Far-right harks on violence to win votes

BNP is stoking up racism in a London Docklands by-election. Ian Burrell reports

THE SPRING bunting is out on the Isle of Dogs. The appearance of Union flags hanging from the balconies and tower block windows is a signal that local elections are once more pending in Millwall.

The ward where Derek Beackon became the first British National Party councillor four years ago, is once again the focus for the far-right's attempts to fuel racial disharmony. The BNP is basing its new campaign on a claim that the white community in east London is being terrorised by gangs of Asian youths in what it recklessly describes as "something near to civil war".

In particular, the party has sought to capitalise on a horrific attack on a 14-year-old Maltese boy by a large gang of young Asians. Paul Sammut was badly beaten and one of his fingers almost severed by a knife wound in February. The incident brought angry protests from a section of the white community who claimed the police were slow to respond.

The victim's father, also called Paul, said the attack would generate votes for the BNP. "I think everyone will be behind them more than 100 per cent," he said, adding that he personally was not interested in politics and would not vote for the BNP. "We have totally had enough of it. We want rights for ourselves," he explained.

The Bengali community on the island later helped police with their inquiries and eight youths have been charged in connection with the incident. But a fortnight ago, up to 200 Asian youngsters from different gangs clashed with baseball bats, knives and machetes at nearby Poplar Park, east London. Three youths were taken to hospital and, although none of the victims was white, the incident provided more political capital for the far-right.

Edwin Lewis, who runs the multicultural St Andrews Youth Project on the island, admits: "At the moment, the BNP don't have to do any work because the kids are doing it for them." He said the BNP had adopted more subtle electioneering tactics. "They have realised that the mob rule and shaven-headed approach didn't work," he said.

Yet, despite concerns over some isolated yet serious incidents, race relations on the Isle of Dogs are clearly improving. Curtis Francois, 35, a black council caretaker, recalled: "This area used to be a no-go area. It was sprayed on the walls `Isle of Dogs for whites only'. Things have definitely quietened down."

Marianna Norris, mixed race and 26, looks out at the union flags from the kitchen of her eighth-floor flat. Another flag hangs in the window next door. But as a race-harassment worker for Victim Support she has not seen an increase in racially motivated attacks.

"We have not had many incidents and things do seem to be getting better," she said. "I cannot see the BNP getting in because the ethnic community is starting to speak up and they will now go out and vote."

People who have moved on to the island more recently seemed to be unaware of its far-right connections. Michael Alford, 58, a ship's purser, asked: "BNP?... which is?" He said that he would be voting Labour.

In 1994, the election of Mr Beackon was at least effective in putting a community that had felt forgotten into the limelight of national interest. But the shock card has been played and former BNP voters said they now felt the party could do little to improve their living conditions.

Jason Wright, 20, out walking his pit bull, should be prime BNP material. Having voted for the far-right party in the past he regards the ruling Labour council as "a load of crap". Yet, he said: "This election, I can't really be bothered. Nothing is going to change."

On the doorsteps, however, some Labour canvassers have been concerned that BNP supporters have been less coy about identifying themselves than in the past. Living in the shadow of the Canary Wharf tower, the people of the Isle of Dogs are made only too well aware of their economic disadvantage.

Tower Hamlets council argues that in six months it has helped to find jobs for 600 local people amid the waterside restaurants, financial institutions and designer clothing outlets of the booming complex. But many locals are unhappy with the new landscape. There are concerns that a proposed luxury apartment development on a lead-smelting site could cause environmental problems without providing homes or jobs for islanders. The extension of the Docklands Light Railway to Lewisham will temporarily close Millwall Park.

The Labour-run council is only too well aware that it must address such grievances and fully mobilise its vote next month if the Isle of Dogs is not again to become a symbol of racial division and the subject of national contempt. One of the sitting Labour councillors in Millwall, Martin Young, admitted: "People have a clear choice between us and the BNP."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an enthusiastic Maths Tea...

Urgently looking for Qualified Teachers and NQT's

£110 - £120 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Urgently looking for Qua...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform