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Page last updated at 19:03 GMT, Wednesday, 14 April 2010 20:03 UK

BNP campaigns on the streets of Barking

By James Landale
Deputy political editor, BBC News

Nick Griffin
BNP are the second largest party on the council in east London

Go east out of London and you reach Barking - a pocket of suburbia on the north banks of the Thames, an old Labour stronghold where the British National Party have come in search of their first seat in Parliament.

They have a strong presence on the council - they are the second largest party - and they came a close third to the Tories here in the 2005 general election.

They believe their anti-immigration, anti-government message will appeal to white working-class voters who feel abandoned by Labour.

And having spent a morning following the party canvassing the streets of Barking, there are certainly voters with whom this message chimes.

Some of them spoke of the BNP as the only party that is prepared to listen to them and give voice to their concerns.

Others talked of their difficulties of getting a council house or a school place for their children. For this, and much more, they blame immigration.

Changing demographic

Ten years ago, Barking was a largely white community with enough jobs and council housing to go round.

But since then many economic migrants have arrived, bringing with them different culture and colour, but also adding pressure to public services.

There's a huge shortage of council houses. Once there were more council estates here than any other part of Europe but since people were given the right to buy their homes, many have been sold off.

At the same time, Ford's plant at Dagenham - once the biggest employer - has laid off thousands since it stopped making cars in 2002.

It is a toxic mix the previous MP and culture minister Margaret Hodge admits her local party and government has ignored.

But now she's promising Labour will build more affordable homes and give a priority to local people on waiting lists.

The question is whether this is too little too late. After the last election Labour had a majority of more than 8,000 in Barking and strategists believe they can beat the BNP if they can persuade enough of those voters to come out on the day.

For its part, the BNP think many people who voted for them in 2005 have since left the borough.

Their private hope is they win control of the council at the very least, which they can use as a power base for future campaigns.

Either way, in this election, Barking will be a testing ground for British politics. Have the BNP done enough to win the breakthrough they're looking for or have the mainstream parties reacted quickly enough to keep them out? The answer is by no means clear.

Here is a list of candidates for the seat:

Dominic Carman Liberal Democrat

Chris Monster Raving Loony Party

Jayne Forbes, Green

Nick Griffin, British National Party

George Hargreaves, Christian Party

Margaret Hodge, Labour

Frank Maloney, UK Independence Party

Simon Marcus, Conservative

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