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Frank Field: Demonising the BNP is not going to help defeat them

The government has run an open door policy without asking the public

The archbishops were right – up to a point – to broadside the BNP. The basic aims of the BNP are a direct attack on the Christian belief that we are all created in God's image and gain our equality from that most basic of facts. What does the intervention tell us about how the Church, let alone political parties, should do politics against the BNP?

We must not be fooled. There are some BNP members who hold the most wicked views. But do not make the mistake of thinking BNP supporters are of one ilk. Listen carefully when many of them talk. They express a great love for their country, think it is becoming the pits, and have real anger against a political class who won't talk about non-PC issues like immigration.

It is here that the Church stands guilty of neglect. I have tried to engage them on this issue through the balanced migration cross party group Nicholas Soames and I have formed. Our aim is, over the longer term, to bring into balance the numbers entering and leaving this country.

Lord Carey, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Archbishop of York have been brave about the nation loosing its identity. What discussion there has been in Church circles has been to accuse the group of being racist, or anti-asylum. It is this infantile response from so much of the political class in this country that has given rise to the BNP's latest surge.

The Government has run an open door policy without ever asking voters if this is what they wanted. On this front the Church has aided and abetted the main parties. The scale of immigration is at an unprecedented scale in our history. When Idi Amin during the 70s started hacking to death those of his citizens with Asian roots, large numbers came to this country. The current rate of immigration is equivalent to that two-year movement from Uganda, every month. How is it possible for newcomers to integrate at this rate?

Voters see their country changing and are refused a chance, through any of the three main parties, to register their disapproval, let alone embrace a new approach. Many are clearly going to use next month's European elections to make their voice heard. Because of the failure of the Government to act decisively to protect our borders, the question is not so much the size of the BNP vote, but whether it will push Labour behind it in any of the regions?

The BNP vote will not be halted by what the Archbishops say – welcomed as their comments are. Voters want change before the votes are counted, not afterwards. To delay until after the General Election any major engagement with mainstream voters on the immigration issue will be seen as the political parties running scared.

Is it not too late to pull back many of our lost voters who are intent on punishing the Government for its negligent open borders policy. It is the policy that has exposed those hard working families the Government champions to a downward push in wages and greater competition for decent housing and schools. The economic and social impact of immigration has neutered Labour's efforts to shift resources to poorer people and poorer areas.

A Prime Minister considering a fight back would use this week to announce a left turn on immigration – left, because it is its own core voters who are paying the price for not having a rigorous and fair control of immigration.

The key change Gordon Brown must announce is to break the link between people coming to this country to work and for this group to be automatically granted citizenship. The stay of this group of workers should be limited to four years. There will of course be citizenship places to be won. But there should be no automatic right to such status.

Of course the policy needs to be backed up with mega reforms.

But none of these programmes, such as Ed Balls' push to technical education, will be given as much as a second look by the electorate unless it cuts the root supply to the BNP – in other words, it breaks the link between coming here to work and coming here to become a citizen. Without clear action on this front the Archbishops, and the rest of us, will be merely spitting into the hostile political wind that is beginning to engulf British politics.

The writer was Minister for Welfare Reform 1997-98 and is Labour MP for Birkenhead