An African Caribbean business consultant is taking the Ladywood Conservative Association to an employment tribunal after failing to be selected as a candidate for this year’s Birmingham City Council elections.
Fitzroy Stevenson claims he was asked by a senior party official to put his name forward, but was shocked when members of a selection panel suggested he “was not the right sort of person for the seat” and turned him down.
The Conservatives will robustly defend themselves by pointing out the candidate they did choose for the May 6 elections is also African-Caribbean.
Panel members selected solicitor Sharon Pennant as the Conservative candidate in Ladywood, a Labour-held inner city ward being targeted by the Tories.
Earlier this week, the Ladywood Constituency Association selected its prospective General Election candidate, Nusrat Ghani, who is Asian.
The race allegation is the latest element in what is proving to be a contentious selection procedure.
Well-known Birmingham Conservative Dominic Fisher, who writes a lively blog under the name Prague Tory, was initially selected for Ladywood. But he stood down after officials in London ruled the selection process had not been conducted in accordance with new party procedures.
He was not a candidate in the re-run, but Mr Fisher, chairman of the Ladywood Conservative Association, is acting as Mrs Pennant’s election agent and has enthusiastically embraced her candidacy. He described her in a press release as “diverse, fresh and unique”.
Mr Stevenson, a former Conservative candidate for Nechells, says he was persuaded to switch to Ladywood after being urged to do so by a local party official. He will claim at the employment tribunal in Birmingham on February 24 that the selection panel discriminated against him on the grounds of race.
Mr Stevenson, aged 49, who has a masters degree in law, said: “I had the interview and it was absolutely disgraceful the way it was conducted.
“They were suggesting I wasn’t the right sort of person for the seat.”
He will tell the tribunal that questions raised by members of the panel sugested that African-Caribbeans generally were considered “uneducated and corrupt”.
“This was a total shock to me. I shall be alleging discrimination under the Race Relations Act and asking the tribunal to investigate what is happening in Birmingham,” Mr Stevenson added.
He will point out that all 49 members of the city council Conservative group are white and that ethnic candidates are never chosen to fight winnable seats.
Mrs Pennant said: “There is something of a conflict in what is being alleged, given that I am an African-Caribbean and I have been fairly selected.
“I am not entirely sure what claim Mr Stevenson will be making in that regard. I have something new, fresh and different to offer constituents in Ladywood.”
Mrs Pennant’s chances of winning in Ladywood appear to be remote. She requires a swing of about 13 per cent to unseat veteran Labour councillor Carl Rice.
The party has a similarly low chance in the General Election, where the Liberal Democrats are seen as the only realistic challengers to Labour in Ladywood.
However, the Tories believe they are picking up support in inner city wards where social deprivation is rife.
Under David Cameron’s leadership, local associations are being encouraged to select a more diverse range of candidates.
The Tory leader of Birmingham City Council, Mike Whitby, said: “Sharon Pennant’s selection is a significant appointment in the city and a great one for Ladywood.
“Sharon is a formidable woman and will be a powerful voice for Ladywood at the city council if elected next May.”
A spokesman for Birmingham Conservatives said: “Sharon Pennant’s selection was made on the basis of finding the best person to represent the people of Ladywood on not on the basis of race.”