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Sunday, 27 May, 2001, 18:42 GMT 19:42 UK

Riots spark race row

An election race row has broken out following the clashes between Asian youths and police in Oldham.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes in effect accused the Conservatives of stoking the fighting, saying their language on asylum encouraged people to think they could "get away" with intolerant behaviour.


" In some cases it may well encourage people to think they can get away with... intolerant behaviour "
Simon Hughes

But the Conservative leader William Hague denied they had fuelled Saturday's disturbances, a denial supported by Labour.

The Tories then went on the attack over Labour's election broadcast on Sunday saying its focus on Prime Minister Tony Blair put personality ahead of the issues.

Asked about the riots in Oldham on GMTV, Mr Hughes said that "we must be very careful with our language and that's why some of us have been very critical of some of the language particularly William Hague and his colleagues have used over the last two years and it doesn't help".

He added: "It may not have a direct effect but it doesn't help and in some cases it may well encourage people to think they can get away with intolerant language and intolerant attitudes and sometimes intolerant behaviour."

Accusation rejected

But speaking before a meeting with farmers in his Richmond constituency, Mr Hague defended the Tories' right to campaign over the asylum system.
" I reject this accusation "
William Hague

"I reject this accusation," he said.

"It's an accusation made by parties trying to play the race card themselves.

"Asylum is an entirely different issue to race."

'Stretching credibility'

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said Mr Hughes' comments were a "disgraceful" attempt to gain party political advantage from a "horrible" situation.

Home Secretary Jack Straw also distanced himself from the comments.

"I think it's stretching credibility to suggest that any language used by Mr Hague or Miss Widdecombe could in any way be responsible for people going onto the streets, throwing petrol bombs and attacking the police" he said.

He focused instead on Labour's law and order policy as he outlined how police would be allowed to seize cash from suspected criminals even before conviction.

But it was Labour's election broadcast that centred on celebrating Tony Blair's achievements in government that provoked some of the harshest criticism from the Conservatives on Sunday.

As TV viewers were invited to meet the "real Tony Blair" the Tories described it as a "nauseatingly hypocritical vanity film" that showed Labour had failed to deliver on its promises.

Mr Blair's cabinet colleague Mo Mowlam was also in the spotlight for saying that the introduction of tuition fees was "one of the things that we shouldn't have done."

She reportedly made the comments on a visit to her old school in Coventry.

A Labour Party spokesman accepted it was "a difficult issue for us" but was the only way to get more people attending university. Meanwhile, shadow chancellor Michael Portillo launched another assault on Labour "stealth taxes" during a campaign trip to Essex.

He said Tony Blair should be honest about Labour plans to raise "10bn of extra taxes".



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