Racism top target of new mayor

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The newly elected Labour administration in Tower Hamlets has put fighting racism at the top of its political agenda. Senior councillors have called a July meeting to devise a package of measures to challenge the British National Party's foothold in the borough.

Arthur Downes, the new mayor, said it was crucial for the borough to 'shake off the tarnished image of an area plagued by race hatred'.

An extraordinary full council meeting will hammer out policy initiatives. Mr Downes hopes the council will consult police and community leaders urgently so a delegation can be sent to the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, to seek greater government funding.

Mr Downes said the council wants more police on the streets, better street lighting and security on housing estates, and firm action against those guilty of racial harassment. He also wants British National Party activists and other right-wing groups driven out of Tower Hamlets.

Derek Beackon became Britain's first BNP councillor in September in the Millwall ward by-election. Local discontent over key policy areas such as housing was blamed. His election prompted violent outbursts between right-wing groups and members of anti-fascist organisations. There was concern that the BNP might make further gains in May's local elections, but Mr Beackon lost his seat and no other candidate was successful.

Under a neighbourhood scheme devised by the Liberal Democrats before they were ousted by Labour, the BNP could have taken control of a pounds 23m budget if it had had two more councillors.

Mr Downes said it was time for a fresh start over tackling racism. 'It will be part of our policy that if there is real evidence of racial harassment we will evict council housing residents. We've always been a friendly people here in the East End and the voice of the common people is saying this has got to stop.'

Born in Bow, Mr Downes has lived in the East End all his life and remembers a number of population influxes including the Irish, the Jews and, latterly, the Bengalis who now make up the majority of the ethnic population.

'But if I think what we went through, fighting against fascism in the war, for it to return here is just terrible.'

The recent loss of about 30 borough police officers has caused alarm, but Metropolitan Police say city-wide cuts will not affect the Racial Incident Team, based at Limehouse.