LABOUR’S Parliamentary candidate for Rossendale and Darwen Will Straw was embroiled in a twitter storm yesterday after posting a picture of himself with members of the Britannia Coconutters.

The traditional Easter Saturday morr- is dance had been under threat after Lancashire Constabulary refused to marshal the event’s crowds, and rolling road closures.

But it was saved after county coun-cillors Sean Serridge and Jackie Oakes offered to use cash from a member’s contingency fund to support the event. Thousands of people attended the event on Saturday, incl-uding Rossendale MP Jake Berry, and Mr Straw.

Twitter users branded the picture posted by 32-year-old Mr Straw as racist because the Coconutters use black make-up, but he was quick to defend the dance troupe, whose hist-ory goes back 158 years.

Mr Straw posted the phot-ograph on the social netw-ork with the caption: “Good to talk to Neville Earnshaw of world-famous Britannia Coconutters in the New Inn. Great Bacup tradition.”

He received a flurry of tweets back criticising him.

One said: “You do realise that this picture is pretty off-ensive don’t you?”

And another said: “A trad-ition? Like lynching used to be? Doesn’t make it right.”

But Mr Straw has sprung to the defence of the Coconutters, and said the Easter Saturday ritual was a ‘really important tradition’ that needed to be preserved.

He said: “As many small towns throughout Britain struggle to maintain their identity against a tide of national retail chains, betting shops and fast food outlets, the Britannia Coconutters provide a window into a previous era and a clear sense of local tradition.

“We should all hope it will con-tinue for many years to come.”

He also pointed out that a similar tweet, posted by the current Tory MP Mr Berry, did not receive such attention on the site.

The Coconutters have also hit back at claims that the tradition is racist.

Secretary Joe Healey said: “We’re not racist. We never have been.

“The folk world and the morris world have used make-up, and black make-up in particular, for centur-ies.

“It’s used as a disguise from spir-its, or hiding from winter.

“These sorts of comments are very sad. It’s sad to have our world, and lives, and traditions, talked about in this manner.”

Local councillor Sean Serridge said: “Easter Saturday wouldn’t be Easter Saturday in Bacup without the Britannia Coconutters.

“It’s always a fantastic day, and it was great to have Will there supp-orting Bacup.”