Parties vow to keep BNP out of region

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorPOLITICAL leaders in East Anglia, stunned by the British National Party's council by-election victory in Essex, have vowed to stop the far right making any more gains.

By Graham Dines

Political Editor

POLITICAL leaders in East Anglia, stunned by the British National Party's council by-election victory in Essex, have vowed to stop the far right making any more gains.

British National Party (BNP) candidate, Nicholas Geri, a 47-year-old grandson of an Italian immigrant, gained Grays Riverside on Thurrock council from Labour, whose candidate finished third behind the Conservatives.

He polled 552 votes, 170 more than the Conservatives with Labour in third place. Although only 22% voted, that was 8% more than in May 2002, when the seat was last contested.

Mr Geri is the second BNP councillor to be elected in the East of England in the past five months, following a success in the Hertfordshire district of Broxbourne in May's local elections.

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Bashir Khanbhai, East of England Conservative MEP and one of the party's leading ethnic politicians, said he was shocked by the result because the BNP had not played any role in the development of community policies in Essex.

“All parties will have to work hard to respond to the concerns and anxieties of voters. There must be no room for the BNP in Suffolk and Essex,” he added.

Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for the East of England, said he was “deeply dismayed” the BNP had got its first toe-hold in Essex.

Alan Olive, the Ipswich-based director of the Eastern Region Labour Party, added: “We will work hard to expose the BNP for what they really are. The truth is they have absolutely nothing to offer and will let local people down.”

Stuart Marritt, East of England regional chairman of the Liberal Democrats, claimed the BNP would “never work for the benefit of local people in the same way as any of the three main political parties”.

He added: “The Lib Dems are disappointed at this result, but will continue to work to win peoples' votes as we believe we can do a better job. We will continue to oppose extremism at a local, regional and national level.”

Jeffrey Titford, UK Independence Party MEP for the region, said: “The success of the BNP in Thurrock is yet another wake-up call to the major political parties in this country.

“It highlights their abject failure to provide clear, credible policies and meaningful leadership.

“The British people have had enough of the status quo and are looking for alternatives. It is a great pity that this is driving them toward extremists.”

However, the BNP's national leader, Nick Griffin, dismissed the criticism and said the victory would be a springboard for campaigning in next year's elections for the European Parliament, which would be spearheaded by the party's lead candidate, Matt Single, from Basildon.

Mr Griffin added a group development meeting had been held in Chelmsford and the party was ready to fight throughout East Anglia.

“Our victory in Thurrock heralds a concerted effort in the region. There was an 8% increase in the number of people voting ­- democracy works in Essex,” he said.

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