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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 May, 2003, 01:01 GMT 02:01 UK
Burnley takes stock of BNP vote
John Brunsdon
BBC News Online in Burnley

Members of Burnley's Asian community tell BBC News Online about their hopes and fears for the future following gains by the far-right BNP in local elections.

All along the road windows are boarded up and on the steel door of one empty house the optimistic owner has painted "For Sale" on a property even the most silver-tongued estate agent would struggle to find a euphemism for.

And that is the side of the road that's staying - the other, unwanted even at a price many homebuyers pay in stamp duty - is being knocked down.

"People say that a lot of money is being poured into Asian areas, but take a look around here - it looks like Beirut".

Going by the results, it looks like the BNP is here to stay
Azmat Ali

Azmat Ali is describing his neighbourhood of Daneshouse, Burnley - one of the areas affected by disturbances in 2001, and also one of the poorest in the north west of England.

The Duke of York pub, burned down in the riots, is around the corner from Azmat's North Road mosque, where he has just been attending Friday prayers.

The BNP's success in the Burnley council elections, where they are now the second party behind Labour, has put the spotlight back on a town which feels it has had more than its fair share of this unwanted attention.

The result has been described by many of the BNP's opponents as a "wake-up call".

But following the disturbances of 2001, and last year's groundbreaking gains by the far-right in the council, some people in the town are wondering how many more of these calls Burnley is going to sleep through.

The Duke of York pub has been rebuilt since 2001's riots

"Going by the results, it looks like the BNP is here to stay," Azmat says.

"But it doesn't worry me, it's just part of the democratic process. If people have voted that way then that is democracy."

So is Burnley simply a racist town?

"I wouldn't describe it as that," he says.

"There are lots of places in Burnley where the BNP won seats where white and Asian people mix without many problems."

He puts the BNP's success largely down to frustration - with high unemployment, Labour's asylum policies and the perceived idea that Burnley's Asian communities are getting more than their fair share of funding - something the far-right played on in their election campaign.

It's a view Azmat doesn't agree with, but says he can understand.

"Sometimes I think we don't do ourselves any favours.

"For instance, you get umpteen organisations set up that do very little - you can see them all up the road.

"I can understand how a white person who comes from a part of Burnley which also needs money can come here and think that and think a lot of money is being spent.

If you look, there are 40,000 people living here and the BNP got just 8,000 votes
Manzoor Hussein

"But a lot of people here have no problem with money being spent in other areas. I don't really mind if it is spent in Asian areas or not, I'd rather just see it being spent on Burnley."

While the BNP were making gains elsewhere in the town, Manzoor Hussein was taking the Daneshouse ward for the Liberal Democrats.

He described the BNP success as a "shock" but agreed that Burnley did not deserve the picture sometimes painted of it as a town riven by ethnic tensions.

"If you look, there are 40,000 people living here and the BNP got just 8,000 votes."

Mohammed Azam, of the Stop the BNP Coalition, said one of his greatest fears following the BNP's success was that voting for the far-right had now become acceptable to many people.

He said a lot of work was already under way in Burnley to build bridges between the different communities, but more needed to be done.

Manzoor Hussein was keen to stress that such bridge-building was already happening in many areas, including his own ward where he said the different communities live together well.

'Genuine concerns'

For Azmat Ali, the process is something he feels needs to be done as much on a personal as a political level.

"After the disturbances in 2001 I hoped that people weren't going to think they could just throw money at the problem - we need to look at people's genuine concerns."

His daughter is taking part in a play that brings her school together with another from a predominantly white area of Burnley.

It is the kind of co-operation and interaction, on a small scale level, that he, along with many others in Burnley, hopes can lay the foundation for further bridges to be built while they wait for answers to the bigger problems that afflict the town, and feed support for those who look to divide it.




SEE ALSO:
Burnley: A town badly let down
03 May 02  |  Politics



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