Tories made racist comments to me, claims ex-activist

  • Published
Media caption,
Melanie Owen alleged the Tory party was moving backwards

A former Conservative employee has claimed she was subjected to racist comments by some fellow party members.

Melanie Owen joined the party in 2014 but quit last year over what she considered its inability to deal with the issue.

Ms Owen said she was told she had small hands because her ancestors picked cotton, and was made to discuss the so-called "economic benefits" of slavery.

The party said such comments were "completely unacceptable".

Ms Owen said she raised concerns with party officials about the issue, but was unhappy about with how it was dealt with.

The former party activist, who worked for Welsh Secretary and Vale of Glamorgan MP Alun Cairns until last year, appeared frequently on radio and TV as a Conservative spokeswoman and a Vote Leave representative during the 2016 Brexit Referendum.

"The Conservative Party needs to decide if it wants individuals who say these types of things to represent them, even if it's only on a grass-roots level," she told BBC Wales' Sunday Politics Wales programme.

'It's mad'

"I don't feel that the party does enough to combat this.

"If that's the type of member that it wants representing it... it's mad."

The public relations consultant, who lives in Ceredigion, says she knows of others who also left the party because of similar experiences.

"I can recall one joke being made that I have small hands because my ancestors would have needed them for picking cotton," she said.

"I should have said something, but when you're in a room full of people who think it's hilarious, it's very difficult."

Image source, BBC Sport
Image caption,
Melanie Owen represented Vote Leave during the 2016 referendum campaign

Ms Owen said she had been "made to feel quite uncomfortable being made to discuss the economic benefits of slavery, which I felt is not something I should have been subjected to".

While she said only a small number of individuals were involved, Ms Owen said she felt there was an "overriding sentiment that this was okay to be saying" and that it became "quite prolific".

Ms Owen said she believed the party was more liberal in 2014 but there was now "a little bit of hostility" in the Conservatives towards people from an ethnic minority background.

"I think there is a move backwards," she said, adding that it was celebrated especially among the youth members.

"They need to make a decision as to whether or not racism is something they need to take seriously.

"If they do, they need to do a lot better job of taking individuals to task.

"Otherwise they're going to be losing members who could be doing a lot of good, not forcing it to regress back to the party it probably was in the 50s and 60s."

A Conservative party spokesman said: "Discrimination or abuse of any kind is wrong and will not be tolerated, and these kinds of comments are completely unacceptable.

"When cases are reported to the complaints process, an investigation is launched and action will be taken whenever necessary."

BBC Wales Sunday Politics Wales, BBC One Wales, 17 March, 1100 GMT, and on iPlayer following broadcast