British National Party activists are going door to door with mobile food banks in a bid to win support ahead of the local and European elections, The Independent can reveal.
The far-right party has even produced a YouTube instruction video to teach volunteers how to build trust with voters in deprived areas by offering soup, teabags and washing powder on the doorstep.
The BNP said the scheme had been “pioneered” in London last year and others had been set up in the Midlands and the North-West. Food stalls have also been set up in places such as Havering in east London.
The tactics echo those used by the Greek far-right group Golden Dawn, which distributed food to the public at the height of the country’s economic crisis. The BNP leader Nick Griffin visited Athens in January at the movement’s invitation, as part of efforts to set up a Europe-wide coalition.
Weyman Bennett, the general secretary of Unite Against Fascism, said offering social welfare was an age-old tactic of the far right to build support in poor areas. He said “Hitler’s soup kitchens” had been an effective vote-winner during the Nazis’ rise to power in Germany in the 1920s and 30s.
He urged the Electoral Commission to investigate the legality of the scheme.
“I think they [the BNP] are repeating those methods with this period of austerity. There is a danger with austerity that people get exploited and used,” he told The Independent.
“They are pretending almost to be a charity,” he added, saying this would encourage “the homeless and the desperate to support a rotten organisation”.
Asked about the tactic, BNP spokesman Simon Darby said the bedroom tax and the high cost of energy was driving the need for free food.
“It’s beyond belief. People are really, really struggling to make ends meet. It’s no joke. It really is a genuine need for people,” he said.
“It [giving out free food] is a very, very practical way to express sympathy with people. So many people are cynical about politics now.
“It’s a way of getting people to trust you and bringing real meaning to politics … a way of embedding yourself in the community.”
Mr Darby denied the food was a bribe and said it would be given to non-BNP supporters. The BNP wasn’t making a profit and he did not think it was against election law.
The demonstration video uploaded to YouTube last week shows a BNP London organiser delivering food in Union Jack bags to an elderly woman. He encourages other activists across the country to engage in “door-to-door food bank activism”, saying all that’s needed is a “trolley and an assortment of tinned products”.
An Electoral Commission spokeswoman said she had not heard of political parties giving out food in this way in the UK. “I assume if we knew it was going on, we would want to consider the matter and see whether anything needed to happen with it.”
She said any donations of food worth more than £1,500 to local branches would have to be reported to the commission. There is a criminal offence called “treating” which specifically relates to giving food, but this requires “a corrupt intent” to influence voters.