Portsmouth’s major political parties are struggling to contain claims they have racially discriminated against local minority ethnic council candidates.
The Conservatives have launched an inquiry into alleged racist incidents in the local party. A leaked letter shows a former council candidate for the party has claimed he was marginalised, bullied and racially abused.
Meanwhile, Labour has angered some members of the Bangladeshi community by deselecting the city’s only minority ethnic councillor and replacing him with a white Momentum activist.
Both claims have emerged as the city’s council has been named by Operation Black Vote as one of England’s least well represented by people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Over the past 10 years, the BAME population in the south of the city has increased. In this time, some members of the Bangladeshi community have tried to become politically active.
At the previous council elections, the Tories put forward four non-white candidates. This time, there are none, party members said.
Massoud Esmaili, a Conservative activist who stood for a council seat, wrote to the party’s chair, Brandon Lewis, in October calling for a complete overhaul of the local party. He claimed he was only allowed to stand in unwinnable wards because of his race.
“I own my own successful business and I have regularly contributed in time and finance. One would expect that this would be recognised by the party and I would be fully accepted,” he said. “Sadly this is not the case. It would appear that I am judged by the colour of my skin.”
The Conservatives are examining multiple claims of racism within the local party, including that a white senior official referred to an Asian councillor as an orangutan.
Labour is facing some criticism for deselecting the only BAME councillor in Portsmouth. Yahiya Chowdhury, a businessman who came to the UK from Bangladesh in 1991, was elected as a councillor for the Charles Dickens ward in the Portsmouth South constituency in 2015.
But he lost the party’s candidacy in November after Cal Corkery, a local Momentum activist, stood against him at a selection meeting.
Friends of Chowdhury, who is now standing in a less winnable ward, said he had fought hard to win Charles Dickens by more than 1,000 votes after it had been held by the Liberal Democrats for many years.
The decision to deselect has left some Labour-supporting locals perplexed. “Would this have happened to a white councillor? I don’t think so,” one said.
Amanda Martin, the chair of Portsmouth Labour party, said no complaints of racism have been made concerning the selection process.
“All of our candidates are selected by local ward members. We are proud to have selected such a diverse range of candidates this year. We know we can still do more and we’ll keep working hard to ensure our Labour team reflects the communities we represent,” she said.