Party leaders unite to condemn racism in Britain

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PARTY leaders last night united in an attack on the scourge of racism after The Independent urged them to join forces with Tony Blair to celebrate the multi-culturalism of Britain. Their unity is a direct response to deep-seated concerns over racismand underlines a growing determination to tackle it head-on.

Government worries over racism surfaced twice last week: once in Prime Minister's Question Time; and again when Mr Blair went to Southwark, south London, for a community meeting.

On both occasions, Mr Blair said the fundamental principle of racial equality was shared by every single mainstream party, which explained "why we can be optimistic about the future of race relations."

But The Independent believes that racism is endemic, and that it cannot be answered by silence - it needs to be confronted and taken on, which is why The Independent has asked party leaders to speak out.

The first day of the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence was told by Michael Mansfield QC, counsel for the Lawrence family, that racism and a desire to protect local white youths meant the police investigation was flawed from the moment Stephen was stabbed at a south London bus stop in 1993.

On the ground evidence of racism is strong, even in cities believed to be well-integrated, like Liverpool.

In a speech to Asian business leaders in London tonight, the Prime Minister will say that much has been done to stamp out racism, but more is needed.

Delivering a powerful statement of faith in Southwark last week, he said: "The single most important thing we can do is to make an absolutely clear statement of behalf of the Government, on behalf of all political parties, on behalf of society, thatwe believe in, and actually welcome a multi- racial and multi-cultural society: that it's a good thing; that it's not something to be frightened of; that it's a healthy, life-giving thing; that it's actually the type of society we want to bring our children up in."

William Hague said last night: "I warmly welcome The Independent's campaign to promote good race relations. The United Kingdom has set an example to the rest of the world in improving race relations, but we should never be complacent.

"More needs to be done to bring down the barriers of ignorance and distrust which still exist in parts of our society. Good race relations depend on tough but fair immigration policy and firm action to eradicate the scourge of racism."

Paddy Ashdown said: "Racism is an evil which undermines the very fabric of society. As a nation we have come a long way in recent years in tackling intolerance and bigotry, but there is still much to do and we must not allow ourselves to become complacent. Britain draws strength from diversity. The enormous variety of people of different cultures, religions and races who make up our society make Britain a wonderfully exciting, vibrant and cosmopolitan place to live."

Dafydd Wigley, the Plaid Cymru leader, said: "We abhor racism in all its various guises and will work with others from all democratic political parties, in Wales and throughout the UK, to defeat it at all times."

Lawrence blunders, page 10

Liverpool apartheid, page 10