The prospect of joining the illustrious list of British electoral firsts had put the great Chinese political hope in an irascible mood.

Alan Mak has no desire to be inked alongside the first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher; the first black members of parliament, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and Diane Abbott; the first South Asian MP, Dadabhai Naoroji; the first openly gay MP, Chris Smith; or any other notable political quantum leapers.

The British-born Chinese-Malaysian was adamant: he cared little for his ethnic identity, nor for how victory in the British general election on Thursday would make him the first elected Chinese MP in the parliament's 800-year history.

And he dismissed as naive the belief held by Chinese community leaders that having one of their own on the political frontline would help raise the profile and address the interests of the 500,000 or so British Chinese and East Asians, the country's third-largest ethnic group.

No, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for the safe seat of Havant, on the English south coast, was having none of it.

He certainly did not have any desire to talk to the media about his march into the history books - especially to any journalists from mainland China, Hong Kong or anywhere else on his ancestral continent. He turned down interview requests from the South China Morning Post and China Central Television, among others. Even when a whip was cracked by officials at the Conservative Party headquarters for him to meet with Post Magazine, he acquiesced with reluctance.

The ten other Chinese candidates vying for election

Over the phone he lays down the rules. We will not waste time talking about him becoming the first this, or the first that, because, quite frankly, he has bigger and more important things to address. As a born and bred Briton "who cares passionately only for his constituents, party and his country", his ethnicity is of no consequence nor interest to him, his electorate, nor, he believes, anyone else.

"And I certainly have no interest in what people in Hong Kong or China think of me, because I am not representing them. I am representing the people of Havant," he asserts.

Quite. You could forgive Mak his swagger. He was already walking and talking like an MP (Chinese or otherwise) because, effectively, he was one. Bar an act of God or a lobbed scandal grenade, the brash, energetic and successful 30-year-old corporate lawyer would be elected with a comfortable majority. Havant is so safe, so secure, so Conservative blue, with a majority of 12,160, or 28 per cent, in 2010, the other parties hardly bothered to canvass the constituency. And so it proved, with Mak securing an increased majority of 13,920.

Mak was selected from 24 candidates by the local Conservative Association "in one of the toughest selection processes ever undertaken" to replace incumbent David Willetts, who is standing down after 23 years. During the final primary, Mak told the selection panel he was a "Thatcherite, patriot, local champion and national voice" who would work tirelessly for the people of Havant.

"He came across as the strongest candidate, as simple as that, and he was up against other good candidates," says Havant Conservatives chairman Mike Fairhurst. "Alan shone through. He knew the local issues and is committed. He is buying a house in the area. His ethnic background was never an issue. No one noticed."

The high-flying, Cambridge-educated son of working-class immigrants is, by his own admission, a product and the embodiment "of the English dream".

"I see public service as a way of giving back to a wonderful country. My parents always taught me to do good, not just do well," he explains, when we meet.

That's why he's entered politics - "not because of my Chinese ethnicity", he asserts, with disdain at the way his achievement is being racially dissected, profiled and exploited by the Conservative Friends of the Chinese (CFC), Chinese for Labour and the Chinese Liberal Democrats. "Ethnicity and heritage should play no part in this election. I think these groups - Chinese for Labour and so on - are putting too much emphasis on ethnicity," he snorts impatiently.

Even so, he cannot deny he is one of 11 Chinese candidates standing in the election (see below), a record that reflects the change in attitude towards politics among the younger second- and third-generation British-born Chinese and East Asians.

The Liberal Democrats are fielding three ethnic Chinese candidates - Steven Cheung, Philip Ling and Alexander Payton; the Green Party one - James Chan; and Labour two - Sarah Owen and Rebecca Blake.

