26 May 2009

Anti-BNP protest at Bath election meeting

Angry demonstrators chanting ‘Nazi scum, get off our streets’ formed a human barricade to try to prevent a meeting taking place in Bath last night at which the British National Party was due to speak.

Around 100 protesters - including supporters of Unite Against Fascism and the Bath Activist Network - blocked the entrance to the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute building in Queen Square to show their anger at the BNP having been invited to take part in a cross-party debate.

The BRLSI had called an election hustings meeting where it invited all 17 parties fighting in the south west region in the forthcoming EU elections to take part. Once the BNP had agreed to do so, several of the other parties pulled out and a demonstration was arranged to express anger at the BNP’s inclusion in the debate.

Three of the candidates - including the BNP’s Jeremy Wotherspoon - managed to get into the meeting before the protesters barricaded the entrance, leaving a number of supporters of all parties and members of the general public stuck outside the building. The barricade stayed in place for more than an hour ,before the police moved in and began carrying away the 20 or so protesters who had sat down on the steps and refused to move.

The meeting then went ahead - but only four speakers from the smaller political groupings took part with no-one on the panel from the main parties including Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats, UKIP or The Green Party.

After the meeting the convener of the BRSLI's economics group, Rodney Tye, admitted it has been a tough decision to carry on the debate after the protest but he felt it has been right to do so.

“We gave a lot of thought in advance about whether to invite all of the candidates as we knew it may be an issue but we still felt it was the right thing to ask everyone as they all had a right to be heard. We felt - rather like the BBC who have allowed all parties to have election broadcasts - that it was the correct decision to give everyone the chance to speak.”

A number of candidates in the EU elections, which take place on June 4, attended the event but refused to enter the building and share a platform with the British National Party .

Ricky Knight, the lead candidate for the Green Party in the south west, said: “The BNP should not be accommodated or accepted within the norms of democratic debate. The BNP have only one issue and that is to keep immigrants out."

Also attending, but refusing to join the debate was Glyn Ford, a Labour MEP and a long term campaigner against right wing extremists. He said that the BNP was ‘beyond the pale’ and he commended the protestors for their vocal opposition.

Liberal Democrat MEP Graham Watson was also present but did not take part in the final debate. He said the BNP’s policies were ‘repugnant‘.

One of the protesters - John, from the Bath Activists Network - said he was very encouraged by the large turnout of people protesting against the BNP. “People talk about the right to freedom of speech but is not unequivocal. It must come with some responsibility and the BNP lose this right to free speech by having their specific racial views “.

Inside the meeting itself - attended by only about 50 people - one of the candidates who had walked past the protestors, Michael Turner of the English Democrats Party, said the fact that the meeting took place at all was a positive thing. “The candidates who have come through that protest have shown that democracy will always win,“ he said.

Mr Turner’s party along with The Pro-Democracy Libertas.eu Party and The Christian Party were the only ones to address the meeting - along with the BNP itself.

Mr Wotherspoon denied the claims made by the protesters that he was a racist* and said his party was just standing up for British people. “In recent weeks, I have shaken hands with Negroes, Muslims, Arabs - even my dentist is Egyptian. I am not a racialist. The BNP just puts the British people first and foremost.”

The meeting, however, ended as it beg an - on a discordant note.

The BNP candidate verbally attacked Mr Turner for refusing to shake his hand. The BNP supporters in the room called this ‘shameful; but Mr Turner said he was merely exercising his English right to ‘freedom of choice’.

All the protesters had left by the time the meeting broke up.

This is Bath

*Link to image of Wotherspoon calling for "an urgent repatriation programme" during his time in the National Front.

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