14 May 2004


The Methodist Church in Great Britain fears that a low turnout could aid extreme political parties in June's local and European elections. The Church is urging all of its members to take an active part in the elections and to make an informed vote for one of the mainstream parties.

Methodist ministers and congregations are involved in many local projects aimed at preventing increased electoral success for parties such as the BNP.
· The Methodist Church in Bradford is one of a group of local churches issuing Rainbow Ribbons to all their congregations. These will be worn as a statement of inclusivity and against divisive politics.
· The Revd Paul Flowers, Superintendent of the Bradford (Great Horton) circuit, recently told the West Yorkshire Synod to vote tactically in order to prevent any BNP gains. He said that the best defence against extremism is voting: "not voting only aids the BNP, but a higher turnout will hurt them."
· The North Lancashire District Synod has asked all of its churches to prepare materials on the elections and encourage people to vote. The district churches will produce and distribute material before postal ballots arrive in voters' homes in the week beginning 23 May.
· The Revd Geoff Reid runs the Methodist Touchstone centre in Bradford and has been busy alerting the area to the dangers posed by the BNP. He says, "the simple message we need to get across is that this is not just another political party with the mainstream parties ganging up against it. It is a political party that in its constitution and core beliefs is contrary to Christian gospel and hostile to the basic tenets of democracy itself."
· In Clitheroe, Lancashire, the Methodist Circuit of churches was part of an ecumenical and inter-faith campaign at the last local election aimed at countering apathy and extremism. The campaign helped boost turnout to over 50% to ensure that no extremist candidates won.

Anthea Cox, Methodist Church Co-ordinating Secretary for Public Life and Social Justice said, "Methodists across Britain are aware of the threat posed by the fielding of candidates by the BNP.  The rise of parties that have a racist agenda is not confined solely to the north of England, where the BNP already holds 17 council seats, but in many other areas.  There are considerable fears that the system of voting by proportional representation that is used in the European Elections and for the London Assembly could result in the BNP gaining seats with a very small percentage of the vote."

Cox added: "A key to preventing this happening is by ensuring that there is a high turnout at the polls. Our Christian responsibility to bring our witness to bear in politics is crucial at this time, when negative myths about asylum seekers as well as minority communities are being promoted. The web resource developed by The Methodist Church provides a source of information, activities for church groups and prayers for people to use when considering these issues. With postal ballots lengthening the voting period, it is important that people brief themselves on the issues from nominations being declared onwards."

In April the Methodist Church launched an online resource aimed at countering political extremism. It has also backed a European election guide produced by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland that aims to inform voters of the facts behind many of the election topics, from economics and agriculture to immigration and asylum.

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