Anger with the main parties has led more people to consider voting for the British National Party, a report for a social policy research group says.
The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust said up to 25% of voters said they “might vote” for the far-right party.
The BNP said the report reflected voter “tension” about multi-cultural Britain.
But Home Office minister Andy Burnham said he believed support for the BNP was very localised—and in many cases represented a “protest vote”.
The report echoes fears by Employment Minister Margaret Hodge that voters may be tempted by the BNP in May’s local elections in England.
The authors asked focus groups about their voting views and looked at a series of opinion polls that asked people which party they might consider voting for.
It revealed “underlying support” for the BNP rather than voting intentions, said one of the authors, Professor Peter John of Manchester University.
“This is a very hypothetical question,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“It is not what party you will vote for, but who you might vote for.”
Mrs Hodge said many white working-class voters in her east London constituency of Barking said they would consider voting for the party.
Prof John also said the far-right party tended to have more support in predominantly white, working class areas.
East London voters interviewed for the study said they felt “let down” by the main parties.
“They feel their voices have not been heard,” he said.
However, Home Office minister Andy Burnham dismissed the likelihood of the BNP becoming a stronger electoral force.
“I think the report that has been published . . . reflects a growing tendency towards protest voting, particularly at local elections,” he said
“But I think things have got to be kept in proportion. There’s no way the BNP will get anything close to 25%.”
In the 2005 general election, the party raised its total number of votes by 0.5% to gain 0.7%—or 192,850 votes.
It gained support in the 2004 European Parliament elections, increasing its votes by 3.9% to gain 4.9% of the vote, but failed to win a seat.
The BNP has courted controversy over its policies, which include a total ban on immigration, and the forced deportation of illegal immigrants from the UK.
BNP spokesman Phil Edwards said the Rowntree report reflected unease among voters about Britain’s shift towards a multicultural society.
He said Britain had moved from a “racially homogeneous society . . . into one where the cultures are quite alien.”
“That does add quite a lot of tensions and stresses,” Mr Edwards said.
“What we are trying to do is preserve the traditional culture and identity of Britain,” he added.
The BNP has said it is putting up more candidates than ever before—356—for May’s local elections.
It currently has 15 councillors across England, and said at its campaign launch on Good Friday that it aimed to add “another 15 or 20” seats.
The Conservative social justice policy spokesman, Iain Duncan Smith, said people were considering voting for the BNP because they mistakenly believed that the party would improve housing and reduce crime.
“I’ve been horrified and worried by the degree to which people in difficult communities no longer consider Westminster politics to be anything to do with the solutions that they need to have.”
He said that was why “they start turning to others who have what maybe simplistic solutions”.
Liberal Democrat President Simon Hughes said the main parties had only themselves to blame if people were turning away from them.
He said successive Tory and Labour governments had failed to provide enough affordable housing where families wished to live.
Operation Black Vote, a group which campaigns to make politics more multi-racial, agreed that voters in run-down areas felt the government had let them down.
“In these areas, deprivation and poverty exist,” Simon Woolley, national co-ordinator for Operation Black Vote, told BBC Radio Five Live.
“Now that’s a genuine debate to be had. . . It’s nothing to do with black people.”
The report, prepared by the Democratic Audit and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, is due to be published next week.
White working-class families feel so neglected by the Government and angered by immigration that they are deserting Labour and flocking to the British National Party, a minister admitted yesterday.
In a sensational claim, Margaret Hodge, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies, said that eight out of 10 white people in her east London constituency of Barking are threatening to vote for the far-Right party in next month’s local elections. Once traditional Labour supporters are angry at a lack of affordable housing—and blame immigration, and Labour, for the changes.
“They can’t get a home for their children, they see black and ethnic minority communities moving in and they are angry,” said Mrs Hodge, the employment minister. “When I knock on doors I say to people, ‘are you tempted to vote BNP?’ and many, many, many—eight out of 10 of the white families—say ‘yes’. That’s something we have never seen before, in all my years. Even when people voted BNP, they used to be ashamed to vote BNP. Now they are not.” Mrs Hodge said the pace of ethnic change in her area had frightened people. “What has happened in Barking and Dagenham is the most rapid transformation of a community we have ever witnessed.
“Nowhere else has changed so fast. When I arrived in 1994, it was a predominantly white, working class area. Now, go through the middle of Barking and you could be in Camden or Brixton. That is the key thing that has created the environment the BNP has sought to exploit.” Mrs Hodge claimed the anger is not down to racism. “It is a fear of change. It is gobsmacking change.”
She also complained about a “lack of leadership” from her party on race, and said the “political class”, including Labour, was frightened of the issue. “The Labour Party hasn’t talked to these people. This is a traditional Labour area but they are not used to engaging with us because all we do is put leaflets through doors. Part of the reason they switch to the BNP is they feel no one else is listening to them.”
Labour is so worried about the rise of extremist parties that 50 of its MPs have joined a campaigning group to counter the threat. Privately, ministers fear that BNP candidates could poll up to 25 per cent of the vote in some areas. The BNP is mounting an aggressive challenge in Barking and Dagenham and, it is feared, will win seats in May’s elections.
Mrs Hodge said white families are angry at the lack of housing since immigrants began arriving in the area, and because asylum seekers have been housed there by inner London councils. “There was nowhere for the local people to move to and we did not reinvest in social housing, nor did the Tories. Neither of us have done enough of that.
“It isn’t that we have done nothing. But where we haven’t done enough is affordable housing for families and the quality of life for families. Were we to blame for the change? No, it happened on the back of Right To Buy. But we could have built more affordable housing. We must do that. It isn’t happening yet.”
She also blamed inadequate action to clean up estates. “What we haven’t significantly addressed are these issues that are the quality of life on council estates. It is the poorest whites who feel the greatest anger because there is no way out for them.”
Mrs Hodge, who has been spending two days a week on the doorsteps since the BNP began targeting her constituents, urged her party to re-engage. “The Labour Party hasn’t talked to these people. This is a traditional Labour area but they are not used to engaging with us because all we do is put leaflets through doors. Part of the reason they switch to the BNP is they feel no one else is listening to them.”
While she rejected talk of the far-Right being on the verge of a major breakthrough, Mrs Hodge conceded that they were likely to win seats from Labour on May 4. “I think we could lose one or two [seats].
“It’s an incredibly serious issue. It’s the big issue. We need very much stronger leadership nationally to promote the benefits of the multi-cultural society. We have got to do it, the Labour leadership have got to do it. All the political parties have got to do it.
“I think if we are not careful and we don’t respond and learn the lessons from Barking and Dagenham we could see that same fear of change trickle out elsewhere.”
Mrs Hodge’s assessment of white, working-class anger was backed up by Phil Woolas, the local government minister and MP for Oldham East, where there were race riots five years ago. Dozens of BNP candidates stood in previous elections there, but this time there are only two.
Mr Woolas said: “We are winning the fight up here by acknowledging that anti-white racism exists, by being fair and being seen to be fair on housing and schooling. We took the white, working-class vote back.”