Tamworth's only independent councillor has admitted aiding the far-right wing British National Party with their election campaign in last week's byelection.
Councillor Chris Cooke's firm PDQ printed the postal vote letters for the BNP candidate Lynne Smith. Councillor Cooke, representing Glascote, yesterday admitted helping post the letters to voters, prior to the Castle Ward by-election.
Coun Cooke also told the Tamworth Times: "I am against the European Union, and I think immigration has gone far too far."
Defending his assistance to the BNP, Coun Cooke said the printing was a business decision. He had helped Ms Smith gain access to blocks of flats, and posted some of the letters himself. He said he had a long-standing friendship with Ms Smith.
He added: "I said I would print material for any of the other parties. I knew the BNP candidate before she was a candidate, so it is quite natural for me to help her. I had no hand in it, apart from helping her get into the high rise flats. I explained to her how to do that and delivered the leaflets."
Coun Cooke denied that there was a conflict of interest between his role as an independent councillor and helping the BNP campaign. He did not believe he had let down the people who voted for him.
He said: "I am what I am. Everyone knows my views as a councillor, and as an independent I am beholden to nobody."
In a recent letter to Tamworth residents, Coun Cooke defended BNP candidates, saying they had become the victims of 'hysterical propaganda' for 'daring to stand for a legal political party that says immigration has gone too far and we must get out of the EU'. On the candidates for the Castle byelection, Coun Cooke wrote: "not one of them would disgrace our council."
Both the leaders of the Conservative and Labour groups on Tamworth Borough Council expressed their disappointment at Coun Cooke's actions. Both stopped short of calling for his immediate resignation, but said he should not stand as an independent again.
Coun Peter Seekings (Lab) said: "I am absolutely shocked that he would deliver leaflets for a party that in my opinion is a racist party. I think he has let down his constituents because he has always claimed to be an independent. It is going to be very difficult for him to be elected again as an independent."
Coun Jeremy Oates (Con) added: "I am very disappointed in his actions. When people voted for him, he was standing as a candidate independent of any political party. If he wishes to align himself with the BNP he should say so when seeking election."
The Castle Ward seat was up for grabs following the retirement of Conservative councillor, Graham Ingley, who stepped down due to ill health. The by-election was won by former Mayor Marion Couchman (Lab) --by just six votes. She took the seat with 619 votes. The Conservative candidate, Ian Stuart, won 613 votes, followed by the British National Party candidate Lynne Smith with 208 votes. Jenny Pinkett, for the Liberal Democrats, won 95 votes.
Overall, 5593 votes were cast. This represented 27.4 per cent of the electorate. The result does not significantly change the make-up of the council. There are now six Labour councillors, 23 Conservatives, and one independent.