Matthew Taylor, Guardian (London), May 7, 2010
The British National party leader, Nick Griffin, was coming under increasing pressure tonight after the party appeared to be on course for its third electoral setback in 24 hours.
Early indications from the council elections in Barking and Dagenham suggested the far right party had performed poorly, falling far short of the votes it requires to take control of the east London authority–one of three key BNP targets ahead of this week’s elections.
The council setback follows Griffin’s resounding defeat in the parliamentary seat of Barking where he was beaten into third place, getting 18,000 fewer votes than Labour’s victorious candidate Margaret Hodge.
In the BNP’s other key target seat of Stoke Central, the party’s deputy leader Simon Darby came fourth behind Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, with 2,502 votes.
Early results in other council elections suggested the BNP had also performed poorly on a local level. In Leeds the BNP’s only councillor Chris Beverly lost his seat; in Stoke, where the party had claimed to be on the verge of taking control of the council, it lost two councillors, leaving it with five out 60.
The party’s poor performance led to calls on far-right websites today for a change of leadership.
Anti-racist campaigners from Hope not Hate, which had mobilised 1,000 people in the fight against the BNP, said that if the predictions about the party’s performance in the local elections proved accurate Griffin’s position would become increasingly precarious. “We have had over 1,000 volunteers helping with the anti-BNP campaign in Barking and Dagenham since the beginning of April,” said Nick Lowles, editor of anti-fascist magazine Searchlight. “This has proved that the BNP’s message of hate can be beaten by good, community-based campaigning, and has left Nick Griffin very exposed.”
This morning after the parliamentary result was announced at Goresbrook leisure centre, Griffin said his position was safe, telling reporters the BNP was resilient. “I will be the leader of the British National party as long as that is what the members want me to be,” he added.
The party’s campaign had been beset by problems before today’s results, with several senior figures publicly criticising Griffin in the runup to the poll. This week the BNP’s website was closed and replaced with a posting from Simon Bennett, the party’s website manager, accusing Griffin and James Dowson, the BNP election fundraiser, of being “pathetic, desperate and incompetent”.
Last month the party’s publicity director, Mark Collett, who was considered a Griffin loyalist, was arrested on suspicion of threatening to kill the party leader, and in Stoke, the senior BNP councillor Alby Walker decided to stand as an independent because of a “vein of Holocaust-denying” within the party. “They’ve still got senior members of the BNP who will be candidates in the general election that have Nazi, Nazi-esque sympathies,” he added.
On the eve of the election this week the BNP’s campaign descended into violence when one of its councillors and the party’s London organiser, Bob Bailey, was caught on camera fighting in the street with a group of teenagers.
Footage appeared to show one of the teenagers spitting at a group of BNP activists before Bailey and others appeared to launch a flurry of punches at him and then, as he was on the ground, tried to kick him. The BNP refused to comment on the incident.
Today Hodge, who increased her majority in Barking, said that the fight against the BNP had been the most important of her political career.
“This really is a great moment in our history. On behalf of all the people in Britain, we in Barking have not just beaten but we have smashed the extreme right,” she told her supporters. “The lesson from Barking to the BNP is clear: Get out and stay out, you’re not wanted here and your vile politics have no place in British democracy. Pack your bags and go!”
The British National Party’s attempt to join mainstream politics was thwarted by the electorate after the right-wing party failed to win any seats.
Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP and the most prominent candidate, lost to Margaret Hodge, the former Labour minister, in Barking.
The BNP put forward an unprecedented number of candidates playing on the prominence of immigration as a key electoral issue. The party may have hoped to win increased votes following Gordon Brown’s gaffe after he called Gillian Duffy a “bigoted woman” when she questioned him on immigration.
Mr Griffin’s party fielded more than 300 candidates in the election from seats stretching from Barking to Salisbury to Rotherham.
But all across the country BNP candidates trailed in the votes. Esther Rantzen may have lost in Luton South with only 1,872 votes but she beat the BNP candidate Tony Blakey who came in fifth place with 1,299 votes.
The BNP won no seats in Westminster but won more than half a million votes countrywide.
In east London, Mrs Hodge said: “This is really a great moment in our history, a never-to-be forgotten moment for both the good and decent people of Barking and Dagenham,” she said.
“Our election here in this constituency was very different from elsewhere in Britain and our voters faced a stark choice.
“And they have overwhelmingly chosen to support a democratic politics, built on tolerance, on fairness and on decency. Not a fascist politics built on division, prejudice and hatred.
“The lesson from Barking to the BNP is clear: Get out and stay out, you’re not wanted here and your vile politics have no place in British democracy. Pack your bags and go.”
Mr Griffin, who won 6,620 votes coming third, acknowledged that results had fallen short of expectations.
He said: “I would say this to the people of Britain: It is going to be too late for Barking, but it is not too late for Britain. Get rid of our masters before they get rid of us.”
He blamed the high turnout of 61.8 per cent for counting against him.