Page last updated at 13:39 GMT, Sunday, 24 May 2009 14:39 UK

BNP rejects church boycott call

BNP leader Nick Griffin
Nick Griffin says it is time the church began talking to his party

The British National Party has dismissed an appeal by senior Anglican church leaders for voters to boycott the party at next month's elections.

The archbishops of Canterbury and York are urging people not to let anger over the MPs' expenses scandal drive them to vote for the party.

BNP leader Nick Griffin said it was time the church grew up and began talking to them about issues.

He accused them of letting MPs "off the hook" and turning on his party.

In a joint statement, on behalf of the Church of England House of Bishops, Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu said the English local and UK-wide European elections on 4 June were coming "at a time of extraordinary turbulence in our democratic system".

It would be tragic if the understandable sense of anger and disillusionment with some MPs over recent revelations led voters to shun the ballot box
Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu

"The temptation to stay away or register a protest vote in order to send a negative signal to the parties represented at Westminster will be strong.

"In our view, however, it would be tragic if the understandable sense of anger and disillusionment with some MPs over recent revelations led voters to shun the ballot box."

Some parties, they said, would exploit the current political climate to foster "fear and division within communities, especially between people of different faiths or racial background".

But the BNP said the church leaders did not represent the public's views.

"The archbishops were trying to make themselves relevant in the modern world and the Church should stay out of politics," a party spokesman said.

We think that our vote and our support is now sufficient that it's time the Church of England grew up
Nick Griffin
BNP

Mr Griffin told the BBC: "It's amazing, isn't it. They're also saying that people should let the politicians off the hook in Westminster, that one of them might commit suicide because they've been caught stealing from the public purse.

"We've got to be nice to them but the Church of England wants to be nasty to the BNP.

"I think it is bizarre. We think that our vote and our support is now sufficient that it's time the Church of England grew up and decided to sit down and talk with us about the issues that we're getting across to our supporters."

On a European election campaign poster, the BNP has used an image of Jesus suggesting that he would vote for the party.

Asked about the archbishops' comments, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg told the BBC's Politics Show he believed in the separation of religion and politics.

He added: "I don't think you beat the BNP by telling people how to vote. You beat the BNP... by just getting on the doorstep and saying to people, what are you angry about, what are your problems and providing solutions and answers because of course these people, they don't have solutions, they don't have answers."

But Polly Toynbee, president of the British Humanists' Association, insisted it was only right that the archbishops should be able to speak out.

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EUROPEAN ELECTION RESULTS

MEP Seats

  Votes MEPs
Party % +/- % Total +/-
EPP 33.4 -1.4 264 -18
Socialists 23.2 -4.1 183 -26
Liberal 11.0 +1.6 84 +5
Green 7.4 +1.3 50 +9
Left 5.3 -0.6 34 -2
UEN 3.4 +1.6 28 +2
Ind/Dem 2.7 -1.8 21 -15
No Group 13.6 +3.4 72 +3.4
0 of 27 countries declared.

UK Total MEP Seats

Party Votes MEPs
% +/- % Total +/-
CON 27.7 1.0 *26 1
UKIP 16.5 0.3 13 1
LAB 15.7 -6.9 13 -5
LD 13.7 -1.2 11 1
GRN 8.6 2.4 2 0
BNP 6.2 1.3 2 2
SNP 2.1 0.7 2 0
PC 0.8 -0.1 1 0
OTH 8.5 2.4 0 0
SF 1 0
DUP 1 0
72 of 72 seats declared. Vote share figures exclude Northern Ireland as it has a separate electoral system to the rest of the UK
* Includes UCUNF MEP elected in Northern Ireland
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