Ed Howker: Victory warns of BNP’s geographical spread

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The Independent Online

The BNP’S victory in Swanley is a Klaxon blast alerting Britain to the growing geographical spread of the far right.

But it is the north of the country which represents the greatest danger of handing the BNP real political power. Although the party gained 11 seats in the borough of Barking and Dagenham in 2006 and has made significant advances in Havering and Bexley – beating Labour and polling around 20 per cent of the popular vote – the party’s success in the South-east remains fractured within London and very limited outside of it.

But that is not the case in the north. Owing to the proportional representation system used in this June’s European elections, the BNP requires between 7 and 9 per cent of the vote to win a seat for the national leader, Nick Griffin. And recently, the party has been deploying its limited resources around Cumbria in an attempt to broaden its base from its traditional Lancashire strongholds of Burnley, Blackburn and Oldham.

While the BNP platform, designed to use racial minorities as scapegoats for social problems, is disliked by most, voters from social groups C2, D and E repeatedly inform pollsters they feel lied to about immigration – an attitude the party can prey on to good effect in areas with large minority populations. In the West Midlands and Yorkshire, for example, party support averaged 14.1 and 14.5 per cent of the vote respectively in the wards it contested in last year’s local elections.

Typically, the party combines an active presence on the streets with campaigns which conflate local “wedge” issues – about which there is identifiable opposition – with the BNP’s agenda concerning race and immigration. Last November, the party distributed leaflets claiming, inaccurately, immigrants were responsible for the development of greenfield sites in South Lakeland, Cumbria. There are some signs this strategy, used across the region, is working. Examine the recent Kells and Sandwith ward by-election result in Whitehaven: having never fielded a candidate before, the party missed beating the Labour incumbent by 16 votes.

There are two reasons for believing these results will be improved upon later this year. Firstly, the electoral system translates disparate regional votes into a significant regional turnout. Secondly, the collapse of the United Kingdom Independence Party offers a chance for the BNP to sweep up support from people who use secondary elections to register a protest vote. Although politically dissimilar, the two parties are closely linked in the minds of right-wing voters.

If the BNP wins a seat in the European Parliament, it may result in a paradigm shift in its fortunes, giving it access to up to £250,000 in salaries, resources and office costs. But while the national party organisation remains riven with disagreement, it still seems unlikely it could launch a professional national platform.