Local people 'expect BNP win' in east London: One-third of electorate 'undecided' over by-election

LOCAL people believe the British National Party will win the crucial Millwall ward of Tower Hamlets in next month's local elections, according to an opinion poll published yesterday by the Institute of Community Studies.

Labour and the British National Party are said to be 'neck-and-neck' in the contest, although 30 per cent expect the BNP to triumph compared to 27 per cent who expect a Labour win.

The BNP won one of the three seats in a by-election in the east London borough last year and could take control of the Isle of Dogs neighbourhood and its pounds 23m budget if it picks up the ward's two remaining seats, both held by Labour.

Conducted by ICM, the polling organisation, on behalf of the institute, the poll appeared to show that Labour was well ahead with the party having a 31 per cent share of the vote compared with 12 per cent for the BNP.

But nearly one-third of voters remain undecided and comparison with voters' stated behaviour and the actual results in last year's by-election point to considerable understatement of the BNP's support, says the institute. People are believed to be reluctant to admit to extreme politics and large numbers refuse to say which way they will vote.

Taking this into account, the institute predicts the Labour share of the vote at 35.6 per cent with 32.9 per cent for the BNP. A total of 524 people out of the ward's electorate of 9,200 were interviewed.

The Institute of Community Studies is a non-party organisation funded by charitable trusts and government grants. It has conducted several social research projects in the borough where it is based.

Lord Young of Dartington, director of the Institute of Community Studies which conducts social research in the borough, said the contest was 'neck-and-neck' between Labour and the BNP.

'The strong message is about tactical voting. Both Liberal Democrat or Conservative voters, if they want the BNP to lose, should vote Labour,' he said.

The same advice would be given if the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats were the party in front.

'We are worried about the possibility of a BNP victory on the Isle of Dogs. It would not be in the interests of the people of Tower Hamlets if they were subject to an increase in the racial strife and animosity that is already a fact of life in the borough,' he added.

Under the decentralised policies of Tower Hamlets council, controlled by the Liberal Democrats, each of the seven local neighbourhoods is responsible for large elements of the borough's spending.

Asked who they thought would win the election, 30 per cent said the BNP against 27 per cent for Labour and 32 per cent 'don't knows'.

More revealing was a question asking about how people voted in last September's by-election. More than 50 per cent said Labour despite the fact that Labour only won 33. per cent of the vote. Only 21 per cent admitted to voting BNP compared with an actual turnout of 34 per cent.

BNP supporters were more likely to be long-term residents of the Isle of Dogs with 60 per cent living in the area all their lives or more than 21 years. Such people only made up 30 per cent of the population.

----------------------------------------------------------------- MILLWALL WARD POLL ----------------------------------------------------------------- Party How people say Actual result How people say Voting they voted in 1993 they will vote intentions in 1993 (%) in 1994* in 1994 Labour 52 33.7 53 35.6 BNP 21.4 34 20 32.9 Lib Dem 17 29.4 12 21.4 Tories 8 3 10 3.9 ----------------------------------------------------------------- * not including refusals or don't knows ----------------------------------------------------------------- Source: Tower Hamlets Independent News Service Sample: 524, polled between 19 March and March 27 -----------------------------------------------------------------