Right-wing extremists have hit out at a move by Tory MP Andrew Selous to scrap a controversial meeting of the British National Party that was due to be held at Leighton's Royal British Legion Club tomorrow night. Mr Selous, MP for South West Beds, took action after being swamped by complaints from old soldiers who were horrified that their premises were to be used for a political rally.
The local branch of the BNP had hoodwinked the club's secretary Eileen Johnson by booking the West Street Hall under the name British Heritage. It wasn't until yesterday (Monday) that Mr Selous, a member of the club, discovered the real identity of the group, and stepped in to ask the charity to cancel the date.
Mrs Johnson said: "The hall was booked under a lady's name. I knew it was a political group but not that it was the BNP. As soon as I heard we cancelled them. We don't want those sort of people here. Our members wouldn't be at all happy."
In recent months the party has been actively campaigning and recruiting in Leighton-Linslade and the surrounding villages. The meeting on Wednesday night was to introduce three prospective parliamentary candidates to local people.
Mr Selous said: "The British Legion were tricked into taking the booking and I'm worried that people will still turn up thinking the meeting's on. I have had complaints from people who fought fascism in the Second World War and the British Legion isn't prepared to give fascism promotion in any way.
"I recognise that we live in a free society and we are entitled to free speech but the BNP is not a main stream party and they hold extreme views. A BNP meeting in the Royal British Legion Club is not something we want in this town."
Shelly Rose, who was organising the meeting, was furious at Mr Selous' intervention and said that a meeting would still be held. "It is absolutely outrageous. It is Andrew Selous who is acting like a fascist. He won't allow anyone else express their opinions. I'm really angry about this. Make no mistake we will have our meeting but we'll hold it elsewhere.
"This was going to be a low key meeting. There was nothing mysterious or sinister about it. We were going to be discussing the up and coming general election and have three prospective candidates address the meeting. It's Mr Selous who is being heavy-handed about this. It is perfectly fitting for us to hold a meeting in the British Legion. We are the only party opposed to the Iraqi/Afghanistan war and the only party that's patriotic and standing up for our soldiers."
A spokesman for the BNP's national headquarters, slammed the MP's intervention as "undemocratic".
He said: "We are a recognised political party with elected representatives but in some areas we are forced to book venues under an assumed name because of local reaction. In other areas we are completely open and up front about it and accepted. The reaction of certain people is not our fault. It's unfair and undemocratic to ban our meetings. Many of our members are ex-servicemen and the British Legion should be more patriotic and less political."
Leighton Buzzard Online