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Asian MPs protest `racist' remarks of Blunkett's adviser

By Hasan Suroor

LONDON, MARCH 22. Angry Asian and Black Labour Party members have called for the dismissal of the Home Secretary David Blunkett's senior adviser on race, Matt Cavanagh, after it was revealed that he had advocated racial and gender discrimination in jobs.

Mr. Cavanagh, a former Oxford University lecturer, admitted writing in a book that he did not believe in equal opportunities and that, under certain circumstances, it was right for white employers to "discriminate against black applicants''. He also thought it was `rational' for employers to discriminate against women under 40 because they may take off to have babies.

"A company realises that its customers, who are predominantly white, tend to prefer to do business with white staff. Depending on how strong this preference is, it might be rational for the company to discriminate against black applicants on the basis that, for this reason alone, they tend to be less good at the job,'' he wrote in a book, "Against Equality of Opportunity'', published before he was hired by Mr. Blunkett last autumn as a special adviser.

Asian Labour MPs and peers said they were `outraged' by Mr. Cavanagh's comments which went against the `core' values of the party and the official policy of the Tony Blair Government. The veteran Sikh Labour MP, Marsha Singh, said he was surprised that someone with "that type of philosophy'' should have found a place in a Labour Government considering that equal opportunities was a "central theme'' of the Blair administration.

Baroness Uddin, a Labour peer, demanded Mr. Cavanagh's resignation saying his views were "totally incompatible'' with the Labour Party's beliefs. "It is outrageous...Someone like that should not be in a position advising the Home Secretary,'' she said, adding sarcastically that it showed "how much importance we really give to black issues.''

The high-profile Asian businessman and Labour donor, Sir Gulam Noon, said there was no place for such views in a `pluralistic' society. "For such words to come from a government adviser is worrying,'' he said,

The growing criticism of Mr. Cavanagh's views cut across party and racial lines. A Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Lester, said he intended to confront the Home Secretary on the issue.

Mr. Cavanagh said he had written the book some two years ago simply to stimulate debate and the views expressed then were "irrelevant to what I do now''. A spokesman for Mr. Blunkett said the Home Secretary was aware of the book but considered it as a philosophical analysis and not a programme for political action.

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