Lib Dems set to limit Asian poll candidates: Tower Hamlets party fears BNP voting surge

Liberal Democrats have drawn up plans to replace Asian council candidates with whites in areas of racial tension in east London.

The decision by party leaders in Tower Hamlets could prove politically explosive in the run-up to council elections on 5 May.

The Liberal Democrats and Labour are gearing up for a battle against feared rising support for the British National Party in the depressed London borough.

The BNP's Derek Beackon snatched victory from Labour in last autumn's by-election for Millwall, Isle of Dogs, and the BNP aims to capture all three seats in the Millwall ward in the forthcoming contests. Under Tower Hamlets' system of devolved power that would give the councillors control of a multi-million pound budget for the neighbourhood.

Both the main parties were blamed for the BNP's by-election success. An inquiry by Lord Lester QC, the Liberal Democrat peer, censured some activists for 'pandering to racism' in election leaflets. Others were criticised for failing to co-operate with the inquiry.

Labour activists, as yet officially unidentified, produced false canvass returns that talked up the chances of a BNP victory, which critics claimed gave the BNP credibility.

Gwyneth Deakins, the local Liberal Democrat chairwoman, was asked last night about the plan to drop Asian candidates. She said: 'We are in the process of finalising candidates. There are a lot of issues. Personal suitability is paramount.'

But she added: 'We have taken the general view that the people we select should reflect the balance of the communities they are going to


In at least four wards, two in Bethnal Green and two in Wapping, candidates chosen at ward level could be changed by the Tower Hamlets party executive. If carried through, the policy could prove to be dynamite in the hands of the Liberal Democrats' opponents.

However, the London regional party last night moved swiftly in an attempt to head off the controversy.

Graham Tope, president of the London region and a co- chairman of the Lester inquiry, said: 'We are discussing with the local party chair how we can conduct new ballots on a one member, one vote basis. The results from such ballots will stand.'

Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, said: 'These are serious allegations. It appears that the Liberal Democrats in Tower Hamlets are continuing to defy Paddy Ashdown and the national party.'

Mr Straw plans to take up the issue with Mr Ashdown personally. But some Labour activists appeared ready to endorse the move as an expression of practical politics yesterday.

One said: 'Candidates should reflect the composition of the ward. Perhaps it would do us a lot of good if we did so.'

It is that kind of sentiment that accounts for much of the opprobrium that has been heaped on the Liberal


Last month Ms Deakins fought to resist an ultimatum to the local party to accept the findings of the Lester inquiry or face suspension. That threat, from the regional party leadership, eventually petered out.

Last night Ms Deakins angrily dismissed suggestions that matching candidates to the racial composition of an area could be construed as a further example of 'pandering to racism' which would be exploited by party critics.

She said: 'Every single thing we do is exploited by our critics. The best we can do is to try to win elections for the people of Tower Hamlets. We want to defeat the BNP, and defeat everybody else.'

Paddy Ashdown, the party leader, last month delivered a strong warning to the local party to make it a priority to stamp out the BNP where it first gained a toehold, in the Isle of Dogs.

Tower Hamlets was recently judged the eighth best education authority in the country by Agency 26, a group of academics and researchers. It has also earned praise from Mr Ashdown for delivering services and value for money, tackling waste and improving housing. But he is known to remain concerned about the lingering race factor.

A shortage of housing is the root cause of campaigning tactics that have brought the Liberal Democrats and Labour into disrepute and caused deep divisions within both local parties. The issue has been heavily exploited by the BNP.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Executive

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading and innovative con...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue