Khanbhai's racism claims

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorTHE Conservative Party has denied suggestions from the Asian Euro MP sacked over allegations of wrongly claimed expenses that the decision could have racial overtones.

By Graham Dines

Political Editor

THE Conservative Party has denied suggestions from the Asian Euro MP sacked over allegations of wrongly claimed expenses that the decision could have racial overtones.

Bashir Khanbhai, who has been an East of England MEP since 1999, was dropped last week from the Conservative list of candidates for next month's European elections.

The decision came amid growing concerns about newspaper stories over money claimed from an address at a boatyard in Wroxham.

The 58-year-old millionaire businessman, who was born in Tanzania, said he was concerned at the effect his sacking would have on support for the Conservative Party among the Asian community.

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Mr Khanbhai added the Conservative Party was struggling to attract candidates from the minority ethnic communities and felt the decision to axe him could make that task more difficult.

"Many people – including ethnic British citizens – might infer from this decision that there are some people in the Conservative Party who cannot accept successful politicians if they are ethnic," he said.

"If this is likely to be an inference that gains currency in Britain, then the prospects for ethnic participation in Conservative politics will have been dealt a severe blow."

But a spokesman for Conservative Central Office said Mr Khanbhai's suggestions were completely untrue.

"An investigation into Bashir Khanbhai's expense claims showed figures did not add up. It was down to these issues, and not down to ethnicity, that Mr Khanbhai was deselected," he added.

Mr Khanbhai is one of only two representatives of minority ethnic groups to have been elected to either Westminster or the European Parliament for the Conservatives.

There is only one black Conservative life peer, Lord Taylor of Warwick, who failed in his 1992 bid to become an MP when defeated by the Liberal Democrats in what had been the Conservative stronghold of Cheltenham.

Lord Taylor's internet site said he had been subjected to "racist hate mail and death threats" after his selection.

Mr Khanbhai, who lost to the now Education Secretary Charles Clarke in Norwich South at the 1997 General Election, was chosen by Conservative activists to be one of their leading candidates in the 1999 elections to the European Parliament, contested under the closed lists system of proportional representation.

In the past five years, he has been a prominent member of the Parliament's

Afro-Caribbean-Pacific delegation, trying to improve relations between Europe and the world's poorest nations.

Earlier this year he was the personal guest of Saudi Arabia's king at the holy Moslem pilgrimage.

Mr Khanbhai, who was deselected over allegations of travel expenses wrongly claimed from an address in a Wroxham boatyard home rather than his home in Sevenoaks, will be e-mailing hundreds of Conservative Party members in East Anglia on Monday, setting out his detailed version of events.

He claimed to have been gagged by Conservative Central Office, which ordered him to make no public statements about the allegations.

Mr Khanbhai maintained the European Parliamentary authorities had judged him "not to be in breach of any rule of the Parliament" and added "no reimbursement was necessary as I had travelled to and from the constituency address I had registered with the Parliament".

Mr Khanbhai was censured by the Board of the Party on April 19 for breaching party rules, but it allowed him to remain on the party's list because it accepted he had made an "inadvertent error".

Conservative leader Michael Howard subsequently gave the MEP his full support at a Press conference in Cambridge, but with mounting concern within the party, the Board five days later sacked him as a candidate.

"The decision of the Conservative Party Board has... stained my reputation and record of performance," said Mr Khanbhai.

"Its decision undermines Mr Howard's leadership and the reputation of the Conservative Party. I shall do everything I can to clear my name."

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