"There is a proper national debate that we should have about immigration … I want us to limit the number of people coming to Britain, but do not believe that the way to beat the BNP is to half agree with them."
Members of our local campaigning group takes part in something called the "Democracy Hub" - a Local Council initiative which was set up to encourage voter participation in elections (each local council is now obliged, by law, to form such groups). To this end, the Council had sanctioned a public debate on the EU elections, to be held at our Town hall last Friday night. The event was organised by a scrupulously impartial organisation which specialises in electoral education and which had invited candidates from every party to take part. And - with the Councils blessing - the BNP candidate was included in that invitation.
24 hours before the debate was due to take place, Richard Corbett (Labour), Edward MacMillan-Smith (Conservative) and the Green candidate threatened to withdraw if the BNP candidate was present. Fair enough, you might say - no-one should be obliged to take part in any event they're not comfortable about - except that all the candidates concerned accepted the original
invitation without conditions.
Rather than give in to their bullying (and to his immense credit) the organiser cancelled the whole debate stating that 'impartiality' could no longer be guaranteed.
But the most surprising thing was the response by MacMillan Scott who, when asked why he had withdrawn at the last minute admitted that he 'did not attend the hustings in Grimsby last Thursday 21st May as it is Conservative Party policy not to attend an event with BNP representatives unless representatives from the other main parties are also attending. As Labour MEP Richard Corbett declined the invitation, Edward felt it would be inappropriate to participate'.
(I must admit that I was so incensed by this that I immediately emailed asking him if he would stick his head in a gas oven if Richard Corbett did the same! .. petty I know but I was mad).
I suppose one can sort of understand the party rationale behind their decision to call off, but what really got my goat was that all three of the candidates involved simply couldn't grasp ..
(a) .. that it is totally unacceptable in a proper democracy that the mainstream parties should attempt to thwart the democratic process by so obviously colluding in this manner (indeed, even though the event was cancelled on a perfectly correct point of 'democratic principle' Richard Corbett was so furious that he accused the organiser of 'racism').
(b) .. that during pre-election hustings, no legitimate candidate is above another.
(c) .. how cowardly and un-democratic this stance would appear to the general public.
(d) .. that their actions were self-defeating in that it will encourage even more people to vote BNP next Thursday and that the only way to counter the BNP threat is to get on a platform and defeat them face-to-face in open and honest public debate.
It's the ARROGANCE of the Corbetts and MacMillan Scotts of this world which grates.
And so stuck up their own backsides are they, they don't even 'get' that either.
p.s. Godfrey Bloom (UKIP) was the only candidate prepared to face the BNP candidate on the platform. Diana Wallis (Lib Dem) had appointed a lowly Scunthorpe Councillor to attend the debate in her stead and the English Democrat candidate did a disappearing act when I tried to contact him for a comment.