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Martin Bell: Time to change

PUBLISHED: 13:02 18 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:47 07 September 2010

Martin Bell

Martin Bell

WAR reporter and politics guru Martin Bell has warned that the rise of the BNP should not be overstated in the election as that would lead to other small parties being disproportionally censored. The Hampstead Garden Suburb journalist, who s

Katie Davies

WAR reporter and politics guru Martin Bell has warned that the rise of the BNP should not be overstated in the election as that would lead to other small parties being disproportionally censored.

The Hampstead Garden Suburb journalist, who spoke to the Ham&High before flying out to Haiti with Unicef, said smaller parties and independent candidates are being locked out of the political system because of exaggerated fears over the far right.

"The biggest unfairness is the squeeze on the independents which is going on in broadcasting more than ever before," he said.

"Broadcasters are fearful of the BNP so are focusing more than ever on the main parties and that is affecting second tier parties like UKIP and the Greens. It leaves independents with no chance.

"I think the BNP's chances are overstated. In the European Parlia-ment elections in 2009 their vote would have stayed the same if Labour's vote hadn't collapsed."

Mr Bell, who spent 35 years at the BBC, supported the decision to allow BNP leader Nick Griffin to appear on politics debate show Question Time last year.

"I think if we are going to have UKIP and the Greens on Question Time we have to have the BNP on there too," he said. "I was just surprised at how inarticulate Nick Griffin was."

Mr Bell, 71, also had an important political career serving in the House of Commons from 1997 to 2001 after defeating Neil Hamilton on an anti-sleaze platform for the seat of Tatton.

Since then he has continued to be a passionate supporter of independent candidates and a campaigner against sleaze in politics.

"I expect the Conservatives to win but I think there will be some interesting individual results bucking the trend," he said. "There are a number of independents who have a good chance of winning seats."

"Expenses are still going to be an issue and those with difficult records of expenses will suffer. I think we'll have the largest intake of new MPs since 1945.

"I think we will see a general cleaning of the Augean stables. I had great hopes for the Labour government in 1997 but the largest disappointment was their failure to improve public trust in public life. I hope the Conservatives have learned that this has to be dealt with but I have not seen a single Tory frontbencher removed for their shocking expenses claims. What they have done is got rid of the backwoodsmen with the duck ponds and the moats. The people who are valuable to the project have been protected.

"We need a new start - the whole expenses scandal was a complete disgrace."

But the independent candidates, who this year will include Hampstead resident Esther Rantzen running in Luton, will have a tough task ahead of them, according to Mr Bell.

"It is still going to be difficult for independents," he said. "They don't get the party political broadcasts and the debate will be intensifying between the main parties. But I do think this will be the best chance for independents in my lifetime because people have been really alienated from those in Parliament.

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