Senior politicians are drawing up cross-party plans to fight the British National party in next month’s local and European elections, amid fears the far-right party could stage advances by exploiting an “anti-politics” tide sweeping the country.
Harriet Harman, deputy Labour leader, and Eric Pickles, Tory chairman, will hold talks next week to draw up a strategy designed to isolate the BNP and to co-ordinate a united response in areas where the party is campaigning.
Ms Harman will propose that mainstream parties should not share a platform with BNP candidates and that they should avoid campaigning on issues that stoke sentiment against foreigners. There has also been talk of setting up a “hotline” where Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would share intelligence on BNP activity. The mainstream parties, and possibly church and other voluntary groups, would then knock on doors to try to raise voter turnout in an attempt to dilute the BNP vote.
Ms Harman has angered her opposite numbers by twice cancelling meetings to discuss the strategy. Lord Rennard, the veteran Lib Dem campaigner, will argue against making joint statements about the BNP on the grounds that they would give the party free publicity.
The rightwing party has long traded on its hostility to immigration and foreigners generally, but is now mining a seam of anger towards politicians, fuelled by stories about expenses claims.
Simon Darby, deputy BNP leader, said on Thursday his party aimed to exploit anger towards “professional politicians”. He said the party would field more than 400 candidates for county council elections on June 4 – nominations closed on Thursday – and that it would field a full slate for the European elections on the same day.
The proportional voting system in the European polls has raised the prospect of the BNP winning its first seats in Strasbourg, with Mr Darby claiming a target of five or six seats was “attainable”.
Hazel Blears, communities secretary, has admitted: “The BNP have got into ‘anti-politics’, which taps into a very resonant public mood.”
Labour’s discontent with the leadership of Gordon Brown is likely to be put on hold until after the polls, but could flare up if the party loses its last four county councils and fares badly in the European elections.