Page last updated at 20:31 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Bishop urges voters to snub BNP

The Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch
The address before the council meeting was labelled historic

The Bishop of Manchester has urged people not to vote for the British National Party (BNP) in the European Parliamentary elections.

The Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch accused the party of preaching a message of "division and hatred" during an address to Manchester City Council.

The BNP is fielding eight candidates in the North West, including party leader Nick Griffin, on 4 June.

Deputy leader Simon Darby said the bishop was "out of touch" with Britain.

The Diocese of Manchester said it was the first time the city's bishop had addressed a full council meeting in the authority's history.

During the address, the bishop warned councillors the far-right party would use racism and other prejudice to challenge the diversity which strengthened Manchester.

The pews are empty so they must be doing something wrong
Roy Goodwin, BNP organiser

"They will exploit the difficult times which presently face our country, trying to turn one community against the other," he said.

"They will use difference as a scapegoat, because they have nothing else to offer in response to the issues we face."

Mr McCulloch said Britain's uncertain future could be faced by sensitive debate and democratic representation.

He added: "At the heart of our political process is belief in democratic representation - a belief that values difference and seeks the common good.

"The British National Party does neither. It offers only division, fear and hatred."

No seats

Responding to the address, Mr Darby, BNP deputy chairman and spokesman, accused the bishop of abusing his position.

"He gets paid very well, his job is safe and he probably gets a house provided and other trappings and ordinary people don't have that luxury. He's out of touch."

Roy Goodwin, BNP organiser for Blackpool and Oldham, also criticised the bishop's comments.

He said: "The pews are empty so they must be doing something wrong. They want to keep out of politics and stop bashing the BNP."

The BNP failed to win an MEP seat in the North-West in the 2004 European elections.

Mr Darby said they received 6.4% of the vote and needed to get about 8.5% of the vote to win one seat in June.

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