Mak is one of five ethnic Chinese Conservative candidates, the others being Jackson Ng, Mark Lim and mainland migrants Edward Yi He and Wang Xingang, all of whom were, according to the CFC, partly chosen to raise the profile of the Chinese within the party and Britain. At one CFC function, a Chinese campaigner said the five were also chosen to help foster greater cultural understanding and appreciation of China as the right-leaning, business-hungry Conservative government tilts ever more eastwards.

At the last general election, in 2010, there were seven ethnic Chinese candidates and none won a seat.

Mak may be joined in parliament by Labour's ethnic Chinese star, Owen, the daughter of a Chinese-Malaysian who married an Englishman. Owen stands a good chance of overturning a 1,993, or 4 per cent, majority in a Conservative-held seat located 95km along the coast from Mak's, in Hastings and Rye.

Shadowing the campaign trail and the push to elect a Chinese first over the past few months, it has become evident that ethnic snobbery dances close to racism; some in the chattering British-Chinese political class believe Owen and fellow Eurasian Blake are not Chinese enough.

"Quite how Chinese for Labour think they can claim to have a Chinese representation by touting Owen as Chinese is a joke," said one CFC campaigner.

Others in the Labour camp have criticised Owen for playing down her East Asian heritage for fear of putting voters off, though she tells Post Magazine she is proud of her roots.

Pedants who know their British politics will argue that Anna Manwah Lo, the Hong-Kong born, Cantonese-speaking politician who won a Northern Ireland Assembly seat in 2007 - and who is stepping down this week - was the first East Asian to be elected to a legislative body in the United Kingdom. Then there's Lord Wei - or Nathanael Wei Ming-yan - a Conservative peer and chairman of CFC, who sits in Britain's unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords, and was appointed a seat for his social reform work. Purists maintain, though, that it is a seat in the elected chamber, the House of Commons, that would count as a mould-breaker.

Quite why a modern, multicultural country such as Britain has lagged behind other nations - such as the United States, Canada, Australia and Germany - in electing an ethnic Chinese or East Asian to high office baffles many.

"A lack of accurate official figures about the voting preferences of the Chinese community might be one reason for political marginalisation," says PhD candidate Hou Jiaqi, who is working with the British Election Study, researching the voting habits of Chinese and East Asians. He says Britain's political parties ignored the demographic because they were seen as apolitical and difficult to attract to the ballot box.

But the second- and third-generation are very different. With improved social mobility among British-born Chinese and the rapid growth in the number of skilled immigrants and students from China settling in Britain, there has been a political awakening and a growing desire to have their voices heard alongside the nation's blacks and South Asians, says Hou.

And in an election too tight to call, the three main parties are desperate to widen their appeal.

"The Chinese vote, very realistically, could be the difference," says Michael Wilkes, vice-chair of political awareness group The British Chinese Project. "In several marginal seats across the country, such as Hendon, Sheffield Central and Nottingham South, the Chinese population is vast and could easily be the difference between winning and losing a seat."

The CFC has been given an office at the Conservative Party headquarters, in Smith Square, Westminster, and has the ear of the leaders to help them mobilise the East Asian vote.

"We are also the natural party for British Chinese," declares CFC director Jackson Ng, who is the parliamentary candidate for Liverpool Riverside. "Chinese values of thrift, family, education and business and investment, stability, self-reliance - these are Conservative values."

By the left-leaning Chinese for Labour, fear is being used to mobilise voters. That the rising anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the austerity-driven Conservatives both pose a threat to the prosperity of a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society has been its message.

Throughout the long campaign, Chinese for Labour director Sonny Leung has been reciting the provocative poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis' rise to power.

"For those in the Chinese community who think it is OK for them to leave the voting to someone else, let me remind you of Niemoller's poem," begins Leung, in his speeches. "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist … then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.

"Don't let UKIP and the Conservatives come into power on May 7. Get out and vote Labour!"

The centralist Liberal Democrats are wooing Chinese voters with a promise to "identify the needs and aspirations of the Chinese living in the United Kingdom and give them better representation".

