A town just three miles from the scene of major race riots is set to become the first in the UK to have a BNP member as its mayor.
Councillors have voted overwhelmingly for John Cave to take over as civic leader of Padiham, Lancashire.
But critics have warned the appointment reflects poorly on the town and argued that he cannot serve the whole community without ‘rejecting his party’s philosophy.’
Councillor Cave has previously claimed that party politics were behind those who opposed his selection.
He will become Deputy Mayor in the next civic year and take the chains of office 12 months later.
He says he is proud to serve the town, which is situated about three miles from Burnley and has a population of around 9,000.
He said: ‘It is a vote of confidence. This is my home town and I was born here. It is all about Padiham and Padiham is not about politics.
‘It is my home and my aim is to make it a lot better place to live. I will be really proud to be mayor.’
Councillor Cave is married to BNP Lancashire County Councillor Sharon Wilkinson.
‘The system was arranged so everyone could have a chance. One or two opposed the idea and interpreted the rules in a different way. If all the councillors had voted ‘no’, I would have said they didn’t want me on the council but the majority are happy with the decision.
‘It is a non-political council and my politics have not encroached on what happens in Padiham. It has been easier than I expected to remain non-political in the past 12 months.’
But Bishop of Burnley John Goddard said he was not happy with the decision.
He said: ‘I always see the role of the mayor and deputy mayor as the chief citizen of the community, and they have a responsibility to uphold and defend the rights of all British citizens of the town, regardless of race, colour or status
‘Given that, I look forward to the deputy mayor showing that the BNP are wrong in their racist policies
‘It will be interesting to see if he acts in the best traditions of a mayor in the community, and I pray he does, as he will have to reject the philosophy of the BNP.
‘If he retains the BNP political philosophy then how can he expect to serve and represent the whole of the community?’
The role means Councillor Cave, who is married to BNP Lancashire County Councillor Sharon Wilkinson and has been a councillor for just 12 months, will take over the chains from current mayor Bob Clark in a year.
Councillor Shah Hussain, who represents Daneshouse and Stoneyholme on Burnley Council, said: ‘I have concerns with what the BNP stands for and its policies. It is a party that is divisive to the community.’
A spokesman for the Hope not Hate campaign, which celebrates ‘modern Britain’ and claims to expose the BNP, said: ‘We are disappointed that anybody holding the views of the BNP can secure a position of this kind.
‘The role of mayor in any community is to act as the figurehead of the community and we don’t see how that role can be carried out by anybody who represents a party whose sole aim is to divide communities.’
Peter Pike, former Labour MP in Burnley, said: ‘I think it is unfortunate that we have councillors who represent the BNP.
‘And now I think it is unfortunate that we have a deputy mayor in Padiham who represents the BNP.
‘But if they are elected on to a council then there is always a chance they could hold a mayoral title.’
There has been a mixed response from the town’s residents.
Terry Smith, 32, said: ‘The BNP shouldn’t have any power really, and certainly not be mayor of the town. It doesn’t look good for the town.’
But pensioner Harold Wilkinson, 71, said: ‘If he’s been elected by the people then I do not see or have a problem with it.’
And Ann Cooper, 61, of Padiham Green, said: ‘They have been voted for so they have a right to be on the council, they are a legitimate party.’
Padiham town clerk Elizabeth Bolton said after the confusion regarding the standing order rules were quashed, it was a simple decision.
‘There was no real argument or debate about it once the rules were clarified,’ she said.
‘I am pleased it has been sorted and we can now move forward. I’m sure over the next 12 months Councillor Cave will have the opportunity to gain some great experience as deputy mayor ready for being mayor the year after.’