conservative Drive To Increase Black And Asian MPs Is An 'Existential' Issue, Says Tory

A Tory MP has described a reported drive to increase the number of black and Asian Conservatives in the House of Commons as an "existential" issue for the party.

Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell told the Independent that the party needs to increase its appeal to minority communities.

"The Prime Minister and people around him understand this and are focused on it. The party as a whole is increasingly focused on it and the number of colleagues who understand this is growing all the time," said Barwell.


Tories have voiced concerns that they are not appealing to ethnic minority voters

"In the long term it's an existential issue for the party. In the short term we have got to focus on everybody who didn't vote for us at the last election."

The Independent reported that David Cameron is concerned that his party's unpopularity among voters from ethnic minority backgrounds could damage its prospects of winning an overall majority at the general election planned for 2015.

The number of black and Asian Conservative MPs jumped from two to 11 at the 2010 election, but the party secured only 16% of the ethnic minority vote, compared with 68% by Labour.

The importance of ethnic voting patterns was highlighted by the US presidential election defeat of Republican Mitt Romney, which has been widely blamed on his failure to win over Hispanic and African-American voters.

Conservative MPs and parliamentary candidates are understood to have received advice on how to engage with non-white communities by attending community events, developing expertise on issues of concern and appearing in ethnic minority media.

Tory vice-chairman Alok Sharma, who is in charge of the party's strategy for ethnic minority communities, said: "I very much hope that over a period of time there will be many more people from ethnic minority backgrounds on the Conservative benches, but also all benches."

The Conservative Party insisted that its election candidates are selected on individual merit, following the reports.

A spokesman said: "The Conservative Party welcomes and encourages applications from every part of British society.

"Conservative Party candidates are selected individually on merit."