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Uma Fernandes
Mother goes first in race to become a Tory MP
BY: Benedict Brogan
Monday July 14, 2003
Uma Fernandes had to beat off a family challenge to be selected as the Tory candidate for the Brent East by-election, such is the appetite for Conservative politics in her household.

The 55-year-old councillor and community nurse was keen to fight the seat but first had to persuade her daughter, a Cambridge and Sorbonne-educated lawyer, not to put her name forward. "You should let Mummy have a chance," she told her.

So Suella Fernandes, 23, who is also on the Central Office candidates list, agreed to let her mother go first. Instead she will team up with her father to distribute leaflets and promote her mother's interests with north-west London voters.

No one, not even Mrs Fernandes, expects the Tories to win the seat, which fell vacant last month with the death of Paul Daisley. He won Brent East - the seat once held by Ken Livingstone, the London mayor - in 2001 with a majority of more than 13,000.

"Let's not kid ourselves," she said. "Brent East is a strong Labour seat. But the mood is changing and people are tired of this Government. Labour is split through the middle and it's all lies, lies, lies and damn lies."

Her selection is being seized on by Conservative Central Office as another small step in the drive to show the party is not just a home for ambitious white men.

Conservatives have been accused of not doing enough to attract more non-white candidates. When minority candidates are selected, critics say, it is usually for an unwinnable seat such as Brent East.

Mrs Fernandes, who was born on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, trained as a nurse in Aberdeen before moving to London. She is a community nursing sister and has worked at Great Ormond Street children's hospital in central London. She rejected the suggestion that she should be helped because of her colour.

"It's true that it's only in the last few years that people from ethnic minorities have come forward in this party," she said. "But why should I be given a safe seat just because I'm Asian?

"I firmly believe people should advance on merit. People should work their way up. If I do well and if I survive the campaign, I might get to fight a better seat next time." She was a "hardened campaigner" who had fought the Liberal Democrats on the doorstep in local elections.

In the 21st century, voters "vote for what you are rather than party or policies".

Mrs Fernandes added: "I'm a natural-born Conservative. I can't stress enough that being a nurse for nearly 30 years has left me with the strong belief that everybody should be treated equally."

2001 general election: Lab 18,325 (63.2 per cent); Con 5,278 (18.2 per cent); LD 3,065 (10.6 per cent); Green 1,361 (4.7 per cent); ProLife 392 (1.4 per cent); SLP 383 (1.3 per cent); UKIP 188 (0.6 per cent). Turnout: 49.9 per cent.

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