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U.K. campaign "becoming ugly"

Hasan Suroor

Politicians asked to calm down on racial issues

LONDON: Political parties in Britain have been warned against inflaming racial passions by harping on sensitive issues such as immigration and asylum in their general election campaign.

The chief of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), Trevor Phillips, has expressed concern over the tone of the campaign saying, "I don't like what I'm hearing.''

Urging the politicians to "calm down,'' he said: "I think it [the campaign] is becoming ugly and I think it is because people are having debates about perfectly legitimate subjects but maybe doing it in ways which create tensions.''

Mr. Phillips' remarks in an interview to The Times came as the Conservatives ratcheted up the rhetoric over immigration and asylum with their party chief, Michael Howard, making it a key plank of his campaign.

Disillusionment

Opinion polls show that immigration is the only issue on which the Conservatives are ahead of the Labour Party which, despite widespread public disillusionment with some of its policies, is widely predicted to win the election.

Mr. Howard, who has promised a "cap'' on immigration if his party comes to power, has been accused of whipping up xenophobia by "crudely exploiting'' an emotive issue, but he insists that it is "not racist'' to talk about immigration.

"It's not racist to limit the numbers [coming into Britain]. It's just plain common sense,'' he said in a speech accusing the Labour Government of "pussyfooting.''

Mr. Phillips indicated that he was alarmed by the tone describing himself as "probably the most worried person in the country today.''

He said while everybody was entitled to talk about immigration, they should not do it in a manner that might contribute to racial tension.

"We want politicians to calm down, take a step back and realise what their words — and the tone of their words — may do to people on the ground... .If someone gets badly hurt during this campaign, all those people using this sort of language will have to ask themselves if they contributed to it,'' he said.

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