Birmingham Labour’s BAME officer quits over review into racism row

Birmingham Labour’s BAME officer quits over review into racism row

Saima Suleman criticises review, which others have labelled a potential ‘whitewash arranged by white people’

Birmingham Town Hall

The Labour group in Birmingham is facing further turmoil after the branch’s black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) officer resigned over a planned review into a racism row that others have labelled a potential “whitewash arranged by white people”.

The Guardian understands the councillor, Saima Suleman, has resigned from her role over concerns about the terms of reference of the review, which do not include any mention of race.

She said she was “disappointed and hurt that as the BAME officer, my views were disregarded by the leader”, adding: “Some would argue [the review] is a feeble attempt to whitewash the most serious allegations.”

Earlier this year Suleman led a survey of BAME councillors in the city, with respondents claiming there was a “toxic culture” in the local party, and leaders were accused of “not taking racism and discrimination seriously”, the Guardian revealed.

Last week the leader of the Labour group in Birmingham, Ian Ward, announced he had ordered an independent review into the culture of the party in response to the survey results. He said the review, led by “a panel of independent figures from the labour movement”, would explore the relationship and culture between the leadership and backbenchers, as well as how the group interacts with the press and trade unions.

In her resignation, Suleman said she had “expressed deep concerns with the terms of reference drafted, citing that they were not detailed enough” and more work was needed “given the seriousness of the concerns raised”.

In an email seen by the Guardian, Unison’s West Midlands regional secretary, Ravi Subramanian, said the review risked being a “whitewash arranged by white people” and said the terms of reference were “ludicrous and very offensive”.

“They do not refer to issues of race, and they bring in wholly spurious issues to investigate,” he said, adding that he had spoken to the party’s general secretary about the situation. The “leadership should not be responsible for setting their own homework”, he added, and “at the very least the BAME officer who commissioned the survey should agree to the terms of reference”.

Ward said the review would “be fully independent and in that spirit, it is only right and proper that those carrying out the review are free to establish the detailed terms of reference. They will also be given a free hand to carry out the review.”

Announcing the review last week, he said: “The recent survey conducted by the Labour group unveiled a number of concerning views about the group’s culture. On reading the report, I spoke with the general secretary of the Labour party to propose that an independent review takes place.”

He added the review and its recommendations would “help us to grow stronger as a group, and continue to deliver for the people of Birmingham who put their trust in us at May’s elections”.

A Labour group spokesperson said: “We regret councillor Suleman’s resignation as BAME officer and thank her for her efforts in the role. We have a large and diverse group and a new BAME officer will be elected to the role in due course. Group officers are in contact with councillor Suleman to discuss the reasons for her resignation and ensure that support is in place.”