Letter: `Anti-Semitic' posters

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Sir: As the Race Equality Minister from 1997-2001, who worked to launch the first Holocaust Memorial Day, I little expected to have to defend myself a few years later against claims of anti-Semitism by your columnist Stephen Pollard ("Pigs on a poster are the least of our worries", 31 January). Politicians are supposed to be thick-skinned but given my commitment to combating racism and anti-Semitism, the column deeply pains me.

Not only has the CRE dismissed the original claims by the Conservative Party but most people who have read the article I wrote - and I ask people to do so before commenting - have rejected them too.

I have a strong record in fighting racism and anti-Semitism. As a junior minister I drafted the new laws to tackle racial violence and harassment. I worked to get closer links between the Jewish Community Security Trust (CST) and the police to tackle anti-Semitism and in recent years I have worked closely with Muslims as well as Jews on a range of issues, including the Middle East.

Mr Pollard makes much of the fact that I mentioned in the article the Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris. My article also mentions Charles Kennedy. Dr Harris was referred to in passing because he has been a vocal opponent of a proposed new law on incitement to religious hatred. When I wrote the article I had no idea Dr Harris was Jewish and I doubt that most Muslim readers would know that either.

My article referred to Michael Howard only as leader of the Conservative Party. I suppose in retrospect I could have made the comments at the end of my article by talking more generically about the Conservative Party rather than referring to Mr Howard by name, but it is ridiculous to say that in an election year criticism of the Leader of the Opposition is off-limits.

A fair reading of my article will show that I neither said nor thought the things that Stephen Pollard ascribed to me.

MIKE O'BRIEN MP

Minister for Energy

Departmentt of Trade and Industry

London SW1

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