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Monday, 19 April 2010

English Democrats launch election campaign in Dartford

The police community liaison officer is wearing the pained expression of a man sent to sort out a domestic dispute.

"We are just concerned for your safety," he keeps saying. "I don't want to get into a political debate."

It's probably a bit too late for that.
On Saturday thousands of Sikhs took to the streets of Gravesend, in Kent, to celebrate Vaisakhi, the Sikh New Year Festival.
It is also the day that the English Democrat party have chosen to launch their general election campaign a few miles away in Dartford.

After they have finished handing out leaflets in Dartford town centre, the English Democrats plan to head over to Gravesend in their battle bus - a white van with large Cross of St George posters on either side and a PA system belting out Jerusalem.
The police are concerned this might be seen as a bit provocative.

"There are 15,000 Sikhs travelling through Gravesend today," says the young liaison officer, who in his black bomber jacket could easily be mistaken for one of the English Democrat activists.

"People might see the flag of St George and get the wrong idea."

"We've got Sikh candidates," says Steve Uncles, the English Democrats' national coordinator, who has taken on the role of peace maker.
Would the SNP or Plaid Cymru be treated this way?, he asks. He reassures the officer that the party are not racists, it even says so on their battle bus, and they are not looking for trouble, just trying to exercise their democratic right.
Suitably mollified, the officer and his colleague hand Mr Uncles a card and tell him to phone them if they get any trouble.
"We've never had this before. I am quite surprised to be honest," says the party chairman Robin Tilbrook. "What we do get quite regularly is discrimination from officialdom against the use of the E word."

He means English. The English Democrats, who are fielding more than 100 candidates at the general election, believe they are the only party out there speaking up for England.
But they are also very keen to stress that they are a moderate organisation, which draws support from across the political spectrum.

"We are not just about one race. One of the reasons the BNP attack us is that we have non-white candidates. They are not about Englishness," says Robin Tilbrook.

"Englishness is something in the heart, not something in the skin."

The party, which campaigns for an English Parliament, like the ones in Scotland and Wales, gained 280,000 votes at last year's European elections and is fielding more than 100 candidates across England on 6 May.
Opinion polls suggest the majority of people in England support an English Parliament - and the party clearly believes that if it only got a bit more airtime from the broadcasters they would be serious contenders.

It is easy to see why they believe they are on the verge of a breakthrough. Their patriotism and tough line on immigration plays well with voters out shopping in the brilliant spring sunshine in Dartford.

The problem is that, with the British National Party and the UK Independence Party also banging the Eurosceptic drum, it is a crowded field.
"We would prefer it if UKIP were not standing," admits Mr Uncles.
The party has done a deal with the Christian Party and The Jury Team, the umbrella group of independents backed by former Tory grandee Sir Paul Judge, so that they will not stand against each other.

But efforts to reach a similar accommodation with UKIP, which would have seen just one Eurosceptic candidate in every constituency across the UK, came to nothing.
Nevertheless, every candidate at the launch seemed to have little doubt that they will be elected on 6 May.

Dr Peter Thorogood, who is standing in Romford, says Thursday's TV debate has "done us a whole lot of good", as it has got people interested in the election, he tells me, before pointing with pride to the line on his leaflet that says "a man of integrity".
Robin Tilbrook says he hopes the party can gain three MPs.
As he is preparing for a TV interview, he is keen to avoid standing in front of the Union Flags that are fluttering in the breeze on one of the market stalls.

The Cross of St George is the only flag for him.

"This is our flag and it has been hijacked by people who want to turn it into some kind of racist symbol and we want to take it back," he explains.
BBC News