Party denies keeping photographs of its non-white candidates out to pander to the BNP's supporters
The Conservatives have been accused of "pandering to prejudice" by omitting pictures of their non-white election candidates from campaign literature in areas where they are fighting the BNP.
Claims by the Tory leader, David Cameron, to be promoting ethnic diversity were called into question after an entire series of campaign calendars issued in east London – the front line of the fight against the BNP – contained only photographs of their white candidates.
The Conservatives denied that the move amounted to deliberate "airbrushing" of ethnic minority candidates. They insisted that the lack of photographs of their non-white candidates on all campaign calendars dropped through letter boxes was because their list of candidates had not been completed when the material was published. But they could not explain why the names of the non-white candidates, and their phone numbers, did appear, suggesting they had already been signed up to campaign for seats on Barking and Dagenham council. When contacted by the Observer, one Tory council candidate, Wale Oguntona, who is of Nigerian descent, said: "I have been told that all inquiries have to be handled by Simon Jones [the parliamentary candidate]."
On Saturday night Simon Woolley, the national co-ordinator and founder of Operation Black Vote, which campaigns to promote black people in politics, said: "There is a clear intent from the Conservative party to airbrush its candidates out of these leaflets. It is extremely disappointing, given that the Conservative leadership recognises the power of the black vote. This is pandering to prejudice. You can either confront race hatred or pander to it, as they are doing by having only white faces on their material."
Woolley said the party was "covering itself" with the release of pictures that appeared to be cobbled together.
Margaret Mullane, a Labour council candidate, said she had never seen her Tory opponent, Samson Omosule, on the campaign trail. "It would appear they do not want to let the gentleman out. The Labour team has not seen him."
Sadiq Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting and minister of state for transport, said: "If everything is as it appears, this is very worrying. David Cameron talks of open politics and a changed Conservative party, but here it looks as though they are scared of acknowledging their own candidates.
The glossy calendars, bearing pictures of Cameron and Jones on the front, were distributed in wards across Dagenham and Rainham. They are key pieces of campaign literature designed for people to keep on their walls.
The Tories said it was "fiction" to suggest that non-white candidates had been left off deliberately and said there was plenty of material showing these candidates. They forwarded different material to the Observer with photographs of the non-white candidates prominently displayed. But it appeared that these images had been superimposed onto the new material so that they were next to their white colleagues. They were not original, group photos.
Operation Black Vote will publish research this week showing that the black and ethnic minority vote could significantly influence the result in more than 100 parliamentary seats. Cameron has made strenuous efforts to promote the idea of a racially diverse Conservative party, but critics say that in areas where the BNP is a force and there is strong anti-immigrant feeling, parties can be wary of promoting their non-white candidates.
There are fears that in local elections on 6 May the BNP could seize control of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. It currently has 12 councillors to Labour's 37 and the Tories' two. In the Barking parliamentary seat, Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, is standing against Labour's Margaret Hodge.
Ian Austin, the communities minister, says in today's Observer that Labour needs to change its tactics to confront the BNP. "The old tactics of bans, pickets and protests no longer work. Legal action over membership rules is counter productive, too. In the coming election, candidates from mainstream parties will have to take on the BNP at public meetings, win the argument and persuade voters the BNP is wrong."
The Tories have been embroiled in a row about immigration in nearby Romford, where leaflets were distributed claiming the floodgates had been opened to mass immigration. The material was said to be "promoted" by Andrew Rosindell, the local MP. Rosindell was quick to distance himself from the material a fortnight ago. He said: "I did not write or approve this flyer." But he later told the Romford Recorder: "I don't think they're inflammatory; it's how people feel."
If you're interested in the photoshopped leaflets:
Image obtained from Tory Stories.
Oh! I said this was a two-fer. Prepare for second-hand embarrassment:
Cameron slips up on gay equality
In an interview with Gay Times magazine, Conservative leader David Cameron displays uncertainty over support for key votes on equality legislation in European and UK parliaments. Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has called it a "major gaffe."
In the interview, which will be shown exclusively on Channel 4 News at 7pm tonight, the Tory leader becomes confused when questioned on MEP votes for homophobic legislation, and UK votes on civil partnerships in Quaker churches – specifically on whether those votes would be free or whipped for his MPs.
In the past, Cameron has apologised for Section 28, the law Margaret Thatcher passed to stop schools promoting homosexuality. He has also voted in favour of civil partnerships.
However, in the European parliament, his MEPs last year refused to support a motion which condemned a new homophobic law in Lithuania.
Cameron told the Gay Times: "I don't know about that particular vote. What I do know is that we have made very clear our own views about Section 28 in this country; I couldn't have been more clear about that."
In the interview with the writer and broadcaster Martin Popplewell, Cameron agreed that gay equality was a fundamental human right.
Cameron sought to clear up the issues raised in the interview today, after Labour minister Ben Bradshaw described his comments as a "major gaffe".
Cameron told Channel 4 News: "The point is, in the European parliament, our MEPs have a general approach of not voting on the internal matters of another country, even if we disagree with the particular law that there is.
"And I think it's a balance to get that right, but I can see why, if you believe in a looser federation, if you believe that the European Union should be about cooperation rather than about one nation called Europe, then actually, it does make sense in many circumstances to say 'look, these are internal matters for other countries, rather than things we should vote on ourselves.'"
"But no-one should be in any doubt that the Conservative party abhors homophobia, that we support equal rights, that we support civil partnerships, that we think that part of being a strong central right party in Britain today.
"One of the bedrock issues is being in favour of proper equality for people whether they are straight or gay, or black or white, or men or women, or whether they live in the town or the countryside or whatever God they worship - important points."
Gay Times interview transcript:
Popplewell: "If you had taken a stance on it (homophobic law in Lithuania), then it would have sent a very clear message, and you didn't take that stance."
Cameron: "Um, well I don't – I mean the trouble is you're – I mean I'll have to go back and look at this particular – this particular law.
"I barely ever issue instructions to my MEPs to vote in this way or in that way. The MEPs have their own leader.
"They have their own group and I just don't routinely look at their voting behaviour and say 'will you do this rather than that'.
"That's not the way the party runs. I am responsible for the whip in this parliament and how we vote in this parliament, and so for instance over things like the equality regulations or whatever.
"I try to have free votes where possible on these sorts of issues. Sorry it's not a very good answer. I'll have to go and look at this particular vote in the European parliament.”
As the filmed interview draws to a close as Cameron also struggles to answer a question on whether Conservative peers would have a free vote on civil partnerships, or whether the voting would be forced by the Tory whip.
Popplewell: "Back to the UK, and the Quakers want to allow civil partnerships in their places of worship.
"At the moment that's actually illegal. There's a vote coming up. How are Conservative peers going to be voting?” (This has since been passed by the House of Lords.)
Cameron: "Well it's a free vote. There's going to be actually a Conservative front bencher Baroness Noakes, who's signed the amendment.
"I think it's an important debate this and I don't rule out changes. I think it's right there should be a free vote. It was a back bench amendment.”
Popplewell: "You said free vote. You want us to vote for you. If we vote for you – we want you to vote for us."
Cameron: "I do, I do. Do you know – can we stop for a second?”
Video that basically is this article: