Labour councillors have welcomed the 20 year milestone since the defeat of the country’s first BNP councillor on the Isle of Dogs.
Derek Beackon became the British National Party’s first councillor in September 1993 after a divisive and racially charged by-election campaign in the borough’s Millwall ward. His election marked a significant change in the politics of the borough with many people outraged at his openly racist outbursts and promises to only work for the white community.
Beackon was a councillor for less than a year when at the local elections on 5th May 1994 the Labour Party, led by then councillor John Biggs, rallied a successful campaign to oust the BNP councillor at the same time as winning back control of the council from the Lib Dems.
Today’s Labour councillors have welcomed the twenty year absence of the BNP in Tower Hamlets. They described Beackon’s defeat and the BNPs subsequent collapse as “a turning point in our borough, where our community came together to reject the BNP’s racist politics of division.”
Reflecting on this year’s election campaign Labour expressed regret that racial division was again playing a part in the borough’s politics. The intervention comes after the man who led Labour’s fight against the BNP, John Biggs, now the Party’s candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets, faced a racially charged smear campaign from supporters of rival mayoral candidate Lutfur Rahman. Leaflets circulated online by Rahman supporters have accused Biggs of having a “racist history” and described the Labour mayor of Newham, Robin Wales, as believing in “ethnic cleansing”.
Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Sirajul Islam, said:
“Derek Beackon’s election was a turning point, with our community coming together to reject the BNP’s racist politics of division. In the Labour Party we are proud to have led that fight and will always stand up to those who foster division for political advantage.
“It is deeply saddening to see that once again this kind of division is finding its way back into our borough. John Biggs’ record of fighting racism is clear for all to see. Anyone who thinks it’s alright to baselessly throw accusations of racism around obviously has no idea of the level of hurt true racism can cause.”
Labour Candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said:
"I'm very proud of the work we did, under my leadership, to rid the borough of the BNP and of the record of the Labour Party in standing against intolerance and racism. As time passes it is easy to forget how tough those times were for many in our community.
"Divisively cheapening the use of the word racist is offensive to the memory of those who have suffered and does nothing to create good community relations in the East End. As Mayor I will fight intolerance, and promote good community relations."
Former Labour councillor, Martin Young, one of Labour’s successful candidates who beat Derek Beackon in 1994 said:
"Labour Party members have not forgotten and will not forget our responsibility in helping to ensure there is never again a victory at the polls for a racist or fascist. Our work in control of Tower Hamlets Council from May 1994 addressed public need which had been exploited by the BNP. Led by John Biggs, Labour re-united the Borough. We support community initiatives which have successfully brought people together. We were for all the people of the Isle of Dogs, then as now."