Vaz to answer 'racist' claim

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The Independent Online

Political Editor

Donald Dewar, Labour's chief whip, has called on Keith Vaz, the party's local government spokesman, to answer an allegation that he questioned why a "white person" should be deputy leader of Leicester city council.

The claim that Mr Vaz made the remark - which the Tory chairman Brian Mawhinney yesterday described as "racist"- comes in a series of allegations by the Channel Four 'Dispatches' programme about conflicts and possible irregularities in Mr Vaz's troubled Leicester East constituency.

Mr Dewar is to meet Mr Vaz to discuss the allegations in the programme including a taped conversation in which Mr Vaz, whose ethnic origin is Goanese, is alleged to have said of a candidate for the post of Deputy Leader of the council: "Why should we have a white person?"

The programme also attributes to Mr Vaz an alleged remark in which he reportedly acknowledges that it was part of a "long-term plan" to turn a new housing estate in the city into an Asian colony and bemoans the fact that Asians "didn't bloody well move there."

Mr Vaz, who was not immediately available for comment last night, is said to be ready to answer the allegations, and a Labour spokesman said last night he would meet Mr Dewar to discuss the issues raised by the report "as soon as possible". He is understood to have told party officials that many of the allegations are repeats of earlier ones made on BBC Newsnight at least a year ago.

Dr Mawhinney yesterday wrote to Tony Blair, the Labour leader about what he said appeared to be "the openly racist remark" made by Mr Vaz and added: "Given the serious nature of this allegation I would be grateful if you would confirm whether or not Keith Vaz made this statement.

"If he did I must invite you to dismiss him immediately from your team, in support of the view that we both hold that there can be no excuse for racisim in public life."

According to a transcript of the remarks broadcast in the TV programme, Mr Vaz said : "We don't get a choice as to who the hell's going to take over. And then I was told the person who was going to take over was going to be Brian Shore. and I said why should it be a white person? Why should we have a white person?"