January 03, 2007

BNP ballerina defies rising clamour to sack her

· I know I'm right, dancer named by Guardian says
· English National Ballet faces calls for dismissal

Officials from the English National Ballet faced calls to sack one of their leading dancers yesterday after Simone Clarke defied criticism and gave a detailed interview defending her support for the British National party.

Two weeks after she was named by the Guardian as a card-carrying member of the far right group, the ballerina hit out at her critics, voicing her belief that the BNP seemed to be the only party "willing to take a stand" against immigration. She claimed that her boyfriend Yat Sen-Chang, who is also an acclaimed lead dancer, encouraged her to join the BNP. Sen-Chang is of Chinese-Cuban extraction.

Clarke, 36, who will take the lead in the ENB's production of Giselle at the London Coliseum next week, said she had been called a "racist and a fascist" since her decision to join the BNP 18 months ago became public.

One report claimed that following the Guardian's revelations, fellow dancers confronted her before a matinee performance of The Nutcracker.

But she said: "I've never been clearer in my head that I'm moving in the right direction and at the right time. I've had nearly 300 emails supporting me from all over the UK and from as far away as Australia, America and New Zealand."

She told the Mail on Sunday: "Everything will be different now. I will be known as the BNP Ballerina. I think that will stick with me for life."

But she added: "I don't regret anything. I will stay a member."

The interview has caused fresh difficulties for the ENB, which was able to deflect criticism about Clarke's BNP membership by insisting that her stance was an entirely private one. The company, which is publicly funded and is therefore obliged by the Race Relations Act of 2000 to promote good race relations, will be asked to explain how one of its highest profile employees was able to use her position as a platform for the far right party.

Her views and policies espoused by the BNP appear to conflict with equality policies that operate in the company itself and those laid down by Arts Council England, which subsidises the ENB to the tune of £6m a year.

Its policy says funded organisations "must be aware of how their work contributes to race equality and promoting good race relations".

Prior to the interview, the ENB had said it hoped to talk to its dancer before deciding "what action to take".

Lee Jasper, equalities director for the mayor of London and chairman of the National Assembly Against Racism, said: "The ENB must seriously consider whether having such a vociferous member of an avowedly racist party in such a prominent role is compatible with the ethics of its organisation. I seriously doubt that it is and that should lead to her position being immediately reviewed. I think she should be sacked." He called on funders and David Lammy, the arts mnister, to intervene.

Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said people had a right to their private political views but added: "This will taint the ENB in the eyes of many minority communities. Questions need to be asked about how someone in that position can be allowed to abuse that position to promote the BNP." Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham in east London, where the BNP forms the official opposition on the council, said: "We need to know how these statements square with the more laudable positions taken by the ENB and other leading arts organisations. What she completely ignores is the underbelly of the BNP in terms of the violence, the physical attacks and the criminality of many of its supporters."

A spokeswoman for the Commission for Racial Equality, which polices race relations legislation, said it was monitoring events. "We will be interested to see what action the ENB takes given that it has a member expressing such views in public."

An ENB spokeswoman said the company was not yet in a position to comment.

Clarke's membership became public in reports by Guardian reporter Ian Cobain, who used a pseudonym to join the far right party and was quickly selected to become its central London organiser. During his seven months undercover, Clarke told him that immigration "has really got out of hand".

She told the Mail on Sunday how she travelled to London from her home in Leeds aged 10 to begin her training at the Royal Ballet School after winning one of 23 places sought by 4,500 entrants.

Her conversion to the far right was prompted by watching the television news and then reading the BNP manifesto. "I am not too proud to say that a lot of it went over my head but some of the things they mentioned were the things I think about all the time, mainly mass immigration, crime and increased taxes. I paid my £25 there and then," she said.

She protested that it is "really silly" to point to her partner's non-English origins, adding: "It is not about removing foreigners. It's about border controls."

Nine of her 10 principal dancers at the ENB are immigrants and she suggested that this may have muted the internal response, adding: "There are a lot of foreign dancers who have probably never even heard of the BNP."


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