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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 08:20 GMT 09:20 UK
Alarm bells at BNP wins
BNP candidate David Edwards in Burnley
BNP candidate David Edwards may not last

The local election results may not say anything hugely unexpected about the state of British politics.

But the election of the BNP should sound alarm bells in all the mainstream party headquarters.

Even a monkey won in Hartlepool
Making a monkey
The BNP's success was part of a more general boost for single issue parties - including a man dressed as a monkey - suggesting protest votes in local polls are now as likely to go to such fringe groups as to the traditional opposition parties.

And there will be a temptation to dismiss the result as a one-off that will not turn into a trend.

After all, ever since Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, far-right or fascist groups have occasionally surfaced in Britain, only to be slapped down as quickly as they emerged.

Racist platform

But, as most hardened political activists know, the threat is not one that should be ignored.

For a start, the local successes, with a significant share of the vote where they stood, show that there are real concerns amongst voters in those areas over immigration.

That does not necessarily mean those who voted for the BNP are racist, but the effect of their vote was to give racists a platform.

There is also the rise of far-right groups in a number of European countries including the Netherlands, Austria and France.

The first-past-the-post election system works against such advances in Britain - as the Green Party discovered around a decade ago when they took a large share of the vote in euro elections which then failed to translate into seats.

They have since slipped back to join the other minority groups which never managed to get themselves elected to parliament.

Tough on issues

But all the mainstream parties got the message and started adopting large chunks of the green agenda for their own manifestos.

Demonstration against German Nazis
Nazis on rise in Europe
And the key to tackling the BNP now is exactly how the mainstream parties react.

They know they have to address the issues of immigration and multiculturalism, particularly in areas like Burnley and Oldham.

They can either attempt to move onto the BNP's territory by adopting policies aimed at appearing tough on these issues.

Or they can meet the far-right threat head on and attempt to tackle issues such as unemployment and street crime which help boost extremists.

That appears to be the route being taken by the Labour Party, although Home Secretary David Blunkett has been accused of using rightwing rhetoric over immigration with talk of schools being "swamped".

Neo-Nazi links

It will also be likely the major parties will want to point out exactly what the BNP stands for and where it came from.

This is a particularly nasty political fringe group which allegedly has links to neo-Nazi groups but which attempts to offer a more moderate face to electors.

It claims not to be racist, but its policies give the lie to its words.

Its roots can be traced back through the usual fascist and neo-Nazi groups that have sprung up from time to time in Britain - most notably the National Front.

That organisation was prominent in the late 1970s when politics in Britain often took to the streets.

It never scored any electoral victories and, indeed, it was not until the BNP's Derek Beackon was elected in Tower Hamlets in 1993 that the far right had any real success.

It was extremely short lived and Mr Beackon was kicked out after a matter of weeks.

Most will be hoping the same fate awaits the BNP councillors.

But that will not happen automatically and the mainstream parties will need to look to their policies to address the obvious concerns which led to this result.

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