A town is to become the first in the country to have a mayor from the far-right BNP, in a move branded divisive and worrying by campaigners.
John Cave was chosen by an overwhelming vote to take over the chains of office as next year’s mayor of Padiham, near Burnley.
Following a disastrous performance by the party at the general election, his success will be seen as proof that it retains support in its northern strongholds.
However, his selection was criticised by Bishop of Burnley John Goddard, who said a mayor had a responsibility to represent all citizens of his town, ‘regardless of race, colour or status’.
He added: ‘It will be interesting to see if he acts in the best traditions of a mayor in the community, and I pray he does, as he will have to reject the philosophy of the BNP.
‘If he retains the BNP political philosophy then how can he expect to serve and represent the whole of the community?’
Local Muslim councillor Shah Hussain added: ‘I have concerns with what the BNP stands for and its policies. It is a party that is divisive to the community.’
With a population of around 10,000, Padiham’s town council only has limited powers, and elected members do not stand on party political grounds. However, the next mayor is a long-term BNP activist in nearby Burnley and his wife, Sharon Wilkinson – expected to be his mayoress – became the party’s first county councillor, representing the town, in 2009.
He contributed a clip of former Labour minister Shahid Malik speaking about British aid being given to Muslim countries to a website under the heading ‘The threat of Islam’.
Mr Cave also wrote a letter to a local newspaper last year demanding that Britain’s political and religious leaders ‘admit their multicultural folly’ and direct their efforts to benefit the majority.
Although the town council has three members who are Labour borough councillors in the area, none opposed Mr Cave in the vote, which was based on seniority.
They were advised that the position of mayor is allocated on a rotation basis, with the longest-serving member not to have already held the post next in line.
And despite having been on the council for just 12 months, that left Mr Cave, after another councillor opted not to stand.
As a result, he was backed by nine out of 11 who were present, with two abstaining. He will spend a year as deputy mayor before taking over as mayor next April.
Yesterday he pledged to play a non-political role: ‘It is a vote of confidence. This is my home town and I was born here. It is all about Padiham and Padiham is not about politics.’
One of those who abstained was John Harbour, also a Labour member of Burnley council.
He said: ‘It had absolutely nothing to do with John being a BNP councillor. There was no political motive behind it.’
Anti-BNP campaigners Hope not Hate said they were ‘disappointed’ by his selection.
‘The role of mayor in any community is to act as the figurehead of the community, and we don’t see how that role can be carried out by anybody who represents a party whose sole aim is to divide communities,’ a spokesman said.
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