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

represent.'

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

Democrats.

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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future