Voters will not get the chance to see a debate between all the election candidates after the Hastings MP refused to share a platform with the BNP
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) invited MP Michael Foster, Tory hopeful Amber Rudd, Lib Dem candidate Nick Perry, UKIP's Tony Smith, Rod Bridges, of the English Democrats, and local BNP leader Nick Prince to its hustings on March 25. The Unite Against Facism (UAF) group lobbied the candidates to pull out and still plans to protest at the event.
Following a meeting with the local Labour Party, Mr Foster has decided to pull out if the BNP attends. He said: "I have never shared a platform with the BNP and I do not intend to do so. Of course in a democratic society they have a right to express their opinions, as long as they are lawful, but equally I have a right not to sup with them.
"The purpose of debate is to challenge each other's views but there is no meeting of minds here and so debate becomes impossible. As we saw on Question Time it becomes all about the BNP and immigration which is not the issue which concerns most people most of the time."
Following his decision, the candidates of the other two main parties also pulled out. Amber Rudd said: "I respect Michael's decision and understand his reasons but I do not agree with it. I maintain it is a perfectly acceptable element of democracy to debate with people who have different views and I think we should challenge them. But I also want to challenge the MP and if he's not attending neither will I."
And Nick Perry said: "I believe that this is the wrong decision by Michael and the Labour Party, and will play into the BNP's hands on the doorstep. There is absolutely no point in having the event when the local MP will not be present, and it will not be possible to hold him and his party to account for the many and various mistakes that the Labour Government has made over the past 13 years."
Nick Prince, of the BNP, said: "I am bitterly disappointed not just for the BNP but also for the voters of this town who will not hear the main parties defend their records. What UAF is doing is undemocratic – we are a perfectly legal political party."
Brett Mclean, who is hosting the debate, said: "It is a great shame and a nail in the coffin for democracy. The FSB is a non-political organisation and so is duty-bound to invite all the parties."
Mr Mclean said the debate at The Crown House in St Leonards would go ahead, and UKIP and The English Democrats said they would attend. The Labour Party will be holding a Harmonious Hastings event on the same evening to discuss how to deal with the BNP threat and promote equality.
Today candidates from the three main parties will be debating at Sussex Coast College at 2pm. The FSB hustings was the only scheduled head-to-head between all six candidates.