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UK Politics

BNP on the rise because Blair ignores working class, says MP

New Labour is contributing to the rise of the BNP in town halls by ignoring white working-class voters, a former Downing Street adviser has warned.

New Labour is contributing to the rise of the BNP in town halls by ignoring white working-class voters, a former Downing Street adviser has warned.

John Cruddas, who advised Tony Blair on relations with trade unions, said the white working class felt disenfranchised because New Labour was targeting the middle classes. "The BNP is taking a rational approach to the political repositioning of New Labour," he said.

He also warned that in seeking to neutralise the issue of race, New Labour had helped to "demonise immigrants" and "moved the language to the right".

Mr Cruddas is MP for Dagenham, east London, where the BNP is active. He is one of a number of Labour MPs who fear that a fall in Labour support if Mr Blair remains leader could increase the swing to the BNP in next year's local elections. Ann Cryer, who beat a challenge by the BNP leader Nick Griffin in Keighley, said she was worried that if Mr Blair remained leader the BNP would gain more seats and possibly take the balance of power in Bradford.

Paul Goggins, a Home Office minister, said the rise of the BNP was "a wake-up call to all of us to work harder to challenge racism".

A Church of England priest who is an expert in BNP activity, agreed that the Government had failed to listen to the white working class. The Rev Liz Carnelley, policy officer for the Church's regional commission in Yorkshire and Humberside, said the BNP responded to "genuine local grievances such as the end of funding for a project or the lack of affordable housing". She said: "Many vote as a protest because they are not being heard. They are often the disadvantaged who resent others receiving more. It does not mean they are signed-up Nazis. "

She said Mr Blair should do more to answer the legitimate concerns of potential BNP voters, including producing more information about asylum and immigration to counter the myths put about by racist groups. The Government had failed to fully implement the report by Ted Cantle following the riots in 2001 in Oldham and Bradford.

"Why are white communities feeling disaffected as though no one is listening to them, so much so that they are voting for a party which is openly racist?" she said. Denis MacShane, the Labour MP for Rotherham, where the BNP won almost 2,000 votes, said the BNP had taken advantage of politicians' failure to "transform the lives of too many white working-class people in poorer estates".

The BNP held its deposit in more than 30 of the constituencies it contested in the general election, and could improve on its tally of 24 councillors in next year's town hall elections. Although it did not come close to winning a Westminster seat, it picked up nearly 200,000 votes across the country, compared with 47,000 in the 2001 election.

A BNP spokesman said: "We have progressed a lot. We're now moving out of being a fringe party and into the mainstream. We consider ourselves to be the fourth party."