The BNP were clever in the way they targeted young, first-time voters. They used new tactics, going back to people two, three or four times each to persuade them to visit polling stations; they invested a huge amount of time in canvassing. I think at one point they had about 14 men campaigning on traditionally Labour estates dominated by young people. It worked.
The BNP find it easier when they can focus on one area: this district is on the edge of Kent, where I doubt much more than three per cent are an ethnic minority, so it seems to be a case of feeding an existing prejudice.
It proves that you can play to fear, a big factor in our society. As I understand it, the BNP said to people: “You won’t have a job in the future,” which sounds a very scary thing, especially during a financial crisis.
They went for simple messages – “Are you worried about the future of your nation?” – but trying to explain a recession and convey the truth behind it is a far more complex task than just blaming the Government.
What we have to do is address these people’s concerns full on. We have to match the BNP by putting the same number of people out there canvassing, and start targeting first-time voters.
Of course we are concerned about the result, but we have to remember that this was a by-election and I don’t think you can extrapolate a huge amount from it.
The BNP is like a throwback to what we saw in the 1930s but with a far more sophisticated front, cleverly peddling messages. We will ignore it at our peril.
Derek Wyatt is Labour MP for SittingbourneReuse content