BNP fails to meet target for gains in Burnley

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The British National Party's hopes of strengthening its hold on Burnley Council were in ruins last night.

The British National Party's hopes of strengthening its hold on Burnley Council were in ruins last night.

The BNP won only one of the eight seats it was contesting and lost the only one it was defending, when the Conservatives gained Cliviger with Worsthorne ­ the borough's wealthiest ward where the far right have picked up two seats in the past two years.

The total number of BNP councillors in Burnley remains at six, and the council falls to no overall control.

Defeat in the ward illustrated the party's divisions which have resulted in two of its eight councillors departing over the past 18 months. A 21-year-old councillor, Luke Smith, was kicked out of the party after a punch-up with one of Mr Griffin's minders. Councillor Maureen Stowe, elected last year, then jumped ship and became an independent, saying BNP claims that the council was pouring too much money into Asian areas were untrue.

The outgoing Cliviger councillor David Edwards is understood to have left amid differences with the party leadership ­ though he cited pressure of work. The BNP came second in seven wards and its only gain came in Hapton with Park, where its Burnley leader already holds the seats. The BNP's Sharon Wilkinson secured 28 votes more than Labour and 32 more than the Liberal Democrats in a tight contest.

The BNP's other prime targets were industrial Rosegrove with Lowerhouse and Gannon, with its terraced houses ­ but it came second in both by margins of 100 votes or less.

Burnley Council's Labour leader Stuart Caddy seemed more delighted by the BNP's failures than his party's moderate success. "This has taken three years of my life, but it is a fantastic achievement," he said. "I repeatedly said a BNP vote was a wasted vote."

The BNP Burnley leader Leonard Starr admitted the party's hopes had been dashed. "We've faced attacks from political parties who got together behind closed doors like never before to campaign against us," he said. "We will be back."

In May last year, when the BNP gained its eighth council seat, its leader, Nick Griffin, proclaimed his party would assume political control "if not next year then the year after". The BNP's targets in the town were not simply the disenchanted, working-class voters; it fielded candidates in some of the more affluent wards and some desirable suburban areas.

The Tory leader Michael Howard demonstrated his concerns about the BNP's strength on a high-profile visit in February when he labelled its members "a bunch of thugs dressed up as a political party".

Mr Caddy admits the BNP's first success still rings in his ears: Mr Griffin's campaign team drove through Burnley playing The Dambusters theme from their election vehicle the morning after returning three councillors.

Mr Griffin remains hopeful of breakthroughs elsewhere in northern England when counting is concluded today.In Calderdale, West Yorkshire, activists voiced fears that the party may collect as many as six seats including a possible clean sweep in Mixenden and Illingworth, where boundary changes have potential to help their cause. The nearby Northowram and Shelf ward came within 100 votes of returning a BNP candidate last May.