Britain's radical elements exploit Brixton riots as government moves to put lid on racial violence

As weary shop owners and residents swept and shoveled piles of debris from Brixton's shattered streets April 10-12, Britain's worst urban riots for decades became an urgent political issue as well.

Rotskyites, Marxists, and other radical elements are seizing on the economic and racial tensions in Brixton (London), Bristol, and other cities to level sharp attacks on the Conservative Thatcher government for cutting back grants to local countries.

The rioting was also seen as a boost to the campaign of radical left-wingers to take over control of the Greater London Council (GLC) and other local councils around the country in elections to be held in May.

The inquiry into the Brixton riot, announced April 13 by Home Secretary William Whitelaw, was in part an effort to reassure blacks and whites alike that the government was concerned and ready to examine basic issues.

The government is also under pressure from its own right wing to limit immigration to Britain.

Following a third night of rioting April 12, a total of 149 police officers and 58 people were injured and 224 arrests made. Damage to property counted in the millions of pounds and included a gutted school, a church, three pubs, and numerous shops, stores, and private apartments. Twelve firemen were injured and eight fire engines damaged as they tried to battle through swaying crowds to get at fires that lit the night sky on successive evenings.

It all comes on the eve of local council elections, at which the Labour Party hopes to score decisive victories over the Convervatives.

Trotskyites, Marxists, and other hard-line left-wing groups aim to use the elections to take tight grip on London and other major cities. Their strategy is to make elected councillors strictly accountable to local Labour Party branches which they themselves have infiltrated and taken over in recent years.

Their striking success in dictating recent policies of the national Labour Party has been a direct cause of the split by the new Social Democrats headed by Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins, David Owen, and William Rodgers. One far-left leader in London is Ted Knight, leader of the council in the borough of Lambeth -- the very borough in which Brixton is located.

Mr. Knight, branded as a Trotskyite by Mrs. Williams but said by others to belong to another far-left group, is standing in May as a candidate for the GLC.

He is often in the news here as a vociferous critic of the Thatcher government's cutback of L200 million ($450 million) in grants to local councils -- part of the prime minister's overall fight against inflation.

On April 13, Mr. Knight wrote to the minister responsible for local councils, Michael Heseltine, asking for an urgent meeting. Mr. Knight wants immediate central government funds to repair the damage in Brixton.

Lambeth lost L2.1 million ($4.7 million) in central funds last year because Mr. Heseltine counted the borough as one of 14 "high spenders" that had to be penalized.

In addition it lost another L1.4 million as its share of the L200 milllon Conservative Party government reduction to local councils. A government freeze on housing is said to have reduced Lambeth's housing investment funds by L16 million last year.

Despite a record increase in local rates, the borough is running an L11.2 million deficit this year.

Conservative councillors blame Mr. Knight for excessive spending on social services and publicity for his own programs.

Mr. knight warns of more riots unless he is given more funds. He also echoes a general view by saying the rioting was more economic than racial: a protest by unemployed blacks and whites against what they see as police harassment and a general lack of opportunity in a period of economic recession.

Meanwhile, a radical black lawyer, Rudy Narayan, Announced a "Brixton defense committee" and called for a mass rally in Brixton on Easter Sunday, thus raising concern of another confrontation with police.

Mr. Whitelaw, speaking in Parliament after briefing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, praised police courage in Brixton. He denied the kind of criticism of police behavior being made by Mr. Knight and others.

The new inquiry is to be led by Lord Scarman, who had previously looked into anti-Vietnam war rioting in London. Shawdow home secretary Roy Hattersley urged a fundamental review of police-community relations.

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