BNP power-sharing accusations are "a smear campaign"
The leader of Pendle Borough Council has accused his Tory rivals of a "smear campaign" over an alleged power-sharing deal with the British National Party.
Labour's Coun. Mohammed Iqbal angrily denied accusations that his party had sought the support of Pendle Council's sole BNP councillor, Coun. Brian Parker, after two defections to the Conservatives meant the ruling Labour Lib Dem coalition no longer had a majority.
Coun, Parker, the only remaining BNP local councillor in the country, representing Pendle's Marsden ward, could potentially hold the balance of power.
But Coun. Iqbal said: "It is evident that the Pendle Conservative Party are getting desperate when they resort to accusing me of colluding with or 'doing a deal' with Coun. Parker.
"For the record I can confirm that no deal of any kind has been done with the BNP and never will be.
"Unfortunately, this smear campaign and many other failed attempts to tarnish the Labour Party's and my reputation is all part of poorly orchestrated attempt to regain the leadership of the council and an attempt to influence the local electorate with their false stories.
"The Labour Party is immensely grateful and proud to have received the support of thousands of residents across Pendle over the years giving us a voice in the council chamber to convey their message and deliver important services in the face of savage cuts from the Tory government."
Coun. Joe Cooney, Pendle Conservative Group leader, has written to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Lib Dem leader Tim Farron MP, to raise his concerns.
He said: "We’ve worked hard to try and eradicate the BNP from Pendle. We have no desire to enter into any arrangements with Coun. Parker and I’d assumed the other groups would also want no connection with an overtly racist party. I was wrong.”
The Conservatives gained seats from both Labour and the Lib Dems in the local elections last May, putting the Group on 21 out of 49 councillors. It proposed a shared Executive of all three main parties (Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems) to work together, but this was rejected by the Labour/Lib Dem Coalition.
In November 2016, a by-election saw the Conservatives gaining another seat from Labour, taking its tally to 22. Again, a proposed all-party shared Executive was rejected.
In recent weeks, two defections to the Conservatives, one from Labour and one from Liberal Democrats, means the current make-up of Pendle Council is: 24 Conservatives, 15 Labour, nine Liberal Democrats and one BNP.
Coun. Cooney added: “While twice this year refusing to work with the Conservatives, we now have an administration being propped up by the BNP. Not only is this a scandal for Labour and the Lib Dems, but it’s also embarrassing for Pendle, the council and our residents.
"I know the saying, 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer', but a deal with the BNP is taking that rather too literally. All parties should take a stand against hate.”
But Coun. Iqbal remained defiant, and said: "The county council elections are not far away now. The Conservatives will try every trick in the book to try to give themselves the best chance of victory instead of focusing on what is best for the people of Pendle.
"I am proud of my track record in public service for more than 18 years and will continue to serve the people of Pendle to the best of my ability."