Minister warns of shift to far right

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White, working-class voters are turning to the British National Party because they believe Labour is not listening to them, a minister has warned.

As fears of a rise in support for the far-right BNP in next month's local elections increased, the Employment minister Margaret Hodge warned that as many as eight out of 10 white families in her Barking constituency in east London admitted that they were tempted to vote for the BNP. "They can't get a home for their children, they see black and ethnic minority communities moving in and they are angry," she said. "It is a fear of change. It is gobsmacking change.

"Nowhere else has it changed so fast. When I arrived in 1994, it was a predominantly white, working-class area. Now, go through the middle of Barking and you could be in Camden or Brixton. That is the key thing that has created the environment the BNP has sought to exploit."

She said that fears about the rapid pace of change - the arrival of large numbers of ethnic minority families rather than racism - were behind their concerns.

"When I knock on doors, I say to people: 'Are you tempted to vote BNP?' and many, many, many - eight out of 10 of the white families - say yes," she said. "That's something we have never seen before.

Mrs Hodge said the political class as a whole was often frightened of engaging in the very difficult issues of race, and the BNP exploited that.

Mrs Hodge later issued a statement saying she had been quoted selectively in her interview with The Sunday Telegraph.

"In the interview I said that people have many reasons to vote Labour because we are delivering real improvements to hard-working families across Britain.

"For example I said that Labour's investment and commitment to reforming public services has transformed schools, hospitals and policing in Barking and Dagenham.

"We have to work hard to get that message across so people are not deceived into voting for the BNP which would do absolutely nothing to improve people's lives. That is what Labour is determined to do in this election campaign."