Page last updated at 22:42 GMT, Saturday, 20 September 2008 23:42 UK

BNP looks for cracks in the Potteries

By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

BNP rally
Around 300 people attended the BNP rally in Stoke-on-Trent

The British National Party has been rallying support in Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire.

The far-right party has been emboldened by its recent successes in local elections - it has nine councillors in Stoke.

But it has also been angered by the death of local BNP activist Keith Brown, who was killed by his Asian neighbour.

On Saturday the party handed out leaflets and held a rally to voice its belief that society ignores or plays down violence against whites by non-whites.

Mr Brown's killer, Habib Khan, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years - but the party believes that had their roles been reversed, Mr Brown would now be serving life for murder.

The rally was on an industrial estate in the Fenton area, in a car park off a busy main road.

About 300 people attended, at most - mainly tattooed males with shaved heads, but also young couples - some with babies - young women and a few quiet-looking pensioners.

There were flag wavers, banner holders and placard carriers. Passing drivers were encouraged to honk their horns, and quite a few obliged.

From a "Truth Truck", speakers including BNP leader Nick Griffin addressed the crowd.

Nick Griffin
Nick Griffin believes Stoke-on-Trent's next mayor may be from the BNP

Speaking over loud applause, Mr Griffin said the day's activities were to "tell the establishment in Stoke-on-Trent, and across the length and breadth of the country, that they can no longer brush the attacks on British people under the carpet, because the BNP will be there, not to cause trouble, but to cause a fuss".

Stoke-on-Trent is to hold a referendum in October to decide whether or not to retain its elected mayor. If it votes to keep it, then the BNP clearly fancies its chances.

"We have very, very good councillors and I have no doubt that we're the front runners for the elected mayor position, which is why Labour is trying to get rid of it," said Mr Griffin, speaking away from the rally in the Meir area.

He puts his party's rise in popularity in the city partly down to the "lazy and corrupt" Labour administration.

But what does the wider community think?

Clearly, Stoke-on-Trent is a place ill at ease with itself.

Ravaged by a huge drop in the core industries of mining, pottery and engineering, its proud heritage and identity, which made the Potteries a name familiar across the world for its skill in ceramics, is under threat.

The BNP has support in this city because of a decline in Christian values. That makes people more materialistic and selfish and they don't care about their community
Abu Kinza

Many of its citizens appear worried about making a living and angry at the state of the city in which they live. Unemployment, cuts in health services and substandard housing are just some of the complaints on the street.

Meir resident Alan Hough, 62, angrily asks why the police cars parked nearby, clearly keeping an eye on the BNP leader, "aren't out catching criminals".

Mr Hough says he has voted for Labour all his life, but says he will vote for the BNP in future.

"My father will be turning in his grave, he fought the fascists for six years," he says.

"But Labour aren't doing their job, and that's why people are voting for the BNP, they're desperate.

"There's no alternative, people won't vote Tory and they're fed up with Labour."

Deep divisions

But Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, Rob Flello, says the claim that Labour has done nothing "flies in the face of reality".

"BNP politics are about setting communities against each other," he said.

"We're trying to build communities, and strengthen them.

"We're trying to attract people to the city and bring jobs here. Having a BNP presence makes it seem as if it's a place torn by conflict, with community against community, and that's simply not the case."

Alan Hough
My father will be turning in his grave, he fought the fascists for six years... But Labour aren't doing their job, and that's why people are voting for the BNP, they're desperate.
Alan Hough

There are no non-white people to be seen in Meir, so a taxi ride over to the Shelton area is necessary to find an Asian point of view.

Standing outside the local mosque is Abu Kinza, 30. He thinks there are deep divisions within the city's communities, which are partly down to education.

"Stoke-on-Trent's nature is not as aware as other cities," he said.

"Asians and whites don't mix. There is lots of racism and the Asian community does suffer.

"The BNP has support in this city because of a decline in Christian values. That makes people more materialistic and selfish and they don't care about their community.

"Also, people here aren't educated. Ask them if they've read a book in the last year, the last five years. A lot of them haven't.

"People from outside of the city say it's one of the worst areas to live in, that it's backwards and that the BNP are strong here. Its presence damages the city's reputation."

Elsewhere in the city a peace vigil was held in opposition to the BNP. It was organised by the group United Against Fascism, with speakers and a march.

National campaigner Donna Guthrie said: "It went brilliantly, and hopefully will show the unity the people of Stoke-on-Trent have with each other, which goes against the grain of what the BNP wants to do."




SEE ALSO
Prison for BNP activist's killer
29 Aug 08 |  Staffordshire
BNP protests lead to 33 arrests
17 Aug 08 |  Derbyshire

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