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Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Thursday, 22 October 2009 11:34 UK

Why exactly do people vote for the BNP?

Pie and Mash Shop, Barking

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, will appear on BBC One's Question Time on Thursday. We visited one of the areas where the party has support to find out whether people there agreed with the controversial decision to give him air time on the show.

Stepping off the tube at Barking the first thing to greet the arriving visitor, inside the ticket hall, is a stand for a sim card company, offering tasty deals to call a number of African countries.

About a hundred yards away, around the corner from the market, there's a traditional East End pie and mash shop. Or at least there was. It is closed down and stands empty.

These two things are entirely unrelated - and they are symbolic of how communities change. But it's the kind of symbolism that makes this east London borough a front in the political battle between the British National Party and its opponents.

Political party formed in 1982 which stands for the rights of the 'indigenous peoples of the UK'
Wants an immediate halt to all immigration and voluntary repatriation of British citizens 'of foreign descent'
Received 6% of vote in 2009's European Parliament elections
Won 15 council seats out of 584 contested in 2008 England local elections
Told by a court this month to change its membership rules, which currently restrict 'non-whites'

The party has 12 councillors and believes it can shatter Labour's historic hold on the area. The Department for Communities and Local Government is so concerned about the borough of Barking and Dagenham that four of its wards have been put on a special list of areas that need intensive support to combat potentially volatile disenchantment among white working classes.

That's effectively official code for a rise in far-right activity. But trying to get people to talk honestly about why they support the BNP isn't easy. One white, middle-aged man is decidedly reticent about where he stood on the party's Question Time appearance.

"I think it's a good idea, Griffin is all right. But that's all I'm saying."

"Can I ask you why?"

"Er, no," he replies.

"You support the BNP?"

"It's Dagenham, that's what I'm saying. You can see why."

"Because of the way it's changed?"

And then it all floods out: "Yeah because every second house is an African, I'm not racist, I've got loads of coloured friends but when every second house is African, they're moving in, got two cars, bought houses, what can you say? We got nothing."

Betrayal and belonging

Councillor Bob Bailey is the leader of the BNP group on the local authority. The party's pitch in the borough is that Labour has betrayed the working classes because the "system" favours immigrants over the "indigenous" British people.

Bob Bailey
Bob Bailey: BNP group leader on council

"The indigenous people have been stripped of their freedoms and rights, like a right to a job," says Mr Bailey.

Does anyone have a right to a job? Surely people have to stand on their own two feet? Isn't that the argument of all the mainstream parties - equipping people for the realities of the modern world? And haven't British citizens been going to work abroad for as long as migrant workers have been coming here?

"Lab-Lib-Con-trick. What's the point of employing British people if you can employ some foreigner for half the price?" he responds. But isn't that the responsibility of the employer rather than the worker?

Then his argument develops beyond the economics of competition. Foreigners are not members of the Barking community. Bob Bailey is himself an outsider - born in Scunthorpe. But he says that's different because he is "ethnically British" and can fit in, "make connections".

"What we have got here isn't a community. It's this group and that group. People move in, they're transient with their five passports. Nigerians. Congolese, Polish, Lithuanian, lots of Russians."

We're sitting in a McDonald's as he says this. The woman who served us was a headscarf-wearing young Muslim with a sharp East End "innit" at the end of her sentences.

To my left, as we talk, there's a white family. The late-teens girl is sitting with her mum and a boy who is black. There's another obviously mixed-race couple smooching and sharing an iPod. All of these people seem to be getting on just fine.

But none of this is visible evidence of a community in Mr Bailey's view. It's cultural "wash-out".

"They can be civically British, with a passport, but they're not ethnically British. Let's face it, it's the look-test," he says.

Out canvassing

Out on the streets near Dagenham Heathway Tube station, June, a middle-aged woman stops Mr Bailey.

"Good luck to Nick," says June. "I voted for the BNP because England is ruined, completely. They've let too many immigrants in. Full stop. Their housing comes before ours, before the English people. This area has changed for the worse, I think it's a terrible area because there are too many foreigners, sorry about that, but it's my opinion."

June is impressed by Mr Bailey and thinks he is doing a good job.

Tower blocks in Barking
Housing: Fear over competition for resources

I ask the councillor why he was recently disqualified from driving for 18 months after refusing to provide a breath test to the police.

"It was my entitlement. I didn't want to give one. They knew what they were doing. I've had all this out and it's done with." According to the prosecutor in the case, he didn't give a sample because he was probably over the limit. The councillor said he feared being set up because of his beliefs.

Meanwhile, a fellow BNP councillor for Barking, Richard Barnbrook, is suspended after recording a promotional video in which he cites two murders in the area that never actually happened. He's been ordered to attend an ethics course.

Doesn't all of this prove their critics' point that the BNP is simply not a normal political party - and it has no right to be on Question Time?

Mr Bailey dismisses it all as minor details and says it doesn't undermine Mr Griffin's right to be heard. He adds that the greatest corruption in politics at the moment is the scandal over MPs' expenses.

One BNP critic at Dagenham Heathway agrees with the last point.

"Griffin should be allowed on because of democracy," says the woman who is a teaching assistant.

"I don't agree with him or the BNP at all. I think he's an idiot - but he needs to be on TV to prove that.

"I don't like the fact that the BNP are in the borough. They shout that they have a lot of support but I don't think they have it at all. If more people actually go out and vote next time, that will prove how little support they've really got.

"In my school it's multi-racial. We don't have any problems whatsoever. That's the true face of the borough really."

Hers is not a lone voice. Everyone else who describes themselves as a BNP critic says they are looking forward to seeing Mr Griffin on BBC One. But not a single resident who is black or Asian wants to talk about it.

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