Leading article: Extremism in search of an outlet

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The Independent Online

It is starting to look as though last year's elections for the European Parliament marked the start of the British National Party's decline, rather than a new stage in its ascendancy.

Although the party leader, Nick Griffin, and Andrew Brons became the party's first two MEPs, the BNP's vote was actually down compared with five years before.

This year's general and local council elections confirmed that trend. The party failed to make the national breakthrough it had promised, while at local level, only two of its 28 councillors were re-elected. Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP, who warned of the threat from the BNP in her east London constituency, was re-elected with an increased majority. Three months on, as we report today, the party is close to financial and political meltdown.

Mr Griffin survived an attempt to force a leadership ballot, but his undertaking to step down as leader in 2013 failed to satisfy his critics. There have been dozens of resignations; the party's one representative on the London Assembly has resigned the party whip, and a breakaway movement, the BNP Reform Group, has been formed.

But while the BNP's current troubles, and the poor election results that precipitated them, testify to the good sense of British voters and their comprehensive rejection of the party's policies, it would be premature to rejoice. One reason for the strife within the BNP is a feeling on the part of some members that the party has "gone soft" on immigration. That strand of opinion is now looking for another outlet.

The English Defence League, which campaigns against "militant Islam" and had its planned march in Bradford banned amid fears of violence, has been growing. Another danger is that xenophobic opinion simply retreats underground, only to reappear in a more vicious form. The BNP may be in difficulty, but it would be a mistake to interpret its discomfort as proof of the demise of the far right.