A collective of religious leaders made a last-ditch plea yesterday to keep the British National Party out of Barking and Dagenham, warning that the far-right group would bring only division
The BNP has focused its general election campaign on the East London borough, where it hopes that Nick Griffin, its leader, will win its first parliamentary seat. It is also hoping to make gains in the local council, where it holds its largest presence in the country. It is struggling, however, to capitalise on its success in last year’s European elections, where it won two seats. Turmoil within the party and a lack of funds have resulted in a low-visibility campaign.
The religious leaders gathered with activists from Hope Not Hate, which campaigns against the BNP. The Bishop of Barking, the Right Rev David Hawkins, said: ”People of faith are united in recognising there is no place for racism in politics. We want to encourage as many people as possible to vote in spite of the background of disillusionment they feel about politics. It is supremely important to ensure that far-right parties don’t make any more electoral gains.”
Rabbi David Hulbert, of the Barking synagogue, said that the BNP’s message was profoundly negative. “It is very dangerous to divide the community according to religion and race and ignorance and prejudice,” he said.
Mr Griffin looks unlikely to unseat Margaret Hodge in Barking, who held the seat for Labour with a majority of nearly 9,000 in 2005. The BNP performed strongly at the last council elections, winning eight of the nine seats it contested. Its hopes of gaining overall control look increasingly forlorn, however, unless the Labour vote collapses, after it was able to field candidates in only 34 of the 51 seats.
Tony Travers, a local government expert at the London School of Economics, said that there was “no evidence of a great BNP surge”.