Bob Bailey, the BNP’s London organiser and leader of the opposition on Barking council, was turned away last night from a ceremony conferring the freedom of the borough on the footballer Sir Trevor Brooking and the Royal Anglian Regiment. He had been due to speak at the event.
That much is common ground – but the reasons are heavily contested. The council’s ruling Labour group has issued a press release claiming that at the reception preceding the ceremony, Cllr Bailey was “worse for wear” and “under the influence.”
The deputy leader of the council, Robert Little, who was at the event, claimed Cllr Bailey was “clearly under the influence of alcohol and was in no fit state to deliver any speech. In all my time as a councillor I have never seen anyone behave in such a way,” he said. “It was embarrassing.”
Cllr Bailey himself, contacted today, flatly denied that he had been drinking and said the claims about his behaviour were “total rubbish.” He told me: “You know the BNP are against the war in Afghanistan and I was barred from attending the event because they were worried I would say something against the war.”
Richard Barnbrook, the BNP’s London leader and another Barking councillor, also present for part of the event, said: “Somebody mentioned it to me when [Bob] was leaving, saying he seemed to be a little bit drunk, but in my presence he seemed perfectly fine.”
Whatever the truth of the matter, it’s the first skirmish in what is likely to be a very tough struggle between the BNP and Labour at the forthcoming council elections in May. Though media attention in Barking will focus on the parliamentary battle between BNP leader Nick Griffin and Labour’s Margaret Hodge, the real contest may be for the council. Last time, had the BNP put up candidates in every ward, it would probably have taken control of the council. Labour is fighting back, but it knows that still remains a possibility.