Research by polling company YouGov shows Ng is correct in his assertion that Conservative values mirror those of the Chinese. Polls suggest a 22-point lead over Labour and the other parties. But there's a snag.

"My biggest problem is getting the Chinese out to vote," says Ng, echoing a difficulty faced by all the parties.

Old habits die hard among the British Chinese elders, but an elected Chinese MP of any political hue could change all that, according to Wilkes.

"The first is a symbolic significance, a visible political role model. There has never been a Chinese face in the House of Commons, so no Chinese person in the UK has been able to tune into Prime Minister's Questions or any political debate and see someone that looks like them.

"This lack of visible political presence has given the impression that politics is not an arena for the UK Chinese, and has been reinforced and entrenched over time," he says.

"Having somebody elected into parliament who has grown up in the UK as a British Chinese, encountered the same issues that thousands of UK Chinese face and who understands the cultural particularities of our community would be a huge step forward," says Wilkes.

If Mak's turns out to be the only election success, his achievement will nonetheless be a cause célèbre among his fellow Chinese, including the begrudging opposition. If only Mak would play ball. Which he won't.

MAK IS POSITIVELY peeved about the whole conceit when I arrive to shadow him while he pounds the streets of Havant. The testy mood is not helped by my arriving before him at the Conservative Association.

"Sorry, I'm a bit early," I offer as a soothing introduction as Mak steps out of his car, grasping like a baby to his chest a bundle of clipboards, flyers and bright-blue "Vote Alan Mak" rosettes.

"Yes, you are," he replies curtly. "Would you mind waiting over there?" he adds, nodding away from the association's entrance as he greets his canvassing troops.

Humbled, I retreat to a picnic table and let my resentment pass. As I watch Mak marshal his team in clipped, posh tones, I find myself admiring him.

He's not all vanity and aloofness, as his detractors claim. He's certainly cavalier - border-line arrogant, even - and you understand how he rubs many people up the wrong way. But there's something else, a rare commodity among modern politicians. Mak is a man of convictions. He's a campaigner and a doer.

Maps are studied, streets pinpointed and Mak and his team head off to their vehicles.

"You come with me," he says to me.

He's about to turn the ignition key but stops, twists abruptly in his seat and says, "One thing; I have to insist you do not talk to any of my constituents."

"I am just here to observe, Alan," I reply. "We can talk as we walk. I won't get in your way but I will speak to some of the voters, to see what they think of you, because that's part of the story. I will do that afterwards if I have to."

He sparks the engine wearing a thunderous expression.

"If the CFC and Chinese for Labour think I am going to be representing every Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Korean - and there are many in my constituency - they are mistaken," he warns, as we navigate the streets. "It's a stupid story. I am not standing for the Chinese population of Britain. I am standing for the people of Havant and my country," he repeats.

Like the traffic, he is in full flow.

"I am not focused on what I look like. I am focused on providing a strong economy, good education and prosperity for all. That's what voters want regardless of the colour of their skin, and that's what will make them vote," he says.

"This is modern Britain. Having a Chinese-looking person stand for parliament and becoming an MP is not a story. It's no big deal."

We pull up, ironically, in First Avenue, but I dare not point out the flimsy coincidence. Instead, I tell him many would agree with him.

"So let's make that the story," I say, to placate him, "that there is no story."

Unconvinced, Mak issues a growling "ummm", but there's a hint of a thaw as we climb out and he heads off down a driveway.

First Avenue and the nearby roads are lined by middle-class homes - all detached with gardens manicured by the Mercedes-driving professionals who reside within. We're deep in English leafy suburbia and so ingrained is the Conservative blue it appears to reflect onto the sunny April sky.

Mak is a corporate lawyer by training, an entrepreneur and an investor. He has won a host of business awards, sits on various boards and is a member of a number of clubs, societies and organisations. Off script, he is keen to paint himself as a working-class boy made good.

