We want to vote, not fight: A BNP candidate is standing in tomorrow's by-election in Shadwell. Esther Oxford spent a day there canvassing the views of local Asians

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A year has passed since the British National Party won its first by-election

in Tower Hamlets, east London. Now it has bounced back, proclaiming 'rights for whites' in a ward where nearly half the population is Asian, black or Chinese. Shadwell - host to a by-election tomorrow - is its target. The BNP says the area has 'tremendous potential'

Labour, which now holds the ward, is taking the threat seriously. For the past few weeks members have been canvassing and leafletting.

Members of Shadwell's largest minority group, the Bengali community, are keeping a level head: 'Nobody round here - not even the whites - will vote BNP', says Sazad Miah, 23, a student at Kingston University and a resident of Shadwell. 'It would mean trouble for them as well as for us.'

Shohid Osmani 21, from Shadwell, is trying to set up his own business.

Our way of tackling bad feeling around here is to put on festivals. We use gigs to attract a mixed crowd and unite people.

Tension is easy to spot. New faces stand out in an area like this. If there are groups of three or four whispering you know what is going to happen.

I work as the sound person at these festivals. I can see what is happening in the crowd from the stage. I keep an eye open for trouble but for the most part people mix peacefully. It is a beautiful sight to see - people together, socialising, getting on.

I think the by-election will pass peacefully. People realise that if the BNP get in it will mean trouble for everyone. I don't think the BNP stands a chance.

Me? I'll be voting Labour. I think most people will. I never used to bother voting but every vote counts when the BNP is around.

Rhana Begum 26, has six children. She lives in a two-bedroom council flat in Shadwell. She has been in London for eight years and speaks no English. Her husband is a tailor.

I will vote Labour at the by-election. I don't know why I vote. I suppose it is because my husband tells me to.

I don't like the BNP because of their bad influence. But I won't be scared to vote. There will be too many people around and my husband will be there.

Housing is the most important issue for me. I would like to live in a safe flat - a flat on the ground floor. I would like more bedrooms for my children. And a better education for them too. I don't have time to think about other issues. I have too many daughters to look after.

Rajeev Mohammed 23, a student, lives in Shadwell.

The BNP is standing just to create trouble in this area. They know they don't stand a chance - they just want violence. But we are organising a defence. If there is any problem we will gather together.

For the past week our leaders have been handing out whistles with leaflets explaining how to use them. If there is any trouble the whistles will be blown. That is the signal for our community to gather on the street. If it means fighting, we will fight. We have no choice.

The leaflet tells all the old people to stay inside. Only people strong enough to fight are asked to participate. I don't think we will bring weapons. But if the worst comes to the worst I'll just look round for a stone or a stick.

The practice run is on Wednesday, early evening. We will pretend that the Nazis and skinheads are here and do a mock drill. It sounds extreme, but we have to protect ourselves. The police don't do anything.

Sukur Ali 37, is an unemployed father of five. He has lived in his two-bedroomed council flat in Shadwell for 11 years.

I can see the polling station from my window. I think that if there is any violence my people will respond peacefully.

If one of these skinheads hits out, our community will just turn away. But it depends on the number of BNP skinheads. If there are a few we will try and cool them. If there are many we will go back to our homes. If necessary our people will suffer injuries: they are there to vote, not to fight.

Absa Ali 21, has lived in Shadwell for 19 years. She used to work at a chemists, but stopped when she had her first child. Her husband is a tailor for a small family firm. He earns pounds 2 an hour.

When I walk in the street people swear at me and say rubbish things. If I am alone I ignore it. But if I am with my husband I swear back.

I won't be afraid to vote. Even if there are BNP members at the polling booth, nothing will stop me.

My husband talks about politics with me sometimes. He wants to join a union, have better pay and fewer hours. But often he is too tired to talk to me. He starts work at 6am and doesn't finish until 9pm.

I listen to what he says, then I talk about it with my friends. They come round here during the day. We sit and eat and drink tea and chat. Sometimes we talk about politics - about schools and hospitals. But most of the time we talk about our children. I have a son, you see.

Anwara ashi 13, has been brought up in Shadwell. She is in her third year at school. She wants to be a doctor. Her mother is.

Teachers at school tell us to persuade our parents to vote. We have group discussions where we talk about different issues. The BNP is a real problem in this area.

Sometimes when I walk on the street I get trouble. Gangs of white girls mostly. They stand across the pavement so that you can't walk through and push you around.

I've got used to it - it happens about once a week. But the days are getting shorter now, so I'm not sure how safe I'll feel soon.

My father is in the Labour party. He goes to party meetings. When he comes home he tells my mother what was said. I listen carefully. Then I go to school and tell my friends what he said.

My father is respected. They listen to what I have to say then they go home and encourage their parents to register. Some of their parents have no education at all. They have to be shown how to fill in the forms. But it is worth the trouble. We feel it is important that the BNP is kept out.

Only once have the BNP come to my home. They found out that my father is in the Labour party. They saw my mother and started swearing: 'You fucking Paki; bastard' - words like that. My mum came in and locked the door.

Parveen rozi 31, is Anwara's mother. She works as a primary carer at a local infant school. She has lived in a council flat in Shadwell for 14 years. Her husband is a member of the Labour party. She would like to be a member too, but must work, then come back to 'cook, clean and look after the children'.

When I see the BNP people I shut the door and don't go out. I have five children. I don't like problems. I want to live quietly.

Sometimes it is worrying because I can't tell who is BNP and who is not. I only find out when they call me names.

I want to vote at the by-election, but I am worried about the people who stand outside the polling station. My friends are also worried. But I tell them: 'You must vote. Any vote. I don't mind which party. But it is right that you must vote'.

A lot of the ladies are old. They don't know how to get to the polling station or how to fill in the forms. They come to me and say: 'If you help me I will go'.

On the day I will go with my husband. I will invite anyone who does not want to go alone to come with us. I will help Somalis, Jamaicans, anyone. I want to live peacefully.

Some names have been changed

SHADWELL statistics

Population of Shadwell ward: 10,038

Size of electorate: 7,000

Average turnout at ward by-elections: 25 per cent

Expected turnout for this week's by-election: 35 per cent

Central issues: unemployment, poor housing, pollution

Breakdown of different ethnic groups:

53 per cent white, 38 per cent Asian,

5.5 per cent black, 1.3 per cent Chinese

2.2 per cent Other

Housing: 70 per cent council-owned

30 per cent owner-occupied

Unemployment: 22 per cent

Biggest employers: NHS, print works

East End's biggest bingo hall

Closed industry: the docks

(Photographs omitted)

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