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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 May 2005, 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK
Campaigning with Garry Bushell
By Jenny Matthews
BBC News

It is a quiet weekday afternoon in spring, and possibly not the best time for Garry Bushell to start canvassing.

There is no answer to most of the first few door knocks.

One woman answers the door, takes a leaflet, smiles politely and then closes it again.

Kim Gandy, English Democrat candidate for Basildon, and Garry Bushell, candidate for Greenwich
The English Democrats want an English Parliament

Behind another closed door, a man yells out: "I'm really sorry, I'm on the phone!"

This is the first day Mr Bushell - bombastic former Sun writer and current People TV critic - has spent pounding the streets as a candidate for the English Democrats in the south London constituency of Greenwich.

"Hello, we're campaigning for an English Parliament," he tells one man who does actually answer the door.

"I'll read the leaflet but I don't think you'll persuade me to vote for you," the man says. They smile at each other politely, and Mr Bushell wanders back down the drive.

The nearest we come to a boisterous exchange is when a group of schoolchildren walk past, one calling: "Vote Labour!"

Mr Bushell laughs. "And get nowhere!" he responds.

More celebration

It is all very pleasant and polite, and perhaps very English. But it is not very interesting - even for Mr Bushell. He gives up after a few minutes and heads instead to a local working men's club.

This is the first general election the English Democrats have contested. They are fielding 23 candidates, but frankly admit they do not expect to form a government - they are more interested in getting their views further up the political agenda.

The main demand of the party, formed after devolution in 1997, is for an English Parliament. They say it is unfair that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own degrees of self-government, while England has none.

They are also dedicated to promoting the concept of English culture and identity.

Steve Uncles, who is pounding the streets along with Mr Bushell - as are party chairman Robin Tilbrook, and Kim Gandy, candidate for Basildon in Essex - says: "It's a question of fairness, rather than insane patriotism."

'No racist agenda'

Mr Bushell - who has waged a campaign via his TV column for St George's Day to be marked in EastEnders - says he is standing in the election to "draw attention to the urgent need to reform the way England is governed".

He also wants more celebration of English culture, history, and traditions, which he says include "free speech, free assembly, habeas corpus and the right to trial by jury".

"There's a lot to be proud of," he says.

Garry Bushell puts a leaflet through a door
Not many Greenwich voters were in
The party are adamant that they are not racist. But their red and white rosettes, England flag and other campaign accoutrements, often get mistaken by casual onlookers as the signifiers of racism, says Ms Gandy - and it incenses her.

"I'm sick to the back teeth of racist accusations," she says.

"People think that if you're at all nationalistic you've got to have a racist agenda, and it's not true."

Mr Bushell professes himself unfussed by accusations of racism.

"I've never been a racist so it doesn't bother me," he says flatly, pointing out that he was once denounced by the National Front as a "race traitor".

Then he shrugs and grins. "The International Socialists are my secret shame," he says, remembering a past as a member of both the Socialist Worker and Labour parties.

Immigration issue

A perusal of the party's manifesto shows that on asylum and immigration, it calls for a points-based entry system, suggests asylum seekers should seek asylum in a state as near as possible to the country they are fleeing, and says those immigrants needed to work should be given a "fixed term work permit".

Steve Uncles and Garry Bushell on a Greenwich street
"It's a question of fairness, not insane patriotism"
Chairman Robin Tilbrook thinks the policy is remarkably similar to that the Conservatives are proposing.

"The Tories are saying what we've been saying for the last two years," he laughs.

But however much they dislike being taken as racist, it still happens.

Several people at the club, while greeting Mr Bushell, make racist jokes - although these seem to be more aimed at discomfiting him in front of a BBC journalist than anything else.

If that was its aim, it worked. "I can't believe it," he says, half-laughing and looking extremely embarrassed.

A group at a table flick through the campaign leaflets they are handed.

Mr Bushell spends a short time drinking and chatting and then realises he has to head back to the office.

It's not exactly been an intense day of campaigning, but perhaps that is because he does not expect to give the sitting Labour MP - local government minister Nick Raynsford, who had a majority of over 40% at the last election - much of a headache.

"Let's face it, I haven't got a hope in hell of winning," he laughs.

Before he goes, Mr Bushell finishes his campaigning day by knocking on the door of Mr Raynsford, just for fun. He is not in either.

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