BNP reaps reward of targeting boroughs

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Indy Politics

Anti-racism campaigners were aghast after the British National Party picked up support across the country to bring its number of council seats to 50.

The targeting of Barking and Dagenham paid dividends after the BNP won 11 of the 13 seats it contested, to make it the second biggest party on the east London council. It also made further progress in strongholds in Essex, Stoke and the Black Country, and won its first representations in Leeds and Solihull.

The far-right party picked up most of its support from white working-class voters hostile to the growth of ethnic minorities in nearby areas. The mainstream parties acknowledge that the BNP's progress is evidence of growing disillusionment with conventional politics.

The BNP success in Barking and Dagenham gives it a foothold on the Essex/east London borders. It won its first seat in neighbouring Redbridge council, and doubled its strength in the suburban Essex council of Epping Forest to six.

The party picked up three seats in Stoke-on-Trent, where Labour lost overall control, to take its total to five. It made heavy play of plans to build a mosque in the Staffordshire city. It won three extra seats in Sandwell, two of them in Tipton, which is home to three Britons who were held at Guantanamo Bay.

In Redditch, south of Birmingham, the BNP gained a seat in the Winyates ward. Its literature drew heavily on fears over asylum-seekers, suggesting they were always provided with free televisions, whereas British pensioners were not. The defeated councillor, Albert Wharrad, 81, said: "Although some of their support was from people who might have voted for any of the main parties, I think they persuaded a lot of younger people who would not normally have voted for anyone and who see themselves as deprived, to vote for them."

The BNP claimed a shock win from Labour in Solihull when it won the Chelmsley Wood ward by 19 votes, securing its first seat on the council. The winning candidate, George Morgan, said it was a victory for the ordinary working man.

The anti-immigration party built support in the West Yorkshire borough of Kirklees, where it now has three councillors, and won its first seat on Leeds council. In Bradford, however, it suffered losses to both Labour and the Tories. It also suffered a loss when a candidate, Sharon Ebanks, was declared the winner of a seat in the Kingstanding ward of Birmingham, only to discover she had come third after several recounts, ordered by Labour and the Tories.

In Lancashire, it won an extra seat on Burnley council to take its tally to seven, and won its first seat on Pendle council. A BNP splinter party, England First, won two seats in Blackburn.

Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism, said: "Just as Hitler singled out minorities to blame for the economic crisis of the 1930s, the BNP wants to scapegoat black and Asian people for the housing crisis and economic failure. There is a great danger that the BNP's election gains give a veneer of respectability to racist ideas, and could pull mainstream politics into the gutter."

Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: "The BNP is a one-trick pony when it comes to its policies, which are all based on xenophobia. The party claims that all of British society's ills can be blamed on migration and race which is utter nonsense, as well as treacherous to migrant communities."

A BNP spokesman said: "The electorate are waking up and casting off this cloak of censorship the politically correct brigade are casting over us. We're progress in areas where we had no represenation before, like in Leeds. We're going to expand the debate into the public about multiculuralism, British values and British identity." He said the party fielded 353 candidates this week, but hoped to increase the number in the next council elections.

Mirand Lewis, a researcher at the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank, said: "These are people [BNP voters] feeling economically vulnerable and unable to find a place to live. The BNP are very cleverly playing on that, mixing that in people's minds with concern about immigration."

In last year's general election, the BNP attracted nearly 200,000 votes nationwide. It contested 120 constituencies and held its deposit in about 40.