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Rory Stewart apologises amid fury over 'racist' description of black men as 'minor gangsters'

3 min read

Rory Stewart has apologised after he described three black men he met on the Tory leadership campaign trail as "minor gangsters".

Labour's Diane Abbott was among those who hit at out at the "shameful" remarks from the former Conservative minister, which followed a snub by the three men over the summer.

In a video filmed on East London's Brick Lane during Mr Stewart's ill-fated run for the Tory leadership earlier this year, the trio rebuff the then-candidate's bid to talk to them.

One of them tells the MP - who is now running to be London mayor as an independent - that they "don’t f*ck with politics", before the three men leave while making gestures at the camera.

The video was posted to Mr Stewart's Twitter account alongside the message: "You can’t win ‘em all."

But the ex-Tory sparked fresh anger when recalling the encounter art an event in London on Wednesday evening.

Mr Stewart said: "One thing about social media is that it allows people to see politicians listening... I can go to Brick Lane and three sort of minor gangsters can come up to me and spend a minute telling me I’m an idiot.

"And I can film it on my phone and put it up. And people love watching people being rude to politicians."

Ms Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: "This is racism. And it is completely shameful. Especially when it comes from someone running to be the mayor of our diverse and multicultural capital city."

That view was echoed by Labour MP David Lammy, who said: "Just because a black man is wearing a hoodie does not make him a 'minor gangster'."

And he urged the London mayoral hopeful to "challenge stereotypes, not compound them".

Liberal Democrat London mayoral candidate Siobhan Benita meanwhile said the comments showed how Mr Stewart was "out of touch with Londoners".

"His walks around the capital are a gimmick to cover up for his lack of knowledge about the city he claims he wants to run," Ms Benita said.

Mr Stewart has now apologised for the comments, and said he was "really sorry for causing offence".

“I hope anyone who has watched the video will understand I was describing a light-hearted encounter in which some men were - completely understandably - gently mocking me," he said.

"I was trying to describe the incident to an audience that hadn’t seen the video in order to poke fun at myself as a politician in an awkward encounter. I am really sorry for causing offence."

Thanking Mr Lammy for challenging him on the comments, Mr Stewart added: "I am really sorry."

Speaking after the apology, Mr Lammy - the MP for Tottenham - said Mr Stewart had done "the decent thing".

And he said: "You have an important platform. Please use it to challenge these lazy stereotypes. They genuinely damage life chances."

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