London, December 29, 2004
Priti Patel, 32, a British-born NRI, has been selected as a parliamentary
candidate to contest from the Nottingham north constituency at the general
election expected in May next year. Her selection has come as a bit
of surprise.The Conservative Party, which generally avoids making women
its MPs and has been often accused of never giving safe parliamentary
seats to Asian candidates, seems to be making radical changes in its
A year ago she had triggered a major controversy when she said that
bigoted elements in the Conservative Party were blocking her candidature.
"Racist attitudes do persist within the party
. There's a
lot of bigotry around." Patel said it was an honour to have been
selected to fight in a diverse and vibrant area. A thriving city with
many universities and well-known universities Nottingham has a fairly
large segment of Asians but whites are in the majority
Priti Patel - Former Conservative adviser
My parents were Ugandan Indian immigrants who arrived in this country
with nothing and for me they were amazing role models. I grew up in
South Harrow and Ruislip, where a large number of Ugandan Asians live,
and I have always been conscious of the way in which British Asians
have worked tirelessly to better themselves, often against all odds.
My parents were very ambitious business people and natural conservatives.
I grew up in a household where we endlessly discussed business, politics
and current affairs. I went to university and studied economics. I was
However, at the time when I was graduating the City was impacted by
the Major recession, high interest rates and also the issue of Europe
was becoming high profile.
All this coincided with a time when I was becoming much more politically
aware. So much was happening: Maastricht, John Major standing down as
party leader, it was big politics and it was playing out in a very dramatic
At this time, I felt that I too wanted to get involved in big politics.
I had already joined my local party and always knew I was a Conservative,
so I got in touch with Andrew Lansley, who at the time was head of the
Conservative Research Department. I badgered him a bit and asked if
he needed any help and he agreed to an interview. Before I knew it,
I was working at Conservative Central Office.
Then from 1995 to 1997 I worked for the Referendum Party, for Sir James
Goldsmith, heading up the press office.
In 1995 it was Europe, Europe everywhere, and I actually felt very
dissatisfied by the whole Conservative approach. John Major was whipping
through Maastricht and I felt that the overall impact and implication
of what all of this meant for the public just was not getting across.
Personally I felt that there was a fantastic debate to be had and also
that the public were desperate to know more. The Referendum Party was
a compelling prospect because they wanted to be very proactive on generating
a debate on Europe and they brought in the element of choice.
My views on Europe are still as they were, I really do believe in
choice and I think there should be a public discussion about Europe.
We are potentially going to get a referendum but we've yet to see when
that's going to happen.
I worked with the Referendum Party for two years and it was a real
baptism of fire. It was an amazing experience and I learnt a great deal
about campaigning. So much so that after the 1997 election, I was brought
back into CCO.
Not really, in fact none whatsoever. I made my position clear. I'm
a Conservative and a lot of the membership of the Referendum Party were
disillusioned Conservatives. For me it was a very strong matter of principle.
UKIP are completely different. They're talking about pulling out. I
believe in being in Europe but not being run by Europe. I guess UKIP
are raising broader questions about the government's failure in Europe,
but I don't know what lies ahead for them. All we can do is watch this
it's going to be much more damaging for the government. National elections
are about a range of issues, the public want a saleable proposition
on the doorstep, and Her Majestys Opposition is usually going
to be the best way of doing that.
When I went back to the Conservatives I began looking after media
relations in London and the south east. Almost immediately I had to
deal with two by-elections. One was Uxbridge and the other one was the
Beckenham by-election after Piers Merchant stood down. In that case
it was very much getting out there and heading up the media relations
on the ground, working with the candidate and the local association.
These are amazing experiences that you learn from. You learn at first
hand how to effectively run a strategic campaign and it makes you a
very tough political operator. I also did lot of work with William Hague
and the shadow Cabinet because they too were campaigning in London and
about six months later I went to work for William.
He's an amazing political operator and also a strong grassroots campaigner.
At the time you had to be realistic and recognise that the media and
public were absolutely in love with the Labour Party, so William was
trying to re-build at the grassroots.
He faced a number of challenges, including rebuilding momentum at the
grassroots, enthusing members and also looking ahead to the Scottish,
Welsh, Euro and local campaigns, which he did. There's only so much
you can achieve in a short period of time.
It's very difficult because you have to make the grass roots feel
included. William brought in the new constitution to give them an important
role to play. It was the party's choice and you can't go back and rewrite
I went into consultancy and worked for Weber Shandwick which I loved.
I was working for multi-national companies which is something I've always
wanted to do. I'm now at Diageo, the premium drinks company. I've learnt
a great deal since I left Westminster.
After the 2001 election. It was so disappointing to see the collective
effort not pay-off to the extent that you feel it should. Having worked
at the grassroots level for almost 13 years, as well as the party nationally
and also having gained a huge amount of experience outside of politics,
I feel that I have something to offer the party.
I felt that I could bring a lot of experience with me. I think I'm
a very broad-based mainstream member of society. I wouldn't say I fall
into any particular category. I wouldn't want to be selected as a tokenistic
gesture just because I'm Asian. I think I have the experience and I
just thought I'd go for it.