His parents fled communism and dictatorship in the 1960s, "never able to return", and thanks to the freedom afforded by their new nation - where they arrived "with just a few pounds" - and after much hard work, they were able to give Mak and his sister "opportunities they never enjoyed".

They opened a shop in York, which they ran for 30 years.

"We lived above the shop, and I worked in it from a young age and went on to help run it. It's where I learnt my Conservative values," says Mak.

He got a "lucky, life-changing break" when his state school closed due to falling standards and pupil numbers. The land was sold to a private school, the prestigious St Peter's (founded in 627), "on the condition it give scholarship exams to bright state-school children from poor backgrounds", Mak says.

He became the first person in his family to attend university, reading law at Cambridge. Mak then completed a post-graduate law and business diploma at Oxford University, "where I was a runner-up for the Oxford Leadership Prize".

He worked for international law firm Clifford Chance and dabbled in business start-ups before deciding to run for parliament. Becoming a public servant is his way of thanking the nation that has given him and his family so much, he says.

"Serving as an MP would give me a bigger platform to help more people and advance the causes I believe in, from enhancing social mobility to helping small businesses."

On the doorsteps Mak is received well. He engages, listens and answers myriad questions, from those concerning national policies to burning local issues, which include a much-needed footbridge over the railway line, fracking, housing and education.

Most of those who open their doors are Conservatives and assure him of their vote; others say they are unsure, but all thank him for calling and having listened to their concerns.

"To be honest, I didn't notice he was Chinese. He came across as a plausible, well-read man on local and national issues. I never gave a second thought about his ethnicity," remarks one constituent, Robert Harrison, echoing similar sentiments made throughout the afternoon.

In one street, a man strides out of his garden in his socks and crosses the road to greet Mak.

"I was a lifelong Conservative voter but I am afraid it's not the party I recognise now. I am a UKIPer," the man announces.

There's no hostility, though his comments sound goading. Unnerved, Mak says he is heavily involved in the fight to recast membership of the European Union and crack down on immigration and asks if he can persuade the man to come back to the fold.

"Nah," says the disillusioned gent. "I just wanted to come over and say well done for being bothered to make the effort to come round and introduce yourself."

The trouble with being a politician of conviction is that you make as many enemies as you do friends. Within hours of him being picked to represent the Conservatives in Havant the knives were out.

Mak was accused of being parachuted into a safe seat and being "completely the wrong man who would mean election suicide for Havant".

One poster wrote on political website Conservative Home: "I know Alan and I can't see many redeeming qualities in him." Another commented, "It's not just a sad day for the party, but a sad day for anyone vulnerable and in need of representation. Alan is not your man, he doesn't care."

Someone also raked up a murky episode from his past.

In 2002, Mak was the entertainment officer at the Cambridge [student] Union and was accused of filing a false invoice for paper plates and cutlery. The university's student newspaper, Varsity, ran a full-page report with the headline: "Union scandal: Mak the Knifed".

Satirical website The Blue Guerrilla recently asked, "Would this be the first time someone becoming an MP has been allegedly caught fiddling expenses BEFORE they've got to Westminster?"

I gingerly raise the caustic comments and mud-raking with Mak and he dismisses them as smear campaigns by rivals who wanted his seat.

"You expect this type of thing," he shrugs.

He backs his country's controversial joining of China's Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and believes British-Sino ties should be "strengthened to ensure cooperation on the big issues, such as climate change and free and fair trade".

What about human rights, universal suffrage and the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters - how would he and his party broach Beijing on these issues?

Mak goes cold again and gives the question short shrift. "The people of Havant are my only priority."

We head back to the car and Mak recommends doing a story on him being the youngest MP in the next parliament. "Or one about being a go-getting young politician that's shaking up politics. That's much better."

"Let's get this one done first," I say, and he smiles playfully.

I leave the first British Chinese MP-elect in a much better mood than I found him.