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Archive - Friday, 2 May 2003
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BNP breakthrough prompts backlash
THE BNP grabbed a massive foothold in East Lancashire on a night when it became the official opposition in Burnley and won thousands of votes elsewhere.
But MPs and political leaders today urged people to continue the fight against the far right after it failed to win any seats in the other two areas it targeted -- Ribble Valley and Pendle.
The Labour Party was the main casualty on a night when it lost control of Hyndburn, Rossendale and Pendle -- where council leader Azhar Ali was ousted -- as well as four seats to the British National Party in Burnley.
BNP organiser Simon Bennett described it as a 'fantastic, historic, incredible' night after the group gained six new seats, taking its tally to eight in the town hall.
The result pushed the Liberal Democrats into third place on a borough council Labour rules with 23.
Burnley MP Peter Pike today called on people to 'see through the BNP for what they really are' -- and demanded that Labour started working harder to show what it was doing well.
He said: "The BNP are a racist, divisive party. Questions must be asked as to why, at this stage of a Labour government, are the Tories and Liberals not in a position where they are picking up votes?"
Council leader Stuart Caddy added: "We have still got overall control of the council, but I believe the BNP will now have to demonstrate what they are really about.
"They have been democratically elected, and we can't take that away, but we will still do our best for the people of Burnley."
Labour campaigner Shahid Malik, a former member of the Commission for Racial Equality and of Labour's NEC, added: "We've got to get this into perspective. There are some 22,000 councillors in this country, the BNP will have got 15 or so of that 22,000 tonight."
Blackburn with Darwen Council leader Bill Taylor said: "We don't have elections until next year and our job is to make sure that our electors are not hoodwinked in the same way the electors in Burnley have been."
Rossendale and Darwen MP Janet Anderson said: "We will work very hard to ensure they never do in Rossendale and Darwen and we will work with our colleagues across East Lancashire to explain what type of people the BNP are."
But Mr Bennett said: "Some of these seats were once strongholds for the mainstream parties. We are now becoming one of those.
"People are fed up of the dictators in the town hall and the only people they feel they can turn to are us." The BNP won several hundred votes but no seats in the Ribble Valley where it has been actively campaigning for more than a years and stood in five wards.
Conservative Council leader Chris Holtom said he was delighted to win overall control of the authority but said: "I am pleased with the result but disappointed with our performance in Clitheroe. We should have done better there and, in some cases to come behind the BNP is very worrying."
And voters in Pendle failed to elect any of the four BNP candidates but the far right did poll substantial numbers of votes.
Pendle MP Gordon Prentice said: "I think it's a tragedy that the BNP has made such big inroads in Burnley.
"Although we have managed to fend them off in Pendle, they still managed to pick up a very sizeable vote and that is something which should concern all the political parties. The BNP play on people's fears. We do not need them."
In Hyndburn, where the BNP had intended to stand but missed the closing date for nominations by days, the Tories retook control of the authority just 12 months after being forced into oppositon.
Hyndburn MP Greg Pope said: "I'm delighted the BNP didn't contest this year's election and hope they don't next year. We can do without that kind of politics in Hyndburn."
Ribble Valley Tory MP NIgel Evans said: "It is clear that people here just don't want or need the BNP. They don't fit. They tried to hijack the Clitheroe Mosque issue and failed completely."