New Labour, old Labour and the old folks at home

We have had New Labour, now meet New Labor - not the Australian variety but the party fighting an election in London's East End.

Promoters of the Labor Party In Hackney could, however, find themselves subject of a police investigation after allegations of election irregularities.

Tony Blair's Labour Party will decide in the next few days whether to call for a criminal inquiry after claims that Labour supporters were misled into nominating a by-election candidate standing under the banner of "Labor".

The candidate, for a seat in the council ward of South Defoe in north London, is Nicolas Lewkowicz.

There is no suggestion that Mr Lewkowicz has committed any offence but three of the 10 people required to nominate him for election have since made statements to the Labour Party saying they believed he was one of their candidates.

The poll, to replace Anne St Clair Miller, who is standing down for personal reasons, takes place on Thursday.

The Labour Party said yesterday that one of the three nominees had identified Isaac Liebowitz, a rebel Labour councillor, as the man who collected the nomination signatures for Mr Lewkowicz.

Mr Liebowitz was suspended from the party last July pending a full inquiry into irregularities in local elections in May 1994. He is one of a group of rebel councillors suspended for forming a "party within a party".

The nominees, Amon and Annette Shimoni and Rachel Abraham, all from Stamford Hill, north London, said in their statements: "I nominated Nicolas Lewkowicz . . . in the belief that this person was the official Labour Party candidate. I did not intend to nominate the 'Labor' candidate except in the belief that he was the official Labour Party candidate."

Mr Shimoni told the Independent: "I feel deceived and cheated.

"The man who collected the signatures just said he was from the Labour Party.

"I didn't know he meant 'Labor' or I wouldn't have signed the nomination. I have since withdrawn that nomination."

Labour asked the borough returning officer and chief executive, Tony Elliston, to intervene.

His powers, however, are limited so he has advised Labour as to its options. One is to call in the police.

Richard Burningham, spokesman for the Greater London Labour Party, said officials would decide in the next few days whether to call in the police.

"We are taking this extremely seriously," he said. "Frankly, we believe that what happened was a dishonest and deliberate attempt to deceive people. It has very little to do with democracy."

Mr Liebowitz said last night that he was surprised that the three nominees believed they had been deceived.

He said: "I made it crystal-clear that this was an independent candidate who was standing against the official Labour candidate on the sort of socialist principles that Labour has abandoned."

Asked why the word "Labor" was used, he said: "That was to distinguish it from Labour.

"If we had used the name Labour, then there could have been criticism.

"But we decided to use a different word in the interests of democracy."

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