Back in 2009, I was happily living in the Bilton area of Harrogate. Our plan to was to wed, in Bilton, in the April, at the church just a stone’s throw from our front door. With wedding plans dominating, the local Liberal Democrat candidate resigned in disgrace, triggering a by-election. Of course, I had to stand, with the election set for 19 February. Back then, although Labour was in power nationally, they hadn’t had a Labour councillor since the late 1980s. I had no chance.
Notwithstanding my zero probability of winning, like a fool, I gave it my best shot, running the finest campaign that the local Labour Party had seen for years. Even the Leeds North-West MP, Fabian Hamilton, came out in the freezing cold to campaign for me.
Upon putting my name forward, I assumed that I would be standing against the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and perhaps UKIP. To my horror, the fascist British National Party ran a candidate – and it was no paper candidate, for they gave it their everything. UKIP didn’t stand.
Readers unfamiliar with Harrogate politics are unlikely to know that Harrogate has a bizarre relationship with the Far Right. Andrew Brons, one of the founders of the National Front, taught politics at Harrogate College from 1974 to 2005, teaching thousands of Harrogate students. (And although not strictly Far Right, Harrogate hosted an Orange Order march in 2012).
Alarmed by the BNP candidature, I contacted the Lib Dem and Tory candidates to see if they would sign a joint statement asking the electorate to vote for anyone but the BNP. They agreed, and news of the statement got significant traction, appearing here on the BBC, as well as countless other places including the BNP’s Stormfront newspaper! In support of our stance, some of the local clergy echoed our call. Locally, the statement was front page stuff.
As is my habit, I lost, spectacularly so. I came last with 51 votes. The BNP were third, with 164 votes. The Lib Dems took the seat with 902 votes.
To add to my woes, Andrew Brons’ gloating letters were published by the local Harrogate Advertiser. In response, the paper published my reply, dated 13 March 2009, for which I remain proud for its candour and accuracy of prediction. I can tell you that it took some guts to robustly take on the BNP.
“Let me respond to the numerous letters, which have appeared on this page of the last few weeks regarding the Bilton by-election.
Firstly, the result was quite appalling for labour. The BNP more than trebled to the Labour vote, polling 9%.
Although it was a bad result for Labour, the outcome was much worse to the people of Yorkshire and Humber, because it confirmed that, if the BNP poll a similar percentage across our region on June 4 with European Parliament elections, then the unprecedented would happen: our region would be sending an BNP MEP to Brussels to represent us all.
What would it do for race relations in our region? Who would want to visit such a place?
It’s a sad truth that was what stopped the BNP last time was UKIP. Who has heard from UKIP lately?
There will no doubt be criticism for the joint statement, however, those who vote BNP – a party which supported Denmark, rather than England, in the World Cup of 2002, because England had black players – will always think that way.
As the Euro elections on June 4 are on a proportional representative basis (every vote counting), it is the non-voters who will be leaving the door open to the BNP.
For those of us interested in politics there will be only one positive outcome of having a BNP MEP: voters will never again accuse all politicians of being ‘the same’.”
Three months later, as I predicted, Andrew Brons was elected a Member of the European Parliament. Shame on Yorkshire.
Why write this particular blog now? Because one of my policies was to twin Harrogate with Gaza. Just imagine. For posterity, here is my election leaflet.