The day Michael Howard met his match

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A Jewish immigrant confronted Michael Howard on a radio phone-in show and warned the Tory leader that his incendiary remarks on asylum and immigration would cause more racially motivated attacks.

A Jewish immigrant confronted Michael Howard on a radio phone-in show and warned the Tory leader that his incendiary remarks on asylum and immigration would cause more racially motivated attacks.

The public exchange yesterday came as Mr Howard focused the Conservative election campaign for the third successive day on immigration and asylum, one of the few issues on which the Tories are hurting Labour in the polls.

Federico Mazandarani, 51, tackled Mr Howard about his own Jewish family history as refugees in Britain when the Conservative leader appeared on BBC Radio 4's Election Call.

"Every time Mr Howard opens his mouth and talks about foreigners who are invading this country in the words that he does ... he is making life impossible for us," said Mr Mazandarani.

"Every time Michael Howard speaks about immigration, I get abused on the streets by the general public. This issue has absolutely been the bane of my life in this country for 32 years. I'm sick and tired of having politicians inflating this issue."

Another caller accused Mr Howard of xenophobia. Mr Howard replied: "I reject that absolutely. I will not be accused of racism. My grandmother was actually killed in the Holocaust."

Mr Mazandarani, a dance teacher, who lives in Forest Gate, east London, later told The Independent that like Mr Howard's own grandparents, he was a Jewish refugee who found safety in Britain. "I am the grandson of a chief rabbi, from Iran. If I had any power then I would throw him out of the faith. He is offending everything I consider sacred in the Jewish faith. He is typical of the children of immigrants who are born in this country who completely negate the torture and misery of their parents."

He came to Britain in 1972 at the age of 18 as a student. "When the Iranian revolution began in 1978, I applied as a political refugee to stay in this country. I was studying in Newcastle upon Tyne and within the first three months of my arriving there, I was beaten up in a totally unprovoked attack because of my dark complexion. Over the past 32 years, I have been attacked 28 times, with most of these being racist attacks."

Mr Mazandarani said he had voted Conservative for the Mayor of London, and said he was not a member of any party. "In 1997 [after Labour came to power] I would perhaps get abuse by the public about once a year. Now I am abused about three times a week.

"In the past three to four weeks, I have felt far greater hostility from the general public than the weeks before or the years before, since immigration has become an election issue. My Jewishness is not written on my face but my dark complexion and my accent makes me stand out."

Hannah Ward, a spokes-woman for the Refugee Council, said: "Anecdotally, it does appear that the more politicians talk about immigration issues the more hostility there is towards immigrants. It also seems that the general public's fears about immigrants goes up. It is important the issue is debated. But there is relentless hostility against immigrants. The debate must be balanced."

The Conservative leader was unrepentant, however, and claimed he was speaking for ordinary people in Britain. "I think it's common sense to say we've got to bring immigration and asylum under control," he said.

In a speech in Watford on Britishness, Mr Howard said he was astonished by Labour's reaction when he had spoken out against the abuse of planning laws and the Human Rights Act by travellers. Labour had claimed there was a "whiff of the gas chamber" about his remarks.

"These reactions go to the very heart of what's wrong in our country," he said. "The victims have become the aggressors and the aggressors have become the victims. It's this kind of madness that is creating a growing gulf between the people and the new establishment."

Mr Howard said the Tories were more in touch with the British people on the issue of immigration than Labour. He warned that political correctness threatened to force decent, ordinary people into being "intimidated into silence".

"The British public deserves to be heard. I'm talking about real people, with real concerns, whose voices are simply not heard."

Last week migrant groups warned party leaders to restrain their remarks for fear of provoking racial attacks. Labour ministers fear that the Tory attack on immigration is winning over working-class Labour voters to the Tories.

Last night, NHS managers attacked Mr Howard for whipping up public fears over the MRSA bug. In North Yorkshire, leaflets from Mr Howard claimed there had been 247 MRSA cases at the local hospital in the past year when there had only been six.

Dame Gill Morgan, the confederation's chief executive, said: "We are concerned public fears may have been raised by the Conservative Party letter about MRSA rates.

A Tory spokeswoman said the mistakes were due to a typographic error and there was no intention to mislead voters.

Two lives

FEDERICO MAZANDARANI

was born in 1953 in Tehran, and left Iran for Britain at the age of 18 to study architecture. But he ended up reading interior industrial design at Newcastle Polytechnic.

His father was sent away by his grandfather, a chief rabbi, at the age of seven to make his own fortune. He worked at a bicycle shop and studied to become a doctor and a pharmacist and ran a pharmacy in Tehran until his death in 1982, at the age of 75. Federico completed his degree at Newcastle and in 1980-81 completed a postgraduate certificate in teaching mathematics, drama and dance. He is now a dance teacher in Forest Gate, London.

MICHAEL HOWARD

was born on 7 July 1941 into a Jewish family in south Wales. His father, Bernard, had left Romania, and set up clothes shops in Llanelli and Carmarthen.

Mr Howard attended Llanelli Grammar School and Cambridge University where he first read economics before switching to law. He was president of the Cambridge Union in 1962. He was called to the Bar in 1964 and was appointed a QC in 1982.

A year later he became Tory MP for Folkestone and Hythe. He was a cabinet minister, including Home Secretary, from 1990. He was elected Tory leader in 2003.

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