September 27, 2007

Three horse race - but two thirds didn't bet

THE British National Party stood last week for the first time in a Copeland Borough Council election.

By the time of last Thursday night’s count, the campaign had been fought, largely in Whitehaven’s market place, where BNP candidate Bill Pugh had canvassed hard. But seeing the way his party colleagues jostled for position around the counting tables you’d have been forgiven for thinking they were about to go to war again.

Mr Pugh conducted himself quietly, sitting calmly at the back of the room with his wife, and praising his opponents when the result was announced. He was described by one of the other politicians in the room as “a good guy who’d fallen in with the wrong crowd”.

That crowd was out in force, displaying their red, white and blue BNP rosettes. Regional organiser Clive Jefferson scoured the room during the count, occasionally barking orders to the others: “You keep an eye on that!” “Don’t let them away with anything.”

It was clear it was going to be a long night.

Mr Jefferson looked furious at times, watching events all around the room, stopping occasionally to glug from a bottle of Lucozade.

The room had an air of unease about it, which seasoned Conservative councillors Norman and Yvonne Clarkson clearly sensed. They wandered around the room, shaking hands with people from all three parties and generally brightening the mood.

Brigid Whiteside and her husband Chris, the prospective Tory candidate for the next general election, stood quietly at one end of the room while Labour’s Jeanette Williams sat, looking the most nervous of all the candidates.

Even when it was clear she had won comfortably (they divide the votes into batches for each party before they count them and her stack was substantially larger than anyone else’s) she refused to get excited.

Her fellow Harbour ward councillor, Henry Wormstrup, took some of the pressure off her when his mobile phone rang and he was the unfortunate one who was the first in the room to be frowned at by elections officer Alan Southward.

The tension mounted, and under Mr Jefferson’s watchful eye, each of the votes not marked with a clear X was scrutinised and added to the appropriate pile.

Yet two-thirds of the Harbour Ward’s eligible voters did not turn out on polling day.

The BNP is, understandably, the most controversial political party in the country. Its views on race and immigration are, its organisers claim, greatly exaggerated in the media in an attempt to discredit what they stand for.

If you looked past the Union Jacks and BNP slogans, Mr Pugh’s election leaflet read for the most part like an electorate’s dream. He advocated a return to weekly bin rounds, moving away from fortnightly collections; an end to the council’s Executive “squandering tax-payers’ money” on what he regards as extravagances such as the away-days recently revealed by The Whitehaven News.

He was also keen to protect our hospital services and look after elderly residents, as well as providing more affordable social housing.

But there, in the middle of it all, was another pledge, to stand against plans for a large-scale mosque in Whitehaven. The only trouble with their pledge is that there isn’t a mosque planned for Whitehaven, on any scale, large or otherwise.

The BNP delivered a petition to The Whitehaven News before the election, in which they claimed that 1,000 people were against the plans for a mosque. A number of names appear twice or three times and dozens of the signatures were from people from outside the area. Osama Bin Laden was among the signatures.

Back at the count, the returning officer – Copeland’s chief executive Liam Murphy, said that, politics aside, it had been one of the most exciting by-elections in Copeland’s history.

As it turned out the police presence wasn’t necessary, and the expected trouble didn’t occur. Perhaps Copeland’s decision to enforce a rule that exists but which is rarely exercised,which limits the number of supporters who can accompany each candidate at the count, was a wise one.

But for now the voice of democracy has spoken, Harbour’s newest councillor has taken her seat – and the good people of Copeland get back to their day-to-day lives.

Whitehaven News

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

your vivid description of the behaviour of members of the bnp brought back memories, i am thankful that at least at the Copeland count violence did not break out.

But the feeling that i could do is always there 'the elephant in the room'