Local Elections: BNP failure masks growth in support

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THE FAILURE of the British National Party to win a council seat in east London masks a huge increase in local support for the ultra-right organisation.

In the Millwall ward of Tower Hamlets, the BNP polled about 30 per cent of votes in a racially charged election that brought 66 per cent of the electorate to the polls. Labour won just over 50 per cent of the votes.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for Liberty, the civil rights group, said the rise in BNP support was 'very worrying' and the defeat of the BNP owed much to the efforts of community organisations which had bused and accompanied frightened Bengali voters to polling stations and ensured an exceptionally high turnout. Liberty also took the unprecedented step of manning polling stations with legal observers to ensure the right to vote without fear of intimidation. In the shock by-election victory for the BNP in September, Derek Beackon won a Millwall seat with 34 per cent of the vote. Then the turn-out was just 44 per cent. More than 500 extra voters opted for Mr Beackon this week.

In the neighbouring borough of Newham, the BNP took 32 per cent of the vote in Beckton ward and 24 per cent in Custom House and Silvertown. BNP activists said they were building support for the future.

Kevin Blowe, spokesman for Newham Monitoring Project, criticised local Conservatives who chose to stand as Conservatives Against Labour's Unfair Ethnic Policies in the two wards that the BNP contested. He accused them of 'playing the race card' in the way that Liberal Democrats had in Tower Hamlets.

The Liberal Democrats were wiped out by Labour in Tower Hamlets in Thursday's election. An internal investigation into alleged racism by Liberal Democrat activists during the Millwall by-election recommended the expulsion of some members.

Mr Blowe said: 'It is even more worrying when you take the Conservative Against Labour's Unfair Ethnic Policies and the BNP vote together in these two wards. The total is higher or roughly the same as that polled by Labour.'

He said many of the racist attacks recorded by his organisation took place in the two wards in south Newham. 'Race will continue to be the issue at elections in this area for some time.'