Muslims accused of Labour 'takeover'

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MUSLIMS in Birmingham have been accused of trying to seize control of the local Labour Party.

Lord (Denis) Howell, the former MP for Birmingham Small Heath, has called on the Labour Party nationally to investigate claims that Muslims in the city are joining the party en masse, ousting Labour councillors from their safe seats.

At the same time, the city's Labour leaders have obtained permission from the party's national executive to move selection meetings for the May 1994 elections to September of this year. The move would freeze constituency electoral rolls and prevent last- minute surges of new members.

Lord Howell said: 'We used to be lucky to get 30 people at a selection meeting, but now it's not unusual to have over 300.'

He added: 'Some of them do not even speak English and know nothing about political philosophies. We have even had motions that meetings be held in Urdu.'

Four Labour councillors have been deselected in favour of Muslim party members. They include Jim Eames, a councillor for 42 years, and Mike Sharp, a councillor for the Nechells area of the city.

Mr Sharp claims he was deselected because the new members 'wanted a Muslim'. He added: 'If you are asking if Muslim members were created to deselect people, the answer is yes.'

Despite the fact that ethnic minorities, including non-Asians, constitute only 15.1 per cent of the city's population, a Labour Party spokeswoman said that 39.1 per cent of members within three inner-city constituencies were Asian. The figure for the rest of the city was 27.2 per cent.

Mac Baker, the former Small Heath constituency chairman, believes that 'thought should be given to why we have this upsurge in Muslim recruitment'.

Mohammed Afsel, a Labour councillor and a Muslim, dismissed the claims. He said the idea of a mass recruitment of Muslims was 'a myth which self- interested people are propagating. If people want to join the party, what is wrong with that?' He denied that some new members could not speak English.

Nazie Khan, of the Pakistan Muslim League, said: 'It is ridiculous. People criticise some Muslims for wanting a separate parliament, and then in the next breath criticise others for joining the mainstream parties.

'All we want is to be represented as British.'