May 02, 2007

The BNP fields record number of candidates in long-term drive for Europe

The British National Party is putting forward a record 879 candidates in the forthcoming elections. This is more than double last year’s figure and higher than anything achieved by the National Front in its heyday in the 1970s.

However, it must be stressed that this is an organisational triumph for the BNP rather than a reflection that its membership or support has more than doubled in the past 12 months.

There are 744 BNP candidates in the borough and district council elections in England and seven in Scotland, another 76 standing for town and parish councils, 32 in the elections to the Scottish Parliament and 20 in the Welsh Assembly elections. This is a massive increase over the 363 candidates the BNP fielded in 2006, which itself was a big rise compared to the 221 in 2004. When Labour came to power in 1997 the BNP could only manage 53 council candidates.

The bulk of BNP candidates are in its traditional working-class heartlands of West Yorkshire, East Lancashire, the West Midlands and Essex. There are 207 candidates in total in the Yorkshire and Humber region, 118 in the North West and 127 in the West Midlands. There are complete BNP slates in Birmingham (40), Leeds (33), Sunderland (25) and Harrogate and Thurrock (both 16).

Other large concentrations of BNP candidates include Kirklees (22), Barnsley (18), Bradford (17) Coventry and Sedgefield (both 16), Sandwell (15) and Gateshead and Newcastle (both 13).

The North West has seen the biggest increase in the party’s traditional strongholds with a rise of 65 to 118 candidates (including one for a parish council). Burnley has 10 candidates, followed closely by Liverpool with nine, up from one in 2006, Wigan and Tameside, both with eight and Blackpool with seven.

The BNP is also standing in a number of areas that it has not previously contested, particularly in the East Midlands where there are 101 candidates in total. They include 14 for Charnwood Borough Council, 12 in Lincoln and 10 for Broxtowe Borough Council. However, despite the BNP euphoria over its candidate list, there are a number of key local authorities where the party’s failure to find enough candidates has reduced its chances of election. These include some of the most "at risk" areas where the BNP has achieved its highest votes in recent years. Despite boasting that it would field a full slate in Bradford there are only 17 candidates out of a possible 30, just one more than last year. There are only two more BNP candidates in Stoke-on-Trent this year compared to last, which is a great relief as there is hardly a ward where the party would not come close to winning. In Sandwell, the BNP only managed to find an extra six candidates over last year, again in an area where the party boasted it would achieve a full slate.

In 2006, the BNP averaged 33% in the wards it contested in Sandwell, 30% in Stoke-on-Trent and 26% in Bradford.

Despite an overall increase in candidates in the North West, the party has declined in two of its four strongest areas. In Oldham, where the BNP first emerged as a major force after the 2001 riots, it has only four candidates, one of whom is also standing for a parish council seat. The BNP has two candidates fewer in Blackburn (five compared to seven last year), which given the potential in the town will be a major disappointment for the party.

BNP strategy

This election marks a significant change of electoral strategy for the BNP. In previous years it has focussed on maximising its average vote so it could portray itself as a rising force in British politics. This has resulted in fighting wards where the party believed it would achieve its highest results.

This year, it has concentrated on putting forward as many candidates as possible. Given the wider political picture, most will be guaranteed a decent vote. In its key local authority areas the BNP will once again be looking for average votes of between 25% and 35%, with private predictions of 50-60 new councillors.

However, the real purpose of fielding so many council candidates has more to do with the next European elections in 2009, which are fought under proportional representation. Given the continuing decline of the UK Independence Party, the BNP will believe it can win European representation in most regions of England. With several MEPs the BNP would be transformed overnight, both financially and politically. Fielding 879 candidates now gives a large number of voters, including everyone in Wales and Scotland, a chance to support the BNP and over the next few years become firm BNP voters.

So what are the BNP’s chances of success this year? At the start of the year Searchlight identified 93 wards which we believed were at risk to some extent. Just over a third of them were deemed high risk. While some are now no longer considered to present such a threat, new concerns have emerged in other wards. The BNP itself has predicted that it will double its councillor base in May, which if one includes parish and town councillors is certainly achievable.

Although most people will judge the success or failure of the election campaign by the number of council victories the BNP achieves, the share of its vote over all the wards it contests is a far more significant marker in the long run. Last year the BNP won 33 council seats, 12 of which were in Barking & Dagenham. While most commentators saw this as a political breakthrough, the BNP still held only a tiny fraction of council seats in the country.

Much more important was the party’s 19.2% average vote.

There are still people in the political parties who try to dismiss the BNP as a fringe force with only isolated pockets of support. With over 14 million people being given the chance to vote for the BNP in these elections, this “fringe force” concept will be severely tested.

Searchlight is confident that the BNP will not make huge council breakthroughs but this will only be achieved if every anti-fascist and anti-racist activist puts that extra bit of activity in before 3 May. It is no good moaning about BNP success after the event if we have not done all in our power to prevent it happening.

Town hall politics

In another change in strategy, the BNP has put forward 76 candidates in town and parish council elections across the country, the bulk in the East Midlands and West Yorkshire.

Getting candidates elected to these councils is not too difficult as the mainstream political parties do not contest most of them and many are hardly contested at all. Indeed, the BNP has ten new town and parish councillors already after standing unopposed.

While town and parish councils have little real power, gaining seats on them is advantageous for the BNP. It increases the party’s number of councillors (as the BNP con-veniently fails to distinguish these from its councillors at borough/district/city level) and gives the BNP a credible base to challenge for borough/district/city elections in the future. It is this striving for greater respectability and normal-isation that is the real drive behind the BNP’s tactics.

In the West Yorkshire towns of Morley (part of Leeds) and Mirfield (part of Kirklees), the BNP is looking to take control of the town councils. The party has 12 and nine candidates respectively and can be assured of some success. Many of their opponents are unorganised “independents” who do not have the base to run coordinated campaigns. However, there may be a backlash from voters who are not used to having political parties so involved in a generally non-party environment.

Searchlight had feared strong BNP contests for control of Padiham Town Council (Burnley) and Keighley Town Council (Bradford) but these failed to materialise.

The BNP is likely to see many of its town and parish candidates elected in May but it is time the media began to view them separately from district and borough councillors. Several months ago Searchlight warned that the BNP was switching its focus to town and parish councils. Political parties and anti-fascists generally have neglected to get involved in these councils. Let us just hope that we are not punished for our oversight in towns such as Morley and Mirfield.


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