David Smith, Sunday Times (London), March 11, 2007
THE British National party (BNP) is heading for record gains in the May local elections, reflecting high levels of concern among voters about immigration.
The anti-immigration party, which has 53 local councillors, is set to at least double its representation, according to Professor Michael Thrasher of Plymouth University’s Elections Centre.
“They are gaining real votes,” he said. “It does look as though people aren’t reticent about voting for them any more. Unlike in the past, it’s no longer one man and a dog.”
Searchlight, the anti-fascist organisation which is running a “Stop the BNP” campaign for the local elections, has warned that the party poses a threat in 93 separate wards in the UK.
Thrasher said that 93 potential gains may not be an overestimate given the BNP’s recent showing in council by-elections.
Phil Edwards, a BNP spokesman, said that the party did not have a target for seat gains in the local elections but attacked Searchlight’s “Stop the BNP” campaign as being undemocratic.
He also criticised David Cameron, the Tory leader, for bowing to political pressure in sacking Patrick Mercer, his homeland security spokesman, for alleged racist comments.
“Why is it that the Marxists at Searchlight have this influence over Conservative politicians?” he asked.
While the BNP has been gaining support at the expense of Labour, it is also picking up some support from the Tories.
The BNP has been successful in attracting white working-class voters, particularly in depressed former industrial areas. Its vote tends to be highest in areas adjacent to those with large ethnic minority populations.
In recent council polls held in wards in Nuneaton, Burnley and Calderdale, the BNP’s vote has been between 27% and 36%. The effect of a BNP candidate also appears to increase turnout, suggesting that the party is good at getting its vote out.
Jon Cruddas, the Labour deputy leadership candidate, has warned that Labour is playing into the hands of the BNP by failing to provide enough social housing for local people.
Trade unions are also concerned about the party’s rise. “The BNP has been trying to gain support in the mining areas around the country because in our absence, with the rundown of the mines, they’ve tried to target these areas,” said Steve Kemp, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers.
Last week Aslef, the rail union, lost a case in the European Court of Human Rights over its attempt to expel a member who had joined the BNP. Members of the party have recently set up a trade union, Solidarity, intended for party members who are not welcome in their existing unions.
“It’s a nationalist union but it is not a BNP union,” the party spokesman said. “There are a lot of ordinary working people who don’t like the way trade unions are being run.”