Two surveys of Conservative candidates have found that the majority support equal gay rights.

A poll of 101 prospective candidates by New Statesman found that 74 per cent agreed gay couples in civil partnerships should get the same tax benefits as straight married couples.

Meanwhile, a Times questionnaire showed that two thirds of the 100 candidates surveyed believe gay couples should have “exactly the same rights as heterosexual couples”.

The Times found that candidates tended to be more liberal than sitting MPs. Eighty-four per cent of MPs thought multiculturalism was bad, compared to 48 per cent of candidates.

It also estimated that if the Tories win a majority of ten, they will have slightly more out gay MPs than Labour currently has.

It calculated that 2.4 per cent of Tory MPs would be gay, compared to 2.3 per cent of Labour MPs.

The number one political hero for candidates was former Tory leader Margaret Thatcher, followed by Winston Churchill.

However, one candidate chose gay rights activist Harvey Milk.

Nick King, standing for Mid Dorset and North Poole, opted for Milk and Thatcher for his choices.

Mr King, who is gay, grew up in California while Milk was the first out gay politician in the state.

He told the Times he left the party in the 1980s over Section 28 but admired Thatcher as a small businessman.

Last year, research by ConservativeHome estimated that the party was likely to gain at least another seven out gay MPs at the coming general election.

Currently, only three MPs – Alan Duncan, Nick Herbert and Gregory Barker – are openly gay.

The research looked at candidates in Tory-held and the top 200 target seats. While it did not specifically ask candidates about their sexuality, it did ask them what kind of politician they thought they were.

In seven cases, respondents voluntarily made reference to it, or were already known to be openly gay.