Weakened by internal divisions and a campaign which culminated in one of his senior lieutenants trading punches with an Asian man in a street brawl, Nick Griffin yesterday failed in his attempt to force his party into the political mainstream when he suffered a crushing defeat in its east London stronghold.
The leader of the British National Party (BNP) was pushed into third place in the constituency of Barking after Margaret Hodge, the Tourism minister and Labour incumbent, increased her majority to more than 16,000 votes and told Mr Griffin to "pack your bags and go".
A jubilant Mrs Hodge, 65, said: "The message of Barking to the BNP is clear: get out and stay out. You are not wanted here and your vile politics have no place in British democracy."
The defeat, in which Mr Griffin received 6,620 votes in a seat his party considered a genuine target, completed a night of contrasting fortunes for the BNP. The far-right group increased its share of the national vote to 1.9 per cent (563,000 votes), but despite fielding more than 300 candidates, it failed to return an MP.
After several years of steadily picking up votes through its anti-immigration agenda – with scare propaganda such as "Africans for Essex" – the BNP had highlighted the general and council polls as its "breakthrough" election. But Mr Griffin, who faced an alleged plot by party officials to depose him last month, admitted the BNP had fallen short of expectations. The group failed to make headway in its other target, Stoke Central, contested by Simon Darby, pictured, the BNP's deputy leader. Its Luton South candidate trailed fourth behind the television personality Esther Rantzen.
In Romford, Essex, where Bob Bailey, the leader of the BNP group on Barking and Dagenham Council, was standing as a parliamentary candidate, the party came fourth with 5.2 per cent of the vote. Mr Bailey was filmed by a BBC news crew this week exchanging blows with an Asian youth.
The party also lost several prominent councillors: its London Assembly member, Richard Barnbrook, lost his seat in Barking and Dagenham. The BNP had hoped to seize control of Barking and Dagenham. Mr Griffin, however, said he would not resign. "It is going to be too late for Barking but it is not too late for Britain," he said. "Get rid of your masters before they get rid of us."