A ROW has broken out after the British National Party, which will field a candidate for Eastbourne in the forthcoming general election, was barred from a question-and-answer session planned for next week.
The event, a forum for young and first time voters, at the Eastbourne Centre on the seafront on Wednesday night (March 17) has now been axed because of the controversy.
The BNP has Colin Poulter standing as its parliamentary candidate in Eastbourne ready for when Gordon Brown calls the long-awaited election and Mr Poulter was originally invited to attend the forum.
But the invitation was withdrawn after it was revealed the Unite union, which owns the venue, told organisers the BNP was not welcome – and now the event has been cancelled altogether.
Andy Frampton, the Unite regional secretary said, "Unite will not give a platform to the far right, British National Party. The members of our union fight every day against extremism and campaign for equality and fairness across society, it is wholly justified that the planned conference was cancelled."
The BNP criticised the decision to bar Mr Poulter, and Nick Prince, the regional organiser for the party, said, "The debate was aimed at first time voters who were being invited to ask questions to representatives of all political parties standing for Parliament at the next General Election. This now appears to be all political parties, apart from the British National Party.
"We have been told the Unite union told the organisers the BNP could not take part and if the invite was not revoked, the entire event would be cancelled. Apparently this is union policy.
"As a party we wished to debate with the main parties and hold them accountable for all of their bad decisions they have made at local and national level.
"It is not just the British National Party that has been robbed of this opportunity but the voters of Eastbourne, especially the first time ones for whom this meeting was organised.
"The British National Party will have a massive campaign that will ensure every household in Eastbourne receives our message, so anyone that thinks we will be silenced are totally mis-guided."
Mr Prince says the BNP had attempted to resolve the situation by contacting organiser Linus Gunning and suggesting three alternatives, all to no avail.
He added, "We do not find this meeting democratic and is nothing less than a farce. Our candidate Colin Poulter is prepared to debate with the other parties at any time and the British National Party will welcome an invitation to any public debate."
Mr Gunning told the Herald that democratically, he thought it only right to invite all those standing as candidates.
He said, "I felt it was my duty to invite everybody regardless, but I lost sight of the fact Unite and other political parties do not want to share a platform with the BNP."
Mr Poulter's appointment as candidate was announced by the party last week. He is a former soldier and worked for five years with the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Mr Prince said a large and active branch of the party is now operating in Eastbourne, and the party will also field a candidate in next year's Eastbourne Borough Council elections.