BBC Today presenter Justin Webb suggested Rory Stewart should not stand for London mayor because he is a white man and an Old Etonian.
The ex-Tory cabinet minister, 46, appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme to discuss his mayoral campaign.
However Today presenter Justin Webb, 58, argued that Mr Stewart standing in the mayoral race was not ‘really 2020’.
Mr Stewart is up against Conservative Party candidate Shaun Bailey and member of the Labour Party Sadiq Khan.
The ex-Tory cabinet minister Rory Stewart, 46, appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme to discuss his mayoral campaign
Mr Webb said: ‘You mention that you are proud of the diversity of the mayoral race in London, you are a white guy and Old Etonian – it’s not really 2020 is it, really, to be challenging a black man who is the conservative candidate and the Muslim mayor.’
Mr Stewart added: ‘You are absolutely right it is a fantastically diverse group of candidates which reflects a diverse city.’
‘And you are saying don’t elect them, elect a white Etonian,’ said Mr Webb who was educated at private Sidcot School, Somerset.
BBC Radio 4 Today presenter Justin Webb, 58 said: ‘You are a white guy and Old Etonian – its not really 2020 is it?’
The ex-minister said: ‘I’m definitely not saying that.’
‘It kind of is what you are saying isn’t it because you are standing,’ Mr Webb retorted.
Mr Stewart said: ‘I am saying that you should not be voting for me on the basis of my ethnicity but on the basis of the fact that I feel that as an ex-cabinet minister, as someone who has run for big projects internationally, as somebody who can get things done and has proved in government that I can turn things around.
‘I can make the role of mayor something bigger than it has been in the past – I think there is huge potential in the role of mayor of London.’
Twitter users were quick to call out BBC presenter Justin Webb and claimed ethnicity should not be an issue
Mr Stewart added on the Today programme: ‘I think British political parties are dragging towards the extremes. I think there is a gaping hole in the centre…’
‘I’m obviously not a partisan of Sadiq Khan’s or indeed of any political party – I think that mayoral roles can be done very well by independents.
‘And I think the danger of mayors being part of political parties is they carry the whole damage and the baggage of those manifestos with them.’
Mr Stewart has been highly critical of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s approach to Brexit, leading to him being sacked as a Tory MP by Mr Johnson last month – along with 20 other colleagues – for voting against a no-deal exit.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan is set to stand against Mr Stewart in the 2020 London Mayoral election
Over the coming weeks, the Remain campaigner intends to emulate his walk across Afghanistan in 2002 – which the ex-diplomat wrote about for a travel book – by touring each borough of London on foot as part of a listening mission before the campaign kicks off.
‘I can make the role of mayor something bigger than it’s been in the past – I think there’s huge potential in the role of mayor of London,’ Mr Stewart insisted.
‘I think it’s something that we see in cities like New York, I don’t think we’ve begun to see the potential of it.’
Who is Justin Webb?
Justin Webb was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, and grew up in Bath.
He was educated at Sidcot School, a Quaker school in Somerset, and studied at the London School of Economic where he was editor of student newspaper The Beaver.
Webb joined the BBC in 1984 on their graduate trainee programme where he worked for BBC Radio Ulster based in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
In 2001 Webb moved to the United States as the BBC’s chief Washington correspondent and in 2009 returned to the UK to replace Edward Stourton on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Mr Stewart insisted that he sought to position himself as the London mayoral candidate without ties to either Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson.
He added how mayors who were part of political parties carried ‘baggage’ of their manifestos and suggested he could ‘really focus’ on London’s interests ‘rather than being tied to Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson.’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted yesterday: ‘Rory Stewart wholeheartedly backed Tory cuts that have ripped the heart out of our communities and done so much damage to our police, NHS and schools. He would be a disaster for London.’
Responding to the criticism on BBC Breakfast this morning Mr Stewart told presenter Charlie Stayt: ‘You have just put your finger there on the classic thing, which is we are back to party politics again.
‘But I think what we shouldn’t do is get into this world of everybody throwing personal insults.’
Rory Stewart appearing on BBC Breakfast this morning where he responded to Jeremy Corbyn’s criticism of his candidacy to be Mayor of London
The interview comes following the awkward handshake of Mr Stewart and Mr Bailey yesterday in Victoria Tower Gardens in London.
Mr Bailey turned up just after Stewart revealed his resignation from the Conservative Party and said he was standing in next year’s mayor election.
In the nail-biting clip posted by ITV’s Paul Brand, Mr Bailey is seen striding across the grass and making a beeline for Stewart.
London Mayoral candidates Rory Stewart and Shaun Bailey on Victoria Tower Gardens, London
Moments later, Mr Bailey greets him with a shake of the hand without giving eye contact.
The Tory candidate can be heard saying ‘good to see you’ and repeats himself while they shake but refuses to hold Mr Stewart’s gaze and continues walking with a smirk on his face.
Mr Stewart said London Mayor Sadiq Khan had ‘made the most’ of the role and that it was ‘not clear’ what his dreams are for the capital.
Bailey does not stop and chat during the encounter and continues to walk past the camera crew with a wide grin on his face before clapping his hands together and asking ‘what’s happening?’
Twitter users noticed the awkward encounter of the two candidates and noticed Bailey could not look Stewart in the eye
The BBC have been contacted for comment.