Yorkshire will be a "laughing stock" in Europe if its voters elect a British National Party Euro-MP, a government minister has warned.
Dewsbury MP and justice minister Shahid Malik warned that the far-right party could "sneak in" at the European Parliament elections on June 4 because of the nature of the voting system. European Parliament seats are awarded by proportional representation on a region-wide basis. The number of seats each party wins is calculated according to the share of the vote that party achieves in each region.
Labour campaigners fear that the BNP may only need to pick up as little as 11 per cent of the vote to win a seat. The party received eight per cent of the vote in the 2004 European elections.
Speaking to the YEP, Mr Malik said: "We cannot afford to under estimate the threat of the BNP. Because of the nature of the voting system for European elections, there is always a possibility that a minority party can gain a seat. Across the country – in the Yorkshire region, in the North West, East Midlands, West Midlands and in London – there is the possibility that the BNP could sneak through because of the election system for the Euros. My message is clear – every vote will count and people must come out and support mainstream political parties otherwise we will be a laughing stock in Europe."
It is feared the BNP will capitalise on the uncertainty voters face during the recession. They are also likely to benefit from an expected low turn out and an expected drop in support for the UK Independence Party.
This year's Euro election only coincides with the Doncaster mayoral contest and the North Yorkshire county council election, whereas the 2004 election was held on the same day as an "all out" council election, which boosted turnout.
Labour MEP Linda McAvan said: "The BNP were not so active in 2004, which was held on the same day as local elections so the vote was higher. People are not accustomed to vote in June either."
Mr Malik believes the BNP have been seriously disrupted in Dewsbury, but it is feared they may have regrouped elsewhere in West Yorkshire. Politicians in Morley reacted with dismay last November after it was revealed the town has the highest British National Party membership in the country. Analysis of a leaked BNP membership list revealed that Morley and Rothwell constituency has 90 members of the far right party. This was the highest number out of the 646 parliamentary seats in the UK.
Ms McAvan added: "People will be very shocked if they wake up on the morning after the election and Yorkshire has a BNP MEP."
Yorkshire Evening Post