Griffin's performance gets a more sympathetic hearing in his heartland

Jonathan Brown tests the reaction in Barnsley to the BNP leader's appearance
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Indy Politics

The people of Barnsley didn't need David Dimbleby to introduce them to the British National Party. They know them here well enough already.

At the European elections this year, one in six voters chose to give their support to the far-right party, contributing to the surprise election of Andrew Brons as MEP for Yorkshire and Humberside alongside Nick Griffin in the North-west. According to the latest leaked membership list, the BNP has more than 100 paid-up supporters here, and Barnsley is its fastest growing base.

And although Labour still holds all three parliamentary seats with thumping majorities, the BNP has become part of the everyday political fabric of the town – earlier this month it was widely anticipated that its candidate Lisa Brooksbank would win a seat on the council, breaking Labour's stranglehold on power at the town hall which it has held since the 1930s.

That victory failed to materialise, but the BNP is here to stay and is concentrating efforts on the residents of the former mining town as they endure the ravages of the recession which has hit manufacturing workers. Some in this constituency appear to feel that the BNP addresses concerns the other political parties do not.

"If people are honest they do agree with some of the things that Griffin says," said Jeffrey Berry, 60, sitting on a bench on Cheapside yesterday. "The problem is you can't say you do because you will be accused of being racist. You see people gathering round to listen to what they say here on Saturdays and you find out about things that other politicians try to hide."

The former support worker described the Saturday morning ritual in which anti-fascist campaigners face-off with BNP activists selling copies of the party's newspaper. "You get one lot shouting one thing and the other lot another," he said. "Last week the police were called. It's good entertainment and it's free."

Mr Berry was critical of Mr Griffin's performance on the BBC, however: "I don't think Griffin gave very clear answers on Question Time and I don't think they asked proper questions. He didn't come across as very convincing. He just wasn't astute enough, though he was obviously under tremendous pressure."

David Firth, 67, watched the show and believed that the BNP leader had been unfairly treated by the BBC. "I vote for them and have done for years. Someone has got to do something about all this crap and all these people coming into the country. Something wants doing. It wants stopping. All they did last night was slag him off. He's got his policies and they've got theirs. Why can't we hear him?"

Retired wholesaler Anthony Collins, 66, applauded Mr Griffin's attack on open homosexuality. "I don't support the BNP," said Mr Collins, "but I do have some sympathy for some of the things he says. People are uncomfortable to see two blokes snogging in the street. Whatever they do in the privacy of their own home behind closed doors is fine by me. But we don't want it in our faces. "

He added: "Yes of course you want immigration. But you want a sensible policy not letting everyone in willy-nilly. Otherwise the people that are here will get hurt. He gets his supporters from people who feel they have been disadvantaged by the Government's policies on this."

There was plenty of opposition to the BNP in Barnsley. Kathleen Halas, 86, felt that Mr Griffin was given too easy a ride on Question Time. "I thought it was disgusting," she said. "I just haven't the patience with him. He is complete trash – that's my word for him. They should have stood up to him more. I am Labour through-and-through and I'm anti-racist. I've been to Auschwitz and seen for myself. I know what they did."

Student Jaleesa Cook, 17, was also unimpressed but for different reasons. "He seemed more interested in watching out for what they were saying about him than saying what he thought. But I didn't like what he said about gays," she said.

Nursery nurse Shelly Smith, 29, said nothing would convince her to vote BNP. "He came across as a bit of an idiot. He sounded like he was constantly trying to hide his real views and make them more acceptable. He really isn't a very nice man." Gill Garrety, a 48-year-old civil servant, felt that Mr Griffin "made a bit of a fool of himself". She said: "It won't do his party or him any good at all, though it was fun to watch."