Clouds over Corsham

The Cotswolds' first BNP councillor faces an angry backlash

It's a hammer blow for Eskimos the world over: they have been frozen out of the British National Party.

When Michael Simpkins, the BNP's latest councillor, was asked who could not join his party, he replied: "Blacks, Asians, Australian Aborigines, New Zealand Maoris and, of course, Eskimos."

Of course.

Simpkins, a councillor for only seven weeks, has already alienated a sizeable proportion of his electorate. Or he would have done, if he had an electorate. His Conservative rival for the seat in Corsham withdrew from the race to stand in another ward after nominations closed, allowing the 47-year-old taxi driver to take power unopposed.

When people in the genteel Wiltshire market town, famous otherwise for being the home of Camilla Parker Bowles, realised what had happened, they turned out in force to protest.

This being the Cotswolds, it wasn't your average demo: the 400 locals who attended tucked in to chocolate cakes and sandwiches provided by local businesses.

"The demonstration was held opposite the Flemish Weavers pub," says Christine Reid, a Labour councillor, "which was ironic, given the BNP's stance on immigration. The pub was named after the Huguenots, who fled persecution from Flanders and came here with wool skills and helped make Corsham what it is today."

The event was organised by a 21-year-old charity worker, Kyle Thornhill. "Before this I had no interest in politics whatsoever," he says. "I've always had an intolerance of racism and segregation. Everything I hated in my life was embodied by the BNP.

"When I saw Simpkins's name on the list of councillors, it seemed to me there was a real cloud hanging over Corsham - the first town in the south-west with a BNP councillor."

The BNP fielded two other candidates in the election, both of whom were beaten resoundingly, finishing last in their wards.

"Nobody had the chance to vote against Simpkins," says Thornhill. "If there had been an election, he would have been humiliated as well. If he's so confident he represents the people of Corsham, he should stand down, face the electorate and take part in a proper election."

For his efforts, Thornhill has been described by Simpkins in the media as a "silly little boy" and had his photograph and that of his family, together with his home address, published on a far-right website with the plea: "More info needed on this creep urgently."

"We're careful now to lock our windows and doors. Every sound at night takes on a different significance, and we're always watching our backs, checking behind us," says Thornhill.

He won't be intimidated, though. He and his supporters plan to hold international cultural events to coincide with the monthly town council meetings.

"I'm not going to stop," he vows. "To do that would be to let them win. And a lot of people don't want the BNP here."

This article first appeared in the 25 June 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Israel, Gaza and a summer of war?