EASTERN European immigration and welfare cuts have risen to the top of the General Election agenda.

Labour’s Burnley candidate Julie Cooper sees the two issues as a threat to community relations in East Lancashire.

However the former council leader, along with Tory Bob Eastwood in Blackburn, believes the latest arrests of two Blackburn teenagers for alleged terror-related offences are not symptoms of a wider radicalisation of local Muslim youth.


They are backed by Ribble Valley Liberal Democrat Jackie Pearcey who identifies the internet as one way young people, often knowing little about Islam, are drawn into extremism.

Blackburn community organisation One Voice agrees.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage and his Rossendale and Darwen candidate Clive Balchin are unrepentant about raising the political temperature on immigration.

Mr Farage told the Lancashire Telegraph: “Contrary to what people say, Ukip is not opposed to immigration.

“This area has many who moved here from South Asia and the rest of the world, and they have made it their home and contributed to the local economy.

“We want an Australian-style points-based system to make sure only the best and brightest come here.

“Many of our young people are having real difficulties finding work and it doesn’t make sense for low-skilled migrants to be doing jobs our own kids could do just as well.”

Mr Balchin said: “The issue of uncontrolled immigration from the European Union is as much of a concern to our well established South Asian communities as it is to everyone else.”

Former Eastern Division police chief Mr Eastwood said: “There is still work to be done and we need to get the Muslim community more involved, “I see growing evidence among the South Asian community, especially the young, that they are thinking of voting differently from their traditionally Labour parents.

“This has to work both ways.

“We need to make sure that all communities, whatever their heritage, feel fairly treated to stop extremism of various kinds taking root.”

One Voice spokesman Zaffer Khan said: “There are elements of the British Muslim community disillusioned with society who have a sense of purposelessness which has led them to drift to extremism.

“We need to look at the root causes of extremism.

“Radicalisation does not occur overnight, and it is becoming apparent that the internet has facilitated learning about extremism.

“Issues around poverty and a lack of cohesion could also be contributing factors.

“We want to ensure Muslims do not feel demonised because of the actions of a violent minority.”

Mrs Cooper believes the problem of ‘parallel lives’ identified by the Cantle Report in the 2001 riots in Burnley had been addressed.

She said: “I think people in the many different communities in the town rub along with each other pretty well.

“Getting people jobs so they work with each other and get to know each other is very important.

“I find people are just people.

“I think the emphasis on immigration is unhelpful in terms of community cohesion.

“I am very concerned at the effect of the bedroom tax and government welfare cuts on our people, in terms of personal suffering and creating the conditions in which extremism breeds.”

Ms Pearcey said: “I think these are probably cases of young people being radicalised on their own in the bedrooms through the internet.

“Those knowing little about Islam are most at risk of being given false ideas about their religion.

“Immigration and welfare both come up on the doorstep.

“On welfare, the abandoned plan to shut Clitheroe JobCentre and the bedroom tax show how ideas that look good in government offices don’t work on the ground with real people.”

Mr Eastwood supports welfare reform to ensure the cash goes to those in real need but warns red-tape often prevents them getting it quickly.

He breaks ranks with party policy on the ‘bedroom tax’ saying: “I supports the concept but its operation has hit people, especially the disabled, who need another bedroom.”

Burnley Green Party candidate Mike Hargreaves said: “The tough immigration policies put forward by the other parties are an insult to our intelligence and humanity as they compete to outdo Ukip.

“It is wrong to blame immigration for the ills in society.

“We should remember that immigrants contribute more in taxes than they receive in benefits “The accusation they pinch low-paid jobs from indigenous people is not the fault of immigrants trapped into slave labour, but employers who illegally pay such low wages.”

Ukip is also under fire over its demands to pull out of the EU.

Mrs Cooper and Ms Pearcey warn of ‘disaster’ with big firms Like BAE Systems in Samlesbury and Aircelle in Burnley strongly opposed while many major projects are supported by Brussels cash.