BNP unveils its election weapon ­ women

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Indy Politics

Political activists fighting the British National Party in next month's local and European elections were focusing yesterday on its new weapon - female candidates.

Political activists fighting the British National Party in next month's local and European elections were focusing yesterday on its new weapon - female candidates.

The party is estimated to be fielding up to 80 women, an unprecedented number, including 11 in Yorkshire, where a quarter of the party's 400 candidates across both elections will stand on 10 June.

Six women are standing in Barnsley, south Yorkshire, and three in Calderdale, west Yorkshire - both key targets. Traditionally, the party's candidate lists have been dominated by working-class men. But this time there is a 58-year-old Jewish woman, Patricia Richardson, standing in Epping Forest and the eastern region; and Julie Russell, 24, whose degree in German, Italian and international studies has not disabused her of the notion that Britain "has lost its identity".

Some of the BNP's election boasts may be bluster - eight of the 22 candidates it promised to field in Calderdale have stood down. One has close relatives of Asian extraction and became uncomfortable about the party. But the BNP is using its women judiciously, fielding some on male-dominated shortlists.

Ms Richardson dismisses her party chairman's description of the Holocaust as, "the hoax of the 20th century", claiming the BNP no longer espouses such a view. "They would not ask me to stand if they felt that way," she said.

Other members of the BNP's female contingent appear to be equally "off-message". One of the Barnsley candidates, Lorraine Lee, 37, a mother of two, said that the idea of repatriating people of overseas extraction - a BNP policy - was "dreadful". She said: "You can't do that to people. Many of them have come here because they have asked for our help and support. You can't just turn around and send them back."

The same distaste led one of the BNP's eight Burnley councillors, Maureen Stowe, 65, to leave the party earlier this year. "I didn't like the meetings or the messages," she said.

Phill Edwards, a BNP spokesman, said Ms Lee - who stands in Barnsley's Rockingham ward after being nominated by 10 other party members - had been "misunderstood".

The female candidates will be asked to propound the BNP's "family values" policy - that women should stay at home to look after the children. "We hope it will prove that we are not all pot-bellied skinhead with tattoos," said Mr Edwards.

Among the other women the party is fielding are Terrie Rentoul, who is standing in Southampton; Suzie Cass, who is standing in Ossett, west Yorkshire and whose husband, Nick, is a Euro and Kirkless candidate and Jenny Agnew, an ex-Green who is number three on the Euro list for the North East.

In Calderdale, the candidates include Jane Shooter, 35, a mother of three who works at a printing company. The local party, which has three seats, is fielding 14 candidates. It may benefit from the fact that the Tory-led hung council lacks unity. In Burnley, 20 miles away in Lancashire, Labour has all but silenced the far-right.

Nick Griffin, the BNP's chairman, is enjoying a high profile in Calderdale. Speaking at a recent meeting in Shelf, west Yorkshire, he raised the prospect of "a civil war which the whites lose."

Mainstream politicians yesterday warned against being fooled by seemingly respectable women candidates for the BNP.

Eric Pickles MP, the Tories' local government spokesman, said he thought BNP candidates were "vile" and urged Conservative supporters not to be taken in. He said Tory candidates had been told not to appear with BNP candidates on radio or TV debates. "The smiling face of facism is still fascist. The BNP are undermining social cohesion and the British way of life.

"Despite their snappy suits and smart outfits they still remain a one issue party,"

Sarah Teather, 29, the Liberal Democrat MP who last year won a by-election in Brent East, where at least half of the population belong to ethnic minorities, said people should not to be "taken in" by seemingly respectable BNP candidates.

"It would be nice to say that all racists look the same, but there are racists in all corners of society, including racist women," she said.

In the North-west, where the BNP could see their leader Mr Griffin elected as the party first MEP, the Green party is urging people to vote for them as a way of blocking him. Under the PR system Mr Griffin needs about 9 per cent to get in, but if the Green party get more votes they will prevent his election.

The British National Party, in a bizarre article on its website, this week paid tribute to members of the "fairer sex" who they say have come to its aid. The article, entitled "Thank God for the Ladies" praises "lady champions" who have "come to the defence of western civilisation."

'I like different cultures - but abroad, not here'

Julie Russell, 23, is a Euro-candidate for the British National Party in the South East of England who says she joined the BNP because she believes it "stands for common sense".

Ms Russell, left, with the French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, works in a shop selling herbal remedies and says she is "worried about the state of the country and white people becoming a minority in our own country".

She began delivering BNP leaflets while still at school and was introduced to far-right politics by her father, who is the party's full-time press officer.

But she rejects claims the party is racist and says she appreciates different cultures - so long as they are abroad.

"I like all different cultures. I like to travel. It's nice to have all different cultures abroad - but we shouldn't have them in our country," she says. Ms Russell, who studied German and Italian at Salford University, is keen to point out that she is well-travelled.

In Britain she is standing on a platform of voluntary repatriation for all people from ethnic minority backgrounds. She says her friends, none of whom are black, are aware she is standing for the BNP. "Not everybody has black friends," she says. "When I was at university I knew Asian people. My friends know I am in the party. There's not many young people who are interested in politics."

Ms Russell, who is unlikely to be elected next month, believes the party has been misrepresented. "We are not sick people who are racists. People jump to conclusions about us," she says.

Her heroine is Boudicca, the Queen of the Iceni, who led a revolt against the Romans.