BNP to field 118 candidates - a fourfold rise on election of 2001

The far-right British National Party is fielding four times more candidates for this election than in 2001, prompting an angry response from anti-fascism groups.

The BNP, which bills itself as Britain's "foremost patriotic party", will have 118 candidates on 5 May - more than any previous election and almost quadrupling the 33 who stood in 2001. Twenty more members will be standing for county council seats.

The show of force made the party eligible for an election broadcast, and last night anti-racism groups protested outside the BBC before it was aired.

In the broadcast, party chairman Nick Griffin can be heard singing a folk song he wrote himself, while the cameras follow a homeless Falklands war veteran through London. The man, named as a former corporal, is seen carrying a Teachers whisky bottle and searching through bins. In a shot where he is contemplating poppy wreaths, Mr Griffin sings about how the soldier could not get housing upon his return from the war: "There were flats for Iraqis and Afghans, but never a flat with my name."

The broadcast lists the number of asylum-seekers the BNP claims both Labour and Conservative governments have allowed into the country before cutting to a shot of Mr Griffin, as he emerged from court recently after being charged with inciting racial hatred.

With the Tories having made immigration a key issue, campaigners claimed the BNP was capitalising on the same fears.

A BNP spokesman, Phil Edwards, said it was fielding many more candidates as it wanted to be seen as mainstream. He said: "We are not racist. We are race- realist. We are not a fringe group of lunatics. The only thing that holds us back is the fact we get such bad press. We are convinced there is a conspiracy against free speech for people like us.

"Certain groups don't like the fact that we are going forward. I am enjoying their discomfort. These people should be horse whipped, these people, these Marxists and communists, who put out leaflets about us." Unite Against Facism reacted with outrage to the broadcast last night, insisting there was no legal obligation to transmit it.

Luke Crawley, a senior official at the BBC staff union Bectu, agreed. "We do not think that the BNP should be given a platform to express their racist views."

The BBC and Channel 4 said that standing in more than a sixth of seats gave the BNP a right to go on air, provided it did not breach certain criteria of taste and decency. The BNP has 22 local councillors, but no MP.

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