FAITH leaders have distanced themselves from a far-right activist standing in this week’s Batley and Spen by-election after she used a picture of an Anglican church in her campaign material.
The Leader of the British Freedom Party, Jayda Fransen, is standing as an independent candidate in the Yorkshire constituency. Ms Fransen, who has been imprisoned for religiously aggravated crimes, posted a photo-montage online of her holding a white cross, with St Thomas’s, Batley, in the background. The image is captioned: “Jayda Fransen is standing for the forgotten people of British [sic]. Christian, Batley and Spen! For God and Britannia!”
The image drew a swift reaction from the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines. In a statement published on the website of the United Benefice of Batley — a group of four parishes including St Thomas’s — he said: “The Church of England was not consulted over the use of a photograph of our church — St Thomas’ Church, Batley. The Christian gospel rejects the association of the cross and the church with Jayda Fransen’s political statement.”
“The Church’s vision for public life flowing for the Christian understanding of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is one from where the common good is served such that all communities of whatever culture, ethnicity, religion, or belief, can flourish together.”
The Inter Faith Network for the UK described the image as a “crude collage”, and warned that, while people had the right to express their views, “it is vital in our diverse and democratic society that views are expressed in a peaceful and respectful way and also that care is taken that observations on situations locally, nationally or abroad do not reflect or play into antisemitism, Islamophobia or hatred of other communities.
“During election campaigns, symbols and images of different faith communities are sometimes co-opted and manipulated by organisations and/or public figures to justify or promote divisive political agendas. Slanted and inaccurate portrayals of religious and cultural history often accompany such misuse of imagery. At such times, solidarity of response from faith communities and inter faith initiatives is crucial.”
North Kirklees Interfaith, a member of the Inter Faith Network, commented on its Twitter feed: ”Some seek to cause division, including some standing for election. We urge all within our diverse communities to recognise how we all need and can learn from one another. Let’s reach out to friend and stranger in respect and love. Hate and division has no place here.”
The online image of the church has since been replaced with one of Muslim demonstrators outside Batley Grammar School (News, 1 April), protesting earlier this year over the showing of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a religious studies lesson.
Ms Fransen is the former deputy leader of Britain First. She one of 16 candidates standing in Batley and Spen, where the Labour candidate is Kim Leadbeater, the sister of Jo Cox, who held the seat until she was murdered by a far-right extremist in 2016, who shouted “Britain first” as he attacked her (News, 24 June 2016).
In May, Ms Fransen stood against Scottish National Party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, for the Glasgow Southside seat in the Scottish Parliament, but won just 46 votes. When she announced her candidature, she declared that she was standing “against these SNP commie, Marxists, naughty people”.
Ms Fransen describes herself as a “Christian fundamentalist”, and an “extremist in every sense of the word”. She has said that Islam and the Qur’an should be banned in Britain, and that anti-monarchists should be hanged for treason.
In 2017, she caused controversy when Donald Trump re-tweeted her posts, which purported to show Muslims carrying out assaults.