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Bishop of Croydon, Rt Rev Wilfred Wood
"Black people's peace of mind doesn't really figure very highly in our politicians list of priorities"
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Saturday, 15 April, 2000, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Bishop joins asylum row
immigration officer
Government's policy on asylum seekers under fire
A Church of England bishop has joined the attacks on ministers over asylum-seekers, saying politicians were using language similar to that of Enoch Powell during the 1960s.

Talk of bogus asylum-seekers was the "same evocative kind of language that stirs people up" as Mr Powell's famous Rivers of Blood speech, said the Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Rev Wilfred Wood.

Mr Powell, who died in 1998, campaigned openly against immigration in a way which inevitably earned him the reputation of being a racist.

"We have moved on and are now more populist in the kind of language but the sentiments behind it are the same," The Church of England bishop told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme

Bishop Wilfred Wood
Bishop Wood: 'Language is stirring people up'
The bishop, who is one of the leading black figures in the Church of England, said "Black people's peace of mind does not figure very high in our politicians' list of priorities.

"What we are now faced with is that Parliamentary politics is one long election campaign, so opinion polls and media manipulation now counts for far more than principles and leadership."

The bishop made it clear that he was talking about politicians in general.

But the attack comes only a day after Transport and General Workers Union general secretary Bill Morris accused the government of creating a "climate of fear" through its efforts to appear tough on "bogus" asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants.

Straw defends record

On Friday, Home Secretary Jack Straw defended the government's record on race relations and said he was completely mystified Mr Morris' comments.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has also rejected the claims made by Mr Morris' in a newspaper article.

Mr Straw told the BBC he viewed the government "as a beacon of race relations in this country".

"I am very proud indeed of our record on race relations," he said.

"We're doing more than any government has done since the last Labour government in the 1970s to improve race relations."

Bill Morris
Bill Morris: "Government has created a climate of fear"
Listing the government's achievements, Mr Straw cited the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill, which is currently before Parliament, and other measures taken in the wake of the Macpherson report in to the death of Stephen Lawrence.

Mr Morris, who has been a lifelong Labour supporter, wrote in The Independent that black supporters of the government were losing faith because the government's policies were "giving life to racists".

Downing Street said the prime minister "rejects absolutely the claim that the government fans or fosters racism in any shape or form".

Asylum policy attacked

The union leader also attacked the government's actions towards asylum seekers as "utterly insane".

But Mr Straw defended the decision to issue vouchers instead of cash to asylum seekers: "We wanted to avoid a situation where people came into this country not to claim asylum but to get benefits."

Both Labour and Conservatives were referred to the Commission for Racial Equality earlier this week on their language towards asylum seekers.

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See also:

14 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Government defends race record
14 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Profile: Bill Morris
02 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Asylum vouchers spark protests
08 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Row over Home Office 'racism'
10 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Parties defend asylum comments
17 Feb 98 | UK
'A mistaken gesture'
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