Lib Dems concede defeat in Tower Hamlets: Party officials attack Ashdown's criticism of 'racist' campaigning Mary Braid reports

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Indy Politics
Liberal Democrat officials said internal criticism of their allegedly racist campaigning had resulted in a voter backlash that directly benefited Labour which regained control of the council after 10 years.

Derek Beackon, who took the BNP's first council seat on the Isle of Dogs last September, appeared to have retained his own seat but admitted his party would not win the two remaining Millwall seats that would have given it control of a pounds 23m neighbourhood budget. Labour said it would scrap the neighbourhood scheme.

Results came slowly in the controversial East End borough. Tellers said the turnout was exceptionally high.

The Lib Dems held the grove and Park wards in the Bow Neighbourhood and Labour held Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs. The two Labour gains were in the St Marys wards in Stepney. Outside, 200 Anti-Nazi League supporters stood in the rain chanting slogans against the BNP. The ANL vastly outnumbered small groups of BNP members gathered round the hall.

Only minor scuffles were reported but a Green Party candidate suffered cuts when a bottle was thrown by an ANL supporter who mistook him for a BNP member. Several hundred police were on duty around the hall and in the surrounding streets.

Gwyneth Deakins, chair of the local Liberal Democrat Party, which was at the centre of the internal inquiry into alleged racism last year, denied any official decision to pull out of Millwall or to scale down the party's campaign there.

Fifty yellow-bibbed observers who manned polling stations in Millwall, yesterday were making history. For the first time in Britain, independent monitors were judged necessary to ensure the right to vote without fear of intimidation.

Members of the civil rights group Liberty stood outside every polling station in the Millwall ward.

After allegations that Bengali voters were put off voting by gangs of skinheads in September, safety in numbers was offered yesterday with mini-buses and walking groups organised by local churches and Bengali community organisations.

'We expect to bring 300 Bengali voters down here today to vote for Labour,' said Shafique Choudhury, standing in a group of sari-clad women outside St Edmund's polling station. 'People are frightened but we are encouraging everyone to come out and vote.'

Churches reported a low take-up of their 'bus to vote' offer, however. With policemen on polling station gates and foot and horse patrols in the streets of the former docks community, perhaps Asian confidence was higher.

At Saunders Ness Road polling station, Mr Beackon,was canvassing white voters, flanked by two supporters in suits. Greetings were warm for this champion of forced repatriation of ethnic minorities. Between the endless calls on his mobile phone there was no shortage of back-slapping. 'How's it going Derek mate? Just voted for you.'

One BNP sympathiser seemed bemused by the new dress code. 'What the bleedin' hell is this then - going to a wedding?' he asked one of the BNP 'suits', whose Union Jack tattoo peeped out from his white shirt collar.

A short distance away on either side stood four more BNP members with shorter hair and no suits. At nearby St Edmund's polling station it was the same story. The BNP candidate, in tweed jacket, stood outside the station while cropped- haired party supporters were placed further down the road to comply with election rules.

Just a few hundred yards away at Christ Church, 60 people from five denominations, sporting rainbow 'peace' ribbons, held a prayer vigil.

Father Jim Hynes, until recently the Roman Catholic priest for St Edmund's parish, said that Catholics who voted BNP deserved to be 'excommunicated'.

(Photograph omitted)