March 08, 2008

BNP makes rare foray into the shires to oppose black Tory candidate

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones is no stranger to struggle. He battled his way out of inner-city Birmingham, served in the Army, carved out a career in television, set up a successful marketing agency, then became famous as Britain's only black farmer. But now he faces the fight of his life: against the British National Party.

Selected to contest the Wiltshire constituency of Chippenham for the Conservatives, Mr Emmanuel-Jones appears a model candidate. He has charisma, an astonishing story of personal triumph and strong links to the local community. That community, though, is almost exclusively white. And the candidate was born in Jamaica. That fact, it seems, has not been lost on the far-right BNP.

Chippenham is safe Tory territory – and likely to remain so. Yet the BNP's decision to make a foray into the shires threatens to bring racial politics to the English countryside. Opponents warned yesterday there was little doubt that the BNP would be making a subliminal appeal to voters' prejudices over their prospective MP's ethnicity.

Mr Emmanuel-Jones is exactly just the kind of candidate that David Cameron has championed to try to demonstrate that the Tories now reflect contemporary Britain. He came to the UK from Jamaica as a three-year-old and grew up in the Small Heath area of Birmingham as one of nine children. He left school without qualifications and joined the Army for a year.

From there he found success in television – with the BBC's Food And Drink – and through a food marketing company he then set up. Subsequently, as a farmer, he set up a scheme for inner-city children to learn about rural life.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Emmanuel-Jones was brought on to Mr Cameron's "A-list" of favoured candidates. Until a few days ago it seemed a straightforward election. But the arrival of a BNP candidate, Mick Simpkins, has added a toxic note to the contest. "Because I'm a black candidate in a high-profile seat, they have thought they ... will try and stir it up," said Mr Emmanuel-Jones. He insisted he had not picked up any "vibes" that race would be an issue. "It took a massive amount of courage for the people of Chippenham to select someone like me because Wiltshire is, in a sense, the soul of traditional rural England, a true blue area."

He also said he was not concerned by the occasional threatening email he received. "If you are black and going into public life, there are oddballs who are going to try and frighten you."

Mr Simpkins, a taxi driver, became the BNP's only councillor in the South-west last year after he was elected unopposed to the town council in Corsham, which is part of the constituency. He said: "I've met Mr Emmanuel-Jones and he's a very nice guy. The fact he is black has nothing to do with why I'm standing. I'm standing because that's my constituency and it's where I live."

Gerry Gable, of the anti-racist group Searchlight, said: "We're concerned wherever the BNP field candidates. They are a cancer within British society but ... [Mr Emmanuel-Jones] will give them a bloody good run for their money."


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