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Fury over Labour racism claim; Party chiefs accused over axed councillor.

Labour was plunged into a furious row last night, when party organisers were accused of "incompetence" or "alarming racism" over the controversial ousting of a Birmingham councillor.

The charges were indignantly rejected by a Labour source, who hit back and said genuine victims of racism would wonder if the partys accusers knew what they were talking about.

Supporters of Coun Raghib Ahsan have been up in arms since the Labours West Midlands regional executive de-selected him last month from his Sparkhill seat.

The panel chose a white candidate, Sparkbrook builder Mr Ian Jamieson, to fight the predominantly Asian ward for Labour in Mays local elections.

Coun Ahsans supporters have since urged the party to reconsider the decision, and a petition signed by most members of Birminghams ruling group of Labour councillors has demanded the lifting of party suspensions which led to the panel being given the decision over who should fight Sparkhill.

Sparkhill is one of eight inner-city ward parties suspended for more than three years over allegations of membership irregularities.

Now Coun Ahsans supporters have stepped up their campaign with a flood of letters to Labours national secretary Mr Tom Sawyer and regional party bosses. The letters pay tribute to Coun Ahsans work as a councillor.

He is a member of Birminghams education committee, and some of the tributes including two from Birminghams main teacher unions highlight his work to raise standards in schools.

Another letter, from fellow Sparkhill representative Coun Roy Benjamin, who chairs a primary school governing body, says Coun Ahsan has campaigned vigorously and effectively on educational issues in the ward.

Coun Benjamin, who is also chairman of Birminghams equalities committee, appeals to Mr Sawyer to try to rescind Coun Ahsans de-selection. And he adds: "The decision... iethe demonstrates the incompetence of party organisers locally, or perhaps more cynically demonstrates an alarming degree of inherent racism.

But a party source dismissed the charge of incompetence saying the regional executive had chosen the best people for the job.

He added that accusations of racism had been heard time and time again over the past three years.

He said: "Its an insult that gets slur around far too often... Genuine victims of racism will wonder whether Roy Benjamin knows what he is talking about."
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Author:Harrison, Stephen
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 31, 1998
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