Cllr Joe Cooney is Leader of the Conservative Group on Pendle Council.
Pendle Council often bucks the trend when it comes to local politics: when one national party has been riding high in the polls, it hasn’t always converted into a corresponding increase in councillors for that party.
One such embarrassing anachronism is that Pendle plays host to the very last British National Party councillor in England, representing Marsden Ward.
Until 2012, the BNP was represented by two borough councillors. Thankfully, after much work, the Tories defeated one councillor in 2012, got within six votes of defeating the other in 2014, defeated their last Town Councillor in 2015 – and finally last year, we held the seat we gained from them in 2012, despite a huge fight from the dubious remnants of the national BNP.
Why is this important? Surely one councillor has limited influence, especially when not part of a wider political party? Not in Pendle. We find ourselves in the farcical situation where that BNP councillor actually holds the balance of power.
The Conservative Group has grown significantly in recent months. Following our successful elections last May where we gained seats from both Labour and the Lib Dems, we were on 21 out of 49 councillors. We proposed a shared Executive of all three main parties (Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems) to work together. This was rejected by the other groups and they continued to run the Council.
In November 2016, we gained another seat from Labour, this time in a by-election taking our tally to 22. Again, we proposed an all-party shared Executive and again it was rejected.
We have also been lucky in recent weeks to benefit from two defections, one from Labour and one from the Liberal Democrats, so that the current make-up of Pendle Council is: 24 Conservatives, 15 Labour, nine Liberal Democrats and one BNP. In other words, the ruling Coalition no longer has a majority and needs support to get items through Council.
Our sole BNP councillor is centre stage; he now holds the balance of power in his hands. As we’ve worked hard to try and eradicate the BNP from Pendle, we have no desire to enter into any arrangements with the BNP and I’d assumed the other groups would also want no connection with an overtly racist party. I was wrong.
In the Lancashire Telegraph on 8th March, it was revealed that the BNP has committed its support to Labour and the Lib Dems following their pledge to regenerate a piece of land in Cllr. Parker’s ward.
While twice this year refusing to work with the Conservatives, we now have an administration being propped up by the BNP. Not only is this a scandal for Labour and the Lib Dems, but it’s also embarrassing for Pendle, the Council, and our residents.
I know the saying, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”, but a deal with the BNP is taking that rather too literally. All parties should take a stand against hate. I have written to Tim Farron and Jeremy Corbyn to ask for their comments.