BNP will not contest Sunderland Council election

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THE British National Party appears to have been bowled out on Wearside after failing to field a single candidate in this year’s council elections.

In the past, the right-wing extremist party made Sunderland a key target, with previous elections having seen them stand candidates in every city ward.

But in the list of candidates for this year’s local elections, the party was conspicuous by its absence.

“I think it is a very good thing for the city,” said Sunderland Council leader Paul Watson.

“The BNP were rejected in 2004 and have been rejected ever since. I think it shows how astute the people of Sunderland are.”

Tory leader Tony Morrissey said the BNP had nothing to offer, and Independent leader Colin Wakefield said while there may be issues to tackle with immigration, the BNP’s way was certainly not the answer.

Lib Dem leader Paul Dixon added: “The BNP are not needed, not supported and not wanted in Sunderland.”

No one from the BNP was available for comment. The Echo understands North East organiser Ken Booth was sacked last year.

The battle is now on to win your vote on May 5. A third of the city’s 75 council seats are up for grabs on polling day – one in each ward.

An extra seat is being contested in Sandhill after the early retirement of former Mayor Jim Scott.

At present there are 52 Labour councillors in Sunderland, 18 Tories, three Independents, one Lib Dem and one “Independent Conservative.”

Labour strengthened its grip on power in Sunderland last year’s council election, taking seats from the previously-advancing Conservatives and one from the Independents.

Some put the victory to the General Election, with the resulting higher turn-out favouring Labour, which is predicting more Tory losses next month.

“Look at the situation with the national Government,” said Coun Watson. “Unemployment is rising, there is a record number of young people not in employment, education or training, we’re facing a double-dip recession.

“If we can’t win in Sunderland now, I don’t think we ever could.”

Coun Morrissey hopes issues such as the council tax freeze, and increase in pensions, will see Sunderland Conservatives keep its existing seats and make inroads elsewhere.

“I’d like to think people will be intelligent enough to make up their own minds and not just believe what they’re told by Labour.

“We’re going into the campaign proclaiming the good news from the Government, and reminding people why we’re in the mess we’re in – Labour’s profligacy over the last 13 years.”

The city’s only Lib Dem councillor said his party would campaign on local issues, not national ones, and was confident of taking at least one more seat this year.

“I’m optimistic,” said Coun Paul Dixon. “We’ve been working really hard over the last year and our target is to get at least on extra councillor. I think we’ve got a good chance in Millfield.

The city’s three existing Independent candidates are all members of Residents Against Toxic Site (Rats) which campaigns against the Houghton Quarry landfill site.

Group leader, Coun Wakefield, said: “I would like to think we have demonstrated we are not just a one-issue group.

“It all started with the landfill site, but there are a lot of other issues which had been neglected until we took up the cause.”

The Green Party is fielding seven candidates and UKIP have three.

* See tonight’s Sunderland Echo for a full list of the candidates.