Blair urges voters to reject far right in local elections

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Tony Blair yesterday urged people to vote Tory or Liberal Democrat to stop the extreme right gaining a foothold in local elections next week.

The Prime Minister said that although he hoped voters would back Labour on Thursday, he would prefer people vote for any mainstream party rather than the BNP.

Speaking in Blackburn, Lancashire, where 13 British National Party candidates are standing, the Prime Minister said that businesses and house prices would suffer if "extremists" were elected. He urged voters to reject the BNP.

"We all hope that people come out and support the Labour Party but what I'm saying is that it is important for people to vote, but it is important that people don't vote for parties of extremism that make all the problems worse," he said. "People have to think very carefully before they go out and vote. I hope they do go out and vote, I hope they vote Labour, but I hope also they vote for mainstream parties."

Mr Blair's comments came after renewed concern about an upsurge in support for the BNP, particularly following Jean-Marie Le Pen's showing in the presidential election in France.

The Prime Minister's condemnation echoes comments by Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, and calls from ethnic-minority groups not to pander to the extreme right with inflammatory comments about asylum-seekers and crime.

Yesterday Charles Kennedy urged caution in giving the BNP, which has no MPs, disproportionate publicity.

"It's dispiriting to see how much attention is being paid to the small extremist fringe in these local elections," the Liberal Democrat leader said. "We need to get the vote out everywhere but clearly the mainstream political parties have a duty to ensure the BNP don't benefit from the publicity surrounding the victory of Le Pen in France."

Anti-racist groups welcomed the Prime Minister's criticism of the BNP. Tara Mukherjee, chairman of the European Multicultural Foundation, said: "We warmly welcome the fact that our Prime Minister has come out in public condemning this neo-fascist organisation. They have no place in the civilised democratic society in which we live and should be rejected out of hand by the whole of the electorate."

Mr Blair, on his visit to the North-west of England, went to a deprived area of Blackburn that has been regenerated with new houses, and spoke to local residents.