Far-right candidate causes furor in England with win in council race

September 18, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau

LONDON -- After the first electoral victory by an far-right party in Britain in nearly 20 years, disconcerted mainstream politicians reacted with scorn and derision.

"The British people are no longer prepared to be treated as second-class citizens in their own country," crowed Derek Beackon, an unemployed truck driver who won a local council seat in multicultural East London for the openly racist, anti-immigrant British National Party.

"It's a detestable party," said Roy Hattersley, a spokesman for the Labor Party, which held the seat in Tower Hamlets until Thursday's by-election. "We ought to wait till they crawl back under their stones and be forgotten."

Before jetting off for meetings with Japan's prime minister, Prime Minister John Major said: "I think it was an unfortunate result and I want to make clear there is no place in our society for these sort of policies. I hope it will not be repeated."

John Gummer, a Tory Cabinet member, called the BNP "a thoroughly nasty party," adding: "It's not part of normal democratic life."

Mr. Beackon, a bespectacled, balding man with a bristly mustache who lives alone behind a locked, steel door, ran on a platform of "repatriating" all non-white foreigners from Britain. His slogan was "Rights for Whites."

Campaigning this week, Mr. Beackon said, "I am happy to describe myself as a racist. It means I love my own people and want to live among my own people."

His "people" are the white community of former dockworkers whose jobs have vanished with the shipping that used to crowd this area. They believe Asians and blacks get preference in public housing, employment, training and social benefits.

James Hunt, the losing Labor candidate, blamed the "racist housing policy of the Liberal Democrat leadership in the local council.

In what didn't seem to be an exceptionally enlightened statement, he said the best housing in the borough went to ethnic minorities from outside the area in preference to long-established local people.

Labor campaigners also charged the Liberal Democrats had circulated barely disguised racist leaflets.

Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberals, said the election outcome was "very, very bad news to those committed to democratic politics."

He ordered an investigation into the Liberal Party campaign, conceding one leaflet could "lend itself to racist interpretation."

"Racism in any form and at any level is unacceptable in our party," Mr. Ashdown said.

For his part, Mr. Beackon said, after a midnight recount gave him a seven-vote victory over Mr. Hunt, "We're going to take back our own country."

His supporters, many of them skinheads, waved the British flag, chanted racist slurs, shouted "Sieg heil" and sang "Rule Britannia" when the vote count was announced. Riot police kept them apart from demonstrators from the Anti-Nazi League.

Mr. Beackon received 1,480 of the vote for the council seat for the Millwall Ward in an area know as the Isle of Dogs, in the borough of Tower Hamlets.

The Labor candidate received 1,473 votes and the Liberal Democrat 1,284. Mr. Major's Conservative candidate received just 134.

The British National Party had surged to 33.9 percent of the vote, from 20 percent, in a similar election last year.

The Isle of Dogs is an isolated, poverty-stricken area tucked into a loop of the River Thames southeast of the Tower of London. The grandiose, and mostly vacant, Docklands commercial and residential redevelopment project -- rescued only this week from bankruptcy -- looms over the area as empty and dreamlike as the Emerald City of Oz.

Of the 161,050 people who live in the Tower Hamlets, about 50,000 are black or Asian. The biggest minority are the 36,926 Bangladeshi, 22 percent of the total.

The Observer newspaper called this area "London's Racist Heartland."

Racial tensions have been rising in Britain, where 7,793 incidents were reported in 1992, compared to 4,383 in 1988. Ten percent of all racist incidents in England and Wales are said to occur in East London.

Often called neo-fascist or neo-Nazi, the British National Party was formed in 1982 by John Tyndall, 59, a veteran of the National Front and British National Socialist Movement who is still its leader. In 1990, a German neo-Nazi was banned from entering the country to speak to a BNP rally.

"We're a patriotic party," Richard Edmonds, a spokesman for the BNP, told an American reporter. He professed admiration for Patrick Buchanan, the American columnist and former presidential candidate.

"He had an America First Party," Mr. Edmonds said (Mr. Buchanan actually sought the Republican Party nomination and used the slogan "America First"). "Well, we're a British First Party."

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