June 02, 2007

BNP attacked over Lord mayor voting

Stoke-on-Trent BNP councillors have been branded a "disgrace" for opposing the city's new Lord Mayor. And they have been accused of racism when they voted against Asian councillor Bagh Ali becoming the city's first citizen.

At the council's annual meeting last week, the six members of the far right party were the only ones to vote against Mr Ali. Now some of Mr Ali's Labour colleagues are demanding an apology from the BNP.

Burslem North councillor Joy Garner said: "What other reason did they vote against Bagh Ali other than racism? They voted en masse against Bagh Ali, but voted en masse for Derek Capey as deputy Lord Mayor. What is the difference except one is white? It is meant to be a joyous occasion. It incensed me and I think they should apologise."

Mike Tappin, leader of the Labour group, added: "It was an absolute disgrace. Here we have an excellent candidate who had been deputy Lord Mayor for over a year and the BNP vented their spleen on what had been until that time an agreed and unanimous decision. I think they are a disgrace to the council."

Traditionally, the annual council meeting is seen as a celebration of the achievements of the former Lord Mayor and an official welcome for the incoming dignitary. Voting is usually unanimous and councillors are expected to avoid controversial debate. The meeting is followed by a banquet in honour of the outgoing and incoming Lord Mayors.

Sheila Pitt, Labour councillor for Berryhill and Hanley East, said: "I think they were just making their own comment that they don't like people from ethnic minorities. Whatever they say, they are a racist party. I think we should ask them for an apology. It is supposed to be a happy day to celebrate the new Lord Mayor. He is so proud to be elected as the mayor of this city and we all want these occasions to flow in a proper manner, but for me this put a blight on the day."

But councillor Alby Walker, leader of the BNP Group on the council, denied they opposed Mr Ali because he was Asian or that their party was racist.

He said: "I resent the fact that Labour councillors are making these accusations and if they make them publicly I will report each and every one of them to the Standards Board for England. We made a group decision not to vote for Bagh Ali. We judged him as a person and didn't think he was suitable. It is the Labour party which is playing the racial card themselves.

"I believe they have promoted him just because he is an Asian. I suspect many of them know he is not suitable to chair meetings of the full council, which is one of the Lord Mayor's key responsibilities."

Mr Ali, who has represented the Longton South ward for 11 years, was playing down the controversy.

He said: "I was proposed as Lord Mayor to represent everyone and that is what I will do. It would have been better for the city if the BNP had got behind that and voted for me, but it's in their nature to do things like this."

The Sentinel

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