A member of the far-right British National Party has won a seat on a town council, amid increasing unease that the party has launched a credibility drive to capitalise on wide prejudice over asylum-seekers.
Bernard Haycock, a 60-year-old father-of-three, got a seat on Bromyard and Winslow town council in Herefordshire last week through an electoral loophole. There are 18 seats on the council but only 16 candidates, including Mr Haycock, put their names forward. He did not have to be elected.
Peter Temple-Morris, the local Labour MP, said: "The BNP represents the worst of bigotry and racism in this country. It is sad Bromyard has to be the place that has inherited one of these men."
Nick Griffin, the BNP's new leader, described the move as a "first step on the ladder". Mr Griffin said it was evidence the BNP is making "progress towards the mainstream".
Two years ago, Mr Griffin was given a two-year suspended sentence for distributing material likely to incite racial hatred. He has described the Holocaust as the "Holohoax" and criticised as "too soft" the revisionist historian David Irving, branded an anti-Semite, racist and pro-Nazi polemicist by a judge last week.
Mr Griffin, once editor of the now defunct neo-Nazi magazine The Rune, is on a charm offensive, trying to remodel the party along the lines of JÃ¶rg Haider's Freedom Party in Austria. The BNP's newspaper has been renamed the Voice of Freedom. Mr Griffin says: "The asylum issue is helping."
He has been described as "the new face" of the BNP. "Under his leadership, the BNP is moving from its bully-boy image, positioning itself in mainstream politics, committed to democratic means," said one report. Derek Beackon, the BNP's only other councillor, won a by-election in London's Tower Hamlets in 1993 but lost the seat a year later.