The British National Party's pursuit of seats in next month's local elections is built on false claims designed to create racial prejudice and irrational fears among voters, according to anti-BNP activists.
At a time of mounting alarm over the BNP's prospects of making gains in the elections, a dossier of the party's locally targeted literature has prompted fears that the claims being spread by the party are being accepted as fact by some voters.
Concern over the party's potential success in the local elections were triggered this week by Margaret Hodge, the employment minister, who claimed that eight out of 10 people in her east London constituency of Barking were threatening to vote for the party.
The BNP dossier includes bogus claims that a 15-year-old was raped by an immigrant; that an "Africans for Essex" scheme has been handing out £50,000 for Africans to move into the county; and that one council had a secret deal with one of its neighbours to transfer 3,000 asylum-seekers to the area.
Searchlight, which has collected much of the literature, is engaged in its strongest campaign yet to attempt to ensure that the BNP does not make gains in the approximately 60 council wards where they appear to have the best chance of success. Searchlight has been at work for weeks putting together list a database of 33,000 constituents in 42 target wards, including voters of ethnic minority extraction, whom it believes will be prepared to vote to keep out the BNP.
Since February, telephone canvassers have been at work encouraging these individuals to cast a vote and prevent the BNP slipping into seats because of poor voter turnout on 4 May. The main areas of threat include Kirklees and Calderdale in West Yorkshire, Barking and Dagenham in London and the West Midlands, especially Birmingham, where the BNP is fielding a full slate of candidates and has invested considerable resources.
"In some seats, 100 votes either way could help the BNP get in and in these areas, turnout is everything," said Nick Lowles of Searchlight. "Our job in the last two weeks has been turning those voters out and we have activists all over the country ready to work in the vital last 72 hours."
Some anti-BNP groups have not found Mrs Hodge's comments useful, since they convey the mistaken impression that the threat of the far right has not been anticipated and prepared for. A report by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust said in a report this week that up to 25 per cent of voters indicated they "might" vote for the party.
The BNP's campaign strategy is consistent: create anxiety and rumour about immigrants in constituencies, with locally targeted literature. Much of this is disseminated in mock local newspapers, such as the Dagenham Patriot, the Tipton Patriot and the Huddersfield Crusader. In Calderdale, West Yorkshire, where eight BNP candidates are standing, many voters seem to believe that a former factory is to be converted into luxury flats for asylum seekers - though this allegation has not been found anywhere in published form - and that the area is in line for 1,000 extra asylum seekers.
"The BNP will sometimes take half a fact and build on it. The stuff is very cleverly worded," said Tim Swift, a local Labour councillor who has been campaigning this week. "As a result, people are coming up to us who are extremely concerned about issues which do not exist."
Searchlight has counteracted the BNP's local "newspapers" with a print-run of 420,000 "newspapers" of its own.
The Attorney General's decision to bring race-hate charges against BNP leader Nick Griffin, resulting in his acquittal and attendant publicity on the same day that protests were staged in London over the cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed, has clearly helped the BNP. "There is no doubt that they have played on that," said Mr Lowles. "There's also been the recent Abu Hamza trial. They have been able to play on a perception that Islam is an intolerant religion."
The BNP denied that it was making up facts. "No political party is spot on. It's not a precise science but this is not falsification," said BNP press officer Phil Edwards. "Of course councils will challenge some of these facts but they are not going to tell you much, are they?"
How the far-right's claims fall far short of the truth
* THE CLAIM: An "Africans for Essex" scheme offers "up to £50,000 together with a 75 per cent mortgage, which allows immigrants to buy houses here in Dagenham".
* THE REALITY: There is not and never has been such a scheme to help immigrants acquire homes in Dagenham
THE CLAIM: The rape of a 15-year-old white girl was committed by an immigrant.
THE REALITY: A British-born white man was convicted of the attack.
THE CLAIM: Native British children are being disadvantaged by being denied tuberculosis vaccinations which are being given to children of high-risk immigrant groups whose parents were born abroad.
THE REALITY: British children have less than a one in 100,000 risk of contracting TB and are at higher risk from the vaccination, which can cause adverse reactions, than from the disease.
THE CLAIM: A mill on the local Nestlé factory site, now empty, was to be converted into luxury flats for asylum-seekers.
THE REALITY: Work has not even started on the site, so there is no clear idea that the flats are to be luxury, let alone who is to live in them.
THE CLAIM: The local council had a secret deal with one of its neighbouring authorities to transfer 3,000 asylum-seekers to the area.
THE REALITY: There is absolutely no evidence of this supposed transfer.
THE CLAIM: The local library is to be turned into a mosque.
THE REALITY: The plan was for a community youth centre that would be available to all.
THE CLAIM: "Ethnic minority areas" receive disproportionately more council funds.
THE REALITY: Totally unfounded.
THE CLAIM: A planning application had been made for a mosque, which would become a reality if locals did not vote for the BNP.
THE REALITY: Completely false. The local Labour Party has taken up the issue with the council's legal department.
THE CLAIM: The local council bought land "with a commercial value of hundreds of thousands of pounds ... with the express intent" of giving it to a religious group to build a £1.5m mosque in the town. Council policies give priority to "ethnic minorities, refugees and outsiders" while the elderly non-immigrants lose handouts.
THE REALITY: The land was derelict and the council had struggled to sell it, despite putting it on the market twice. There is no documentary evidence of the disparity in council policies.
THE CLAIM: "Hundreds of local workers have been made redundant and replaced by asylum-seekers, many from eastern Europe, who are given their jobs simply because employers can pay them less than they could local people. "
THE REALITY: There is no evidence of this. If employers attempted it, they could be pursued under employment law by those laid off. Nestlé has employed eastern Europeans on seasonal contracts because local employment agencies have not been able to find enough workers to fill jobs.Reuse content