Janet Street-Porter: Deep in rural England, fresh fields for the BNP

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Now that the BNP has gained its first seat in the London Assembly, commentators have tended to focus on the party's growing appeal to lower-middle and working-class urban voters. But there is another side to the story.

For the last 20 years I've had a house in rural Yorkshire, and the list of candidates who stood for election to Harrogate council last week was fascinating. The BNP fielded no fewer than six, four of whom were under 25 and male. None was successful – the percentage of votes gained ranged from 6.4 per cent down to 2.8 per cent – and the overall result saw the control of the council deadlocked, as it has been since 2006, with the Tories winning 27 seats, the Lib Dems 21 and other parties six.

Examining the profiles of these four BNP candidates is interesting; Ashley Banner, a 19-year-old bricklayer, stood for the pretty village of Kirkby Malzeard, surrounded by fields of cattle with a sleepy main street of picture-book cottages. Gamekeeper Joel Banner, 21, stood for my local town of Pateley Bridge in Upper Nidderdale, which has a thriving tourist trade, an award-winning museum and where black faces are rarely seen.

This beautiful valley, a chain of tiny villages and unspoilt moorland, is utterly harmonious – a place where the community turns out in force for charity events and the annual agricultural show on the last Tuesday in September. The biggest cause for concern at council meetings seems to be improving flood defences, and the band of youths who lounge outside the branch of Spar at the bottom of the high street every evening.

Further down the valley, James Thackray, a 22-year-old gardener, stood for Lower Nidderdale, and on the outskirts of Harrogate Sam Clayton, a green recycling worker, also 22, stood for Marston Moor.

There are plenty of issues in North Yorkshire really affecting young people, affordable housing being the biggest problem, with property prices in rural areas remaining high as retirees seek the good life. Many derelict cottages and barns are restored and rented out to holiday-makers, remaining empty for most of the winter. Lack of jobs is hardly an issue – the hotel and restaurant industry in Harrogate, which has a thriving exhibition and conference trade, would grind to a halt without the help of thousands of young eastern Europeans, who seem to have been accepted without much comment. So it is depressing that the BNP is clearly targeting working-class younger voters further out in the countryside by fielding candidates like Joel, Ashley, James and Sam.

The Labour party needs to do some soul-searching to reconnect with young voters in rural areas like this, otherwise it is clear that the BNP will press ahead and aim to fill a gap in places where low-paid locals are finding life increasingly difficult. Not because there are no jobs, but because they can't find anywhere to live, public transport is pathetic, and increasing fuel costs mean travel is prohibitively expensive.

A new (black) chief executive takes over running Harrogate council in August. He is Wallace Sampson, 44, who comes from a long and successful career at Bradford council.

Appointed unanimously last month, Mr Wallace will have to ensure that residents in far-flung areas like Upper Nidderdale don't feel marginalised – otherwise the BNP will be more successful next time around.

Shiverme timbers!

I installed a flag-pole, a present from a former boyfriend, on the roof of my house in Clerkenwell a few years ago. It came with my very own flag, a beautiful, hand-stitched skull and crossbones. It's a good job that I don't live in Ashstead in Surrey, where councillors have threatened to prosecute David Waterman for having the temerity to fly a skull and crossbones during his small daughter's birthday party, which had a pirate theme. A neighbour complained, claiming it breached planning regulations, which stipulate that only national flags can be flown outside houses without a permit costing £95. Now Mr Waterman has been given seven days to take it down or face prosecution. Why don't they just threaten him with walking the plank?

* The job of Chief Constable is stressful and demanding. Hard to imagine that you'd have much time for your own family, never mind a bit of extra-curricular activity. Nevertheless, judging by the behaviour of several former incumbents, fighting your way up through the ranks seems to turn a dreary middle-aged chap into a sex god. When Michael Todd, former CC of Greater Manchester was found dead on Snowdon, he was rumoured to have conducted up to five separate relationships outside his marriage. Terry Grange, the former Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys, who retired when the Independent Police Complaints Commission launched an inquiry into his behaviour, has been found guilty of using his police credit card to take a female lover to dinner as well as sending her 102 sexy emails over a nine-month period. Several other CC's (all male) have retired after allegations of sexual misconduct were made. Is it something in that canteen tea?

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