Lib Dems accused of 'whitewash' over racism expulsions

LEADERS of the Liberal Democrats were accused of a 'whitewash' last night after recommending the expulsions of three members for allegedly 'pandering to racism'.

But Lord Lester QC, who led a seven-strong committee of inquiry, denied his report was a whitewash and accused Labour of using tactics which were just as bad.

The three to be expelled are Jeremy Shaw, a councillor, Jonathan Mathews and Tom Winnifrith, who were involved in issuing leaflets in the East End of London.

Last night, Scotland Yard confirmed that the Attorney General, Sir Nicholas Lyell, had asked the Metropolitan Police to examine whether one of the leaflets was an incitement to racial hatred.

Jack Straw, the shadow Cabinet minister whose allegations led to an inquiry, accused the Liberal Democrats of letting others off the hook.

The inquiry was ordered by Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, after the British National Party won a council by-election in the Millwall area of Tower Hamlets, east London.

The victory shocked politicians and caused fears about the rise of the extreme right wing in Britain.

Belle Harris, the Labour councillor who lost his seat in the by-election, yesterday accused Liberal Democrat leaders of a damage limitation exercise.

Mr Harris urged the Commission for Racial Equality to put pressure on the Director of Public Prosecutions to take action under the Race Relations Act against Liberal Democrats who had issued racist leaflets.

The inquiry report criticised the party leadership, saying it found 'ample evidence' that the party at federal, national and regional levels had been aware of problems in Tower Hamlets since 1990.

'It is also clear that despite a number of suggestions to this end, no effective concerted action has been taken at any time to ensure these problems were fully and effectively resolved,' it said.

The use of Liberal Democrat 'focus' leaflets had involved 'exploitation of the local prejudice against immigrants in the allocation of housing in order to win votes'.

It condemned the conduct of Mr Shaw, Mr Mathews and Mr Winnifrith, but the committee said it was unfortunate that action was not taken after Mr Harris had taken seven Liberals to court for issuing a fake Labour leaflet in the May 1990 elections. It alleged that if elected Labour would rehouse homeless Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets.

The report found that Liberal campaign statements such as 'Liberals fight for local people' or 'Liberals fight for those who survived the Blitz' were construed as racist.

It criticised three other councillors for failing to co-operate with the inquiry: Betty Wright, John Snooks, and Jim Smith.

It also criticised the lack of a system by the regional or federal party to guide the Liberal Democrats in Tower Hamlets, ensuring that their campaigning literature 'did not pander to racist sentiment'.

Mr Winnifrith accused the Liberal Democrat inquiry team of using him as a scapegoat, a charge denied by Lord Lester.

'I played a part in two leaflets. There were many senior figures in Tower Hamlets Liberals who played a part,' he said.

'It's quite clear that the small guy is dispensable. That is me. I am being scapegoated because I am dispensable and they are not,' he said in a BBC Radio interview.

Exposing the bitterness against Lord Lester's team, he accused those who wrote the report of 'living in the shires and leafy suburbs sipping claret'.

'We won this borough without help from the national party. They've been a nightmare ever since we got involved with them. It's up to each individual person and their conscience whether they can accept this pile of shit that Lord Lester had produced.'

One Liberal Democrat councillor in the borough, Eric Flounders, last night said he was one of five who had resigned from the party as a result of the inquiry. 'I have to say I disagree with the basis on which the inquiry took place,' he said. There was nothing racist about the leaflets: 'The inquiry was set up as a result of hysterical over-reaction by Paddy Ashdown.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
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: PPC Executive - Manchester City Centre

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This forward-thinking agency wo...

Recruitment Genius: Artwork Design Apprenticeship

£7200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Artwork Design Apprenticeship is avail...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web design and digital age...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor