Page last updated at 09:11 GMT, Saturday, 30 August 2008 10:11 UK

Politics fragments Stoke-on-Trent

By Phil Mackie
BBC News

Habib Khan
Khan stabbed his neighbour in July last year
As an Asian man from Stoke-on-Trent begins a jail term for killing his British National Party activist neighbour, what impact has the case had on the city?

Habib Khan, 50, was jailed for eight years on Friday for the manslaughter of 52-year-old Keith Brown, who was stabbed to death during a fight outside his home last July.

Mr Brown's death and the subsequent trial have become an important part of British National Party (BNP) campaigning.

The party believes that had the roles in the fatal fight been reversed, Mr Brown would be serving life for murder.

Its bloggers rail against a judicial system they say is hamstrung by political correctness and dominated by a middle-class liberal elite.

BNP leader Nick Griffin even attended Mr Brown's funeral.

Mr Griffin told mourners that Mr Brown's family was subjected to a reign of terror by racist neighbours and their gang friends.

He said that when Mr Brown's son tried to protect his family and dad, the authorities did nothing but jail him.

"When it's English white victims they simply don't care," he said.

Labour stronghold

Locals used to say everyone in Stoke-on-Trent worked in "the pots, the pits or engineering," but old Stoke is disappearing.

The factories have been closing and the familiar terraced streets have been torn down.

The city's population is in decline, though its mainly Muslim ethnic population is bucking the trend.

Stoke has always been a Labour stronghold. Eleven years ago all 60 city councillors were Labour - but traditional supporters have been deserting the party in droves.

The city's political landscape has fragmented. There are seven separate groupings.

MAKE UP OF STOKE CITY COUNCIL
Labour: 17
City Independents: 15
Conservative & Ind Alliance: Nine
BNP: Nine
Lib Dems: Five
Independents: Three
Potteries Alliance: Two
Lib Dem (libertarian): One

Labour has only 17 councillors and the BNP is the third largest group with nine. In the May local elections it polled more votes than any other party in the 10 wards it contested.

Traditional Labour supporters feel alienated by New Labour but voting Tory remains anathema to them. The Lib Dems are not a major force in the Potteries.

It is into this gap that the BNP has stepped.

A neighbour of Habib Khan's said: "The Labours and the rest of them haven't done the canvassing in the same way the BNP have, so an average person is going to vote for the person who's come and knocked on their door and taken time to speak to them.

"From personal experience I've had three leaflets from the BNP posted through my door, and none from the other parties."

The BNP says it is not racist, and there have been relatively few racially aggravated incidents in Stoke.

It makes you think about entering certain areas, especially if you are a taxi driver
Unnamed Muslim resident

Local councillors urge their supporters not to resort to violence but to register their protest at the ballot box.

A Muslim man, who did not wish to be named, said that it had not stopped him worrying about his safety in some parts of the city.

"A lot of the time it makes you think about entering certain areas, especially if you are a taxi driver as some of us are," he said.

Michael Coleman, a BNP councillor and friend of Keith Brown, says Labour no longer represents the white working class which is why his party has had so much success.

Labour MP Rob Flello
Rob Flello, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent South

"It's not fashionable to champion the cause of the white working class, in fact I think we're seen as something of a nuisance," he said.

The Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, Rob Flello, said the danger with the BNP was that it represented the politics of poison and negativity which would put people off investing in Stoke.

The BNP plans to hold a rally in the city on 20 September with Mr Griffin expected to make a speech.


SEE ALSO
Prison for BNP activist's killer
29 Aug 08 |  Staffordshire
Man convicted of killing activist
23 May 08 |  Staffordshire


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