Balls squares up to BNP at Independent's soapbox

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Indy Politics

Ed Balls, Gordon Brown's closest Cabinet ally, will go head to head with the British National Party today in The Independent's soapbox debate in Morley, West Yorkshire, as he battles to avoid a "Portillo moment" in Thursday's general election.

The Schools Secretary and four other candidates for the new and marginal seat of Morley and Outwood will mount boxes in the town centre to address voters directly – part of this newspaper's campaign to promote dialogue between Britain's politicians and its people. The BNP called up yesterday after all the other candidates had already confirmed.

Earlier this month, a group campaigning against the BNP, Nothing British, accused Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems of boosting the BNP's election prospects by not tackling the party head-on. The BNP is standing in more than 330 seats.

Today's debate begins at 12.30pm in Morley's Windsor Court, off Queen Street, near Morrisons. All are welcome. There will be a media and police presence.

Yesterday, the soapboxes were in Bury North, where the MP, Labour's David Chaytor, is standing down and faces criminal charges under the Theft Act over his parliamentary expenses. Passers-by heckled the candidates, shouting "Thieves, the lot of you". But several members of the crowd said they had been persuaded to vote.

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