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Priti Patel tipped to become Britain; first Asian women MP

Written by: Staff

London, Nov 22 (UNI) Spokeswoman for conservative William Hague Priti Patel is expected to become Britain's first Asian woman MP as she has been fielded from a safe seat by the Conservative Party.

The new seat of Witham, in Essex, became the centre of a row two weeks ago after Ali Miraj, one of those attempting to get selected, complained that he was told by Bernard Jenkin, the then party's deputy chairman in charge of candidates, that the association wanted a ''white middle-class male''. However, late on Monday night, local activists defied their critics by voting narrowly for Ms Patel, 34, over a white male sitting MP, John Brokenshire.

It is a safe Conservative seat with a national majority of more than 7,000, meaning that Ms Patel, a public-relations executive at the drinks company Diageo, will almost certainly become Britain's first Asian woman MP. ''That would be tremendous, a huge honour, a huge privilege. I would look forward to it,'' she told The Times. ''I was thrilled to be elected. A huge range of emotions went through me.'' Being chosen by an association that was criticised for wanting only white men was ''hugely ironic'', she said.

There are ten Asian MPs, all men. Diane Abbott became the first black woman MP when she was elected in 1987. There are now only two ethnic- minority women MPs, both of them Afro-Caribbean.

Ms Patel's parents are East African Asians who fled to Britain before she was born to escape Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator. Ms Patel, who is married without children, joined the party as a teenager, worked in Conservative Central Office and was for two years spokeswoman for Mr Hague, the former party leader.

''I am a British Asian, a British citizen, part of a community that has benefited enormously from this country,'' she said. ''I want to give something back to a country I love, and which has given my family and me huge opportunities.'' She has attacked her party in the past for its racism, saying in an interview in 2003 that ''racist attitudes do persist within the party . . . there's a lot of bigotry around''.

The party leadership was acclaiming her selection yesterday as proof that the party has changed. Francis Maude, the chairman, said, ''I am absolutely thrilled with Priti's selection.

Priti is bright, articulate, hugely energetic and has a big political future. This is yet more evidence that the Conservative Party is changing.'' Mr Miraj welcomed the selection. ''This is a bright day for the party and indicative of progress,'' he said.

However, Priti is an arch eurosceptic, who temporarily defected to the Referendum Party, and holds traditional Conservative views. ''I'm a right-wing Tory, and proud to be a right-wing Tory,'' Ms Patel said.

The Tories have one Indian MP, Shailesh Vara. Priti will be the first Indian woman MP.

UNI XC SB Mir RK1710

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