Tory Party members meeting gay business representatives were met by demonstrators dressed in Maggie Thatcher and John Major masks.

The seven demonstrators, who refused to say who they were or why they were protesting, gathered under banners saying Vote Green and Protect Your Kids from the Tories.

The Tories, who included former minister Edwina Currie, now a radio show presenter and author, and Shadow Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan, were in Sussex to meet members of the gay, lesbian and bisexual community.

Mr Duncan left the party for a while to question demonstrators but they ignored his questions and remained mute.

The party at The Pool nightclub in Brighton was organised by the Brighton and Hove Gay Business Association.

Steve Norris, Tory candidate who stood against Ken Livingstone in the London mayor elections was there, along with Brian Oxley, leader of the Tory group on Brighton and Hove City Council.

David Gold, who failed to win the Brighton Pavilion seat for the Tories last June, said: "This is a first for Brighton and Hove. For years the importance of this community has been overlooked, while our contribution to the city has been undervalued.

"If the Conservative Party has not shown the gay community the respect it deserved, I hope events like this demonstrate we mean to change that."

Coun Oxley said: "The evening was a great success and a real step forward. This is the start of a genuine dialogue which we intend to maintain and develop in the coming months. We are the party of all the people."

He added: "We have a young agent, we have gay members, in fact we are probably the most inclusive party of the lot. We are doing things for groups who feel disenfranchised."