Tory race row councillor says: E-mail was silly

PUBLISHED: 16:03 25 November 2009 | UPDATED: 10:19 12 August 2010

SUSPENDED: Councillor Peter Hobbins.

SUSPENDED: Councillor Peter Hobbins.

THE CHAIRMAN of the Conservative Association claims the assertions made by a racist councillor about prospective parliamentary candidates need to be taken with a large pinch of salt . Orpington councillor Peter Hobbins was suspended from the Conserva

THE CHAIRMAN of the Conservative Association claims the assertions made by a 'racist' councillor about prospective parliamentary candidates need to be taken with a 'large pinch of salt'.

Orpington councillor Peter Hobbins was suspended from the Conservative party last Friday after leaked e-mails from him to fellow councillors and the Orpington Conservatives Association (OCO) chair John Esler were branded racist.

After moaning about the apparent low standard of applicants for the safe Tory seat, Hobbins - a school teacher - said not one of them has a 'normal' English name and that he was 'sick of reading about Africa' on their CVs.

Mr Esler, who has been chair of the OCO for three years said: "It was inappropriate behaviour and we are having a management meeting to decide the course of action.

"I just looked at the e-mail and decided it was just junk and treated it as such."

When asked by the Times if he thought he should have alerted someone about the racist content in the e-mails, he said: "I read it as somebody that wasn't saying anything useful, that I didn't need to act on it.

"He definitely shouldn't have said it and shouldn't have thought it. What has happened, has happened.

"It is not exactly in character for him. He doesn't normally behave like that. Knowing him, it is more naïve than malicious.

"Central Office make you go through a lot of hoops to get onto the approved list. I think you take a lot of what was said with a lot of salt on it."

The e-mail sent last Thursday read: "I have been contacted by a Mr Dilon Gumraj and a [former MEP candidate] Zerha Zaidi. Not one of them has a 'normal' English name.

"They want to be the PPC's (sic) for Orpington and asked me for my personal advice on how they would be the best candidates for Orpington constituency. My view? For hells sake. Why are the candidates department so keen on these foreign names?

"The candidates department are simply rushing these names through. They have absolutely no idea about how associations are organised and have ZERO experience of political campaigning. Their e-mails are PATHETIC.

"Maybe I should change my name to something foreign - how does Petrado Indiano Hobbinso sound to you?"

In another e-mail, sent 40 minutes later, he wrote: "Here are just some of the questions some of these 'approved candidates list' who have

e-mailed me about standing for Orpington in the last few days.

"How do I plan my speech? What do I do if I can't answer a question? Where is Orpington? I'm not sure how to approach this as I've not been involved in politics before..."

Lee Rotheram, who is nominating himself for the Orpington shortlist this week, said: "I have met Mr Hobbins once and he came across as a decent man. The point he was making seems to have been that people in the party outside of the constituency were pushing potential candidates onto the association who were being selected because of political correctness rather than because of their experience.

"If the questions that were being e-mailed were indeed as he puts across, then he seems to have made a valid point that appear to be subsumed by the allegations made by political opponents.

"He might have expressed it much more diplomatically; another example of the perils of treating e-mails as if oral communication."

But a spokesman from Conservative Central Office said last Friday: "Councillor Hobbins has been immediately suspended from the Conservative Party and from the Conservative Group on Bromley council and he will play no part in the selection of the parliamentary candidate. There is no room for racism in the Conservative Party."

Former parliamentary candidate Mr Hobbins told a Sunday newspaper that he was mortified by the leaking of the e-mails, adding: "The e-mail was naïve and silly and I'm sorry. After years of being told we have to include new modern faces to the exclusion of people who have been in the party for 20 years I just snapped."

He told the Times: "I have resigned from the Conservative Party. My comments in the leaked e-mail were meant in no way to offend and I am not and have never been a racist. I have friends who are black, white, Asian and from all sorts of different backgrounds.

"I was simply unhappy at number of related issues that had left feeling unhappy and in the end, yes I did snap."

The meeting to choose the Tory candidate will take place on Friday, December 11, at the Methodist Church in Sevenoaks Road, Orpington, at approximately 6pm, where Orpington Conservative members will vote from a shortlist of approximately six people. Applications for the longlist close next Monday..

Meanwhile, disgruntled Tories in Beckenham are said to have lodged a formal complaint to party chairman Eric Pickles about the quality of shortlisted candidates.

The list has half female and half male names for the prospective parliamentary candidates including former UN Commander Bob Stewart, biographer Jo-Anne Nadler, former newsreader Sally Marks, doctor Daniel Poulter, scientist Lynne Hack and Councillor Tariq Ahmad.

Both Beckenham and Orpington seats are open to new candidates in the next general election after earlier this year current MPs Jacqui Lait and John Horam announced their retirement.

l Melody Foreman - commentary on page 4

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