Conservative Party leader David Cameron’s crop of new candidates are a group of young, multiethnic professionals who he hopes can shed the Tories’ image as a “nasty party” stuffed with rich, aging white men from privileged backgrounds.
The aspiring legislators vow to stir up Britain’s sometimes staid politics, and perhaps unsettle their leadership – with hardline views on Europe, immigration and climate change that often don’t stack up with Cameron’s message of a more compassionate, greener conservatism.
Their views may be on the verge of becoming a lot more important: After Cameron’s strong performance in the last debate of the campaign, it looks increasingly likely his Conservatives can capture power for the first time in 13 years.
Many of the new Tories cite right- wing icon Margaret Thatcher as their inspiration, which may spell trouble ahead for the 43-year-old Cameron, intent of pushing a reformist agenda if he wins power.
The candidates include Louise Bagshawe, an opinionated 38-year-old author of books aimed at young women, and Phillipa Stroud, a respected activist against urban poverty. Both are favoured to be fast-tracked into a future Cameron government.
So, too, are Kwasi Kwarteng, a 34-year-old former investment analyst born to Ghanian parents, and 40-year-old businessman Sajid Javid, whose family emigrated to Britain from Pakistan and who’s likely to become his party’s first Muslim lawmaker in the House of Commons.
Cameron’s efforts to overhaul his party have been aided, rather than set back, by a scandal last summer over lawmakers’ outrageous expense claims.
Parliament’s largest upheaval since World War II – as about 150 lawmakers quit and with dozens more likely to be ousted – will see more women and more minority legislators sit on the green leather benches of the House of Commons.
But one candidate who promises a new approach, and may eventually lead the new Conservative generation, appears cast in a decidedly traditional mold.
Rory Stewart, a 37-year-old Harvard professor of human rights policy, was – like Cameron – educated at the proudly exclusive Eton College, and boasts a resume that would be the envy of some world leaders.
A former diplomat, army officer and tutor to Princes William and Harry, Stewart was a deputy governor in southern Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion, founded a charity in Afghanistan and has made the New York Times bestseller’s list with a book about his hike.
“Before the expenses scandal, all the seats were lined up for the election,” Stewart said during a tour of Penrith, the vast, rural northern England district he hopes to represent in parliament.
He benefited from Cameron’s decision to call for people from all walks of life to replace disgraced politicians.
But even if the Tories win the 326 House of Commons seats needed for an outright majority in the general election next Thursday, Cameron’s party won’t yet be truly transformed. Only about 60 Conservative legislators will be women, up from 17 now, and there will likely be 14 lawmakers who are black or from an ethnic minority, up from two at present.
And a poll by ConservativeHome of about 150 new candidates found many hold traditional views. About two- thirds reject Cameron’s emphasis on tackling climate change, and just 4% back his plan to allow the international aid budget to escape spending cuts.
About one-third said they didn’t agree that gay couples should have the same rights as married hetero- sexuals.
“The truth is that there are lots of policies they share with Cameron,” Montgomerie said. “But there are tensions ahead on climate change.”
Kwarteng, campaigning for a seat just outside London, acknowledged that the public now want lawmakers who’ll stand up to party leaders.
In the pretty village of Hesket Newmarket, close to England’s border with Scotland, Arthur Walby, 56, tells Stewart he won’t vote Conservative, but sums up the public fury. “I’d like to see a hung Parliament, especially the Labour Party – hung from every bridge in London until they rot,” Walby said.
Stewart, who supported Brown’s Labour in his youth, hopes it means the public will allow their representatives to shake off the shackles of slick party machines, and express their personal – if sometimes contentious – views.