Candidates quit radio show over BNP
By Graham DinesPolitical EditorLABOUR and the Conservatives pulled out of a Radio Suffolk European election debate yesterday, refusing to share a platform with the far-right British National Party and slamming the Liberal Democrats for taking part.
By Graham Dines
LABOUR and the Conservatives pulled out of a Radio Suffolk European election debate yesterday, refusing to share a platform with the far-right British National Party and slamming the Liberal Democrats for taking part.
The morning election special on the radio station was scheduled to include Tory MEP Robert Sturdy, Labour's number two European candidate Beth Kelly, Martin Bell (Independent), Mike McBrien (Pro Life), Robin Page (UKIP), Kathy Pollard (Liberal Democrat) and the BNP's Chris Roberts.
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Ms Kelly and Mr Sturdy withdrew over the weekend. Labour MEP Richard Howitt contacted the Lib Dems appealing with them to withdraw from the debate – but they refused.
Ms Kelly said: "I'm outraged that the Lib Dems ploughed on and gave the BNP a platform of credibility. Labour and the Conservatives, who between them took over 60% of the region's votes during the last European elections in 1999, withdrew from the live broadcast citing party policy to not share a platform with the far-right party.
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"We contacted the Lib Dems so that the main political parties could offer a united voice against racism and violence. A clear message against the BNP is even more important during this week, when we all remember D-Day and those that fought to keep this country free from tyranny."
A Lib Dem spokesman defended its position, claiming that in a round table radio debate the fewer the number of participants, the longer the airtime given to extremist views.
"We alone have stood up against the far right. Labour has left it to the Liberal Democrats to put the case for a free and democratic Europe – the Labour Party campaign has been invisible. The Tories have positioned themselves well to the right on issues such as those surrounding asylum seekers.
"Both Labour and the Tories have sought to pander to the extreme right and then express surprise at the appearance of extreme right wing parties."
BBC Radio Suffolk producer Lis Henderson said: "We are bound by election law that says we have an obligation to represent the views of all the parties standing for election.
"While we're sorry the Labour and Conservative candidates felt unable to take part in the discussion this morning, that decision cannot be allowed to jeopardise the whole debate. We have a public duty to inform listeners of the full range of political choices available whether or not we personally agree with their stance.
"The Conservatives and Labour have been invited to take part in a second debate running on BBC Radio Suffolk on June 8. They will be joined by representatives from the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the English Democrats, Respect the Unity Coalition and independent candidate Jim Naisbitt."