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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Communities gear-up to counter BNP
Riot police
Police clashed with Asian and white youths in Burnley
The rise of Le Pen in France has sparked fears of the British National Party making advances in council elections next week.

The BNP is targeting northern cities still scarred by race riots last summer. BBC News Online's Tom Geoghegan examines how such communities hope to counter the party's appeal.

Any BNP progress would, according to the Commission for Racial Equality chairman Gurbux Singh, precipitate "mayhem and chaos on our streets".

It is a scene familiar to Oldham, which witnessed three nights of violence between white and Asian youths last May, after the BNP campaigned in the town ahead of the general election.

This time, the BNP has five candidates and there are fears among ethnic groups about a "knock-on" effect from France.

Gurbux Singh would be far better not drawing attention to the potential outcome of the election

Margaret Eaton
Leader, Bradford City Council

Wahid-Ur Rahman, project co-ordinator of the Oldham Bangladeshi Association, fears a low turnout and told BBC News Online: "France will have an impact.

"There's a fear that this will be a BNP vehicle for them to start saying things and mobilising their forces and trying to be very hostile and making it very awkward and difficult for everyone," he added.

But he discounted a return of the violent scenes last summer and vowed the Bangladeshis would continue the good progress made since then in addressing issues of integration.

'Negative publicity'

"If they are democratically elected, there will be immense disappointment and some anger but it's for us to accept and fight in a democratic way, without the violence of last year."

Burnley is the BNP's top target with 13 candidates, prompting the Labour MP Peter Pike to urge voters to keep them out at all costs.

Labour campaign worker Philip Dilks said the events in France had not registered on the streets of Burnley but there was already a steadfast fear of the far-right shared by all communities.
Police cordon at a burnt out car
Oldham streets witnessed fights with police

He said: "Business is telling us that even if the BNP were to get a single councillor, it would damage investment and any prospects of the town recovering.

"We would become known as the national headquarters of an extremist organisation.

"Burnley needs the BNP like a hole in the head."

Trend

But there is disagreement over the best way to tackle this perceived threat from the far-right.

In Bradford, the city council leader Margaret Eaton thinks ignoring the BNP is the answer, after the headlines made by the riots.

She said: "The negative publicity fuels the flames and Gurbux Singh would be far better not drawing attention to the potential outcome of the election because it gives people confidence to maybe vote, who may not have made the connection before," she added.
Nick Griffin, BNP leader
Griffin predicts BNP gains

Even in London, where the BNP won its first and only political seat in 1993, the fears persist that 2 May could be an electoral breakthrough for the far-right.

John Azah, vice-chairman of the Metropolitan Police Independent Advisory Group, and a leading authority on race issues, agreed with Mr Singh's approach.

He said: "There's a fear within our communities that events in France mark a continuing trend in Europe to the extreme right.

"How long are we going to wait before it arrives here? The BNP are very confident of winning and it's no good waiting until after the event."

BNP leader Nick Griffin told BBC News Online that Le Pen's rise could only help the party gain support and seats in the local elections.

"We were looking odds on to win a number of seats anyway and the fact the Le Pen question has raised the profile of our issues can only help," he said.

See also:

23 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Unity needed against race hate - Straw
24 Aug 01 | UK
BNP: A party on the fringe
18 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Oldham MP: Vote anything but BNP
23 Apr 02 | Europe
Le Pen fury sweeps France
28 Feb 02 | England
Riot town needs 'massive funding'
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