Populist asylum stance works in Southend-on-Sea

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William Hague's controversial speeches on asylumseekers paid rich dividends for the Conservative Party in Southend-on-Sea.

The party won an 11-seat majority on the council, where it needed only one gain to take control from the ruling coalition of Liberal Democrats and Labour.

It gained three seats from each party, securing a 57 per cent share of the total vote. Turn-out was close to the national average at 30 per cent.

Mr Hague had sought to boost his party's campaign with a visit on May Day during which he remained unrepentant about his controversial stance on immigration. He stressed that the town should not have to take any moreasylum-seekers.

Charles Latham, the Tories' group leader, said: "The issue of asylum-seekers has been the only issue that virtually everyone has brought up on the doorstep."

Southend officially houses 500 refugees, mainly from Kosovo, but the council admits that the real figure is up to four times more than that because of asylum-seekers sent from London boroughs.

During the campaign, the Conservatives claimed that the town had become a "dumping ground" for refugees.

Mr Latham said: "A lot of other boroughs are renting houses in the town from private landlords to make up their quota. This does put pressure on Southend services because they have to be looked after.

"We have to put pressure on the Government to ensure that other authorities like Southend are not inundated and that other boroughs take their fair share of responsibility."

Barbara Roche, a Home Office minister, is due to visit the town on Tuesday to address some of the concerns.

When the results were announced on Thursday night, Labour supporters shouted "racists" at the Tory victors.

But Chris Dandridge, the Labour leader, insisted: "The asylum-seeker issue had an effect in some areas but it was a mixture of things; there was complacency on the part of our voters and a certain degree of disillusionment."

Sir Teddy Taylor, the Tory MP for Rochford and Southend East, admitted that feelings on the asylum issue had become "horrible".

"A mistrust has been created in an area which had a very good race relations and minorities who have lived here all there lives are under suspicion," Sir Teddy said. "But that's because the Government's administrative system has been seen to fail."