Asians won't go away, Tony

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Worrying allegations of racism in the Labour Party have been coming to the surface. The most recent suspicions were provoked by campaigning in the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election. These fears arose out of a 16-page Labour Party briefing that attacked the Liberal Democrats' tax-and-spending policies. Labour warned that the Lib Dems' commitment to "full housing and welfare rights for asylum seekers and refugees" was too open-ended to cost, and that creating a "free advisory service for immigrants at the main point of entry to the UK" and "a permanent review body to investigate and act upon the immigrants' complaints" would be a bureaucratic nightmare.

The document says much about Labour's determination to win at any cost, but it is particularly insensitive in a constituency where barely 1 per cent of voters are non-white. It also says a lot about the absence among Labour's leadership of anybody with any background in, or understanding of, the politics of race. Unfortunately, this document comes on top of a series of bitter conflicts between Labour's leaders and the black and Asian communities, which culminated in Tony Blair's bungled attempt to get rid of Britain's only black trade union leader.

Labour now finds itself embroiled in a dozen bitter parliamentary selection battles: in Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford, Tower Hamlets and, possibly, Glasgow. In each instance, the Labour Party machine is working to block the selection of black or Asian candidates. In some seats with large black communities and retiring MPs, Labour has scuppered the hopes of local black activists by threatening to impose all-woman shortlists; while, in other seats without black communities where Labour MPs are retiring, all-women shortlists are not being imposed.

The biggest scandal is in Manchester Gorton where a sufficient number of Muslim Labour Party members were physically barred from entering selection meetings to ensure the reselection of Gerald Kaufman over an Asian challenger. Two internal Labour Party investigations concluded that the barred Asian party members should have been admitted to meetings, but the National Executive Committee still endorsed Kaufman as the candidate.

A similar disregard for the facts is evident in the suspension of four Birmingham Labour parties after allegations of corruption by likely Asian candidates. Although independent investigations by the ombudsman and the district auditor have dismissed the allegations, the Labour Party has refused to lift its suspension of the local parties, and is thus able to impose its preferred white candidates over local objections.

This is the background to the recent warning to Tony Blair, in the Asian Times, that: "We are not going to walk away. Our roots in the movement are stronger than his." He needs to heed it.

The writer is the Labour MP for Brent East.