A Labour Councillor in Derby has found himself at the centre of a diversity and racism row after he described a fellow councillor as a “token candidate”.
Labour councillor Ndukwe Onuoha turned on Conservative councillor Gaurav Pandey during a debate at a full council meeting, saying: “I just wonder if he (Pandey) is comfortable being the token candidate in the group (Conservative).”
The comment, made during a debate about diversity within Derby City Council, triggered shouts of “out of order” from within the council chamber.
Councillor Onuoha, the first African person to be elected as a Derby councillor, called a motion encouraging the council to do more to bring more people from under-represented groups into local government. But the motion lost out after failing to get the support of the majority of councillors at the meeting, held on Wednesday, September 20.
Over the weekend the row from the diversity debate intensified when Derby North Conservative MP Amanda Solloway released a statement calling on Cllr Onuoha to apologise for his “offensive and insensitive” remark. Ms Solloway wrote on her social media channels:
“It is incredibly disappointing that in a city council debate such offensive and insensitive remarks were made towards Cllr Pandey. Gaurav is one of the most hard-working councillors in the city and describing political opponents in such an inappropriate way will only discourage people from standing for election. I hope Cllr Onuoha will make a full and unreserved apology.”
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), Mackworth councillor Onuoha wished to respond to the MP’s statement and said his comments were not intended as a personal attack to Councillor Pandey and offered to speak to him in person to explain his words. He said: “I did not mean to say that as a person Councillor Pandey is a token candidate. I am happy to have a conversation with Councillor Pandey to assure him that I have nothing against him. He has been elected so that means people have their own reasons to elect him.
“I would like to make it clear it was not aimed at him as a person. What I meant was when talking candidly would he be happy if the Tories can always point and say ‘look – we have diversity’. I said it because of the unwillingness and lack of commitment from other political parties to have a conversation about diversity. We can’t pat ourselves on the back when there is no full commitment.
“I have nothing against Gaurav and we do get on quite well. If he felt personally attacked by those words then, of course, I’m sorry. Nobody was saying you must have candidates from unrepresented groups in the next election. What we were saying was ‘what about the idea of having (more) diversity in our council’?”