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Last Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006, 04:57 GMT 05:57 UK
BNP's smiles in Barking
By Philippa Thomas
BBC News special correspondent, in Barking

BNP candidate Richard Barnbrook on the campaign trail in Barking
Richard Barnbrook won a council seat in Barking for the BNP

"I've got a smile on my face".

Those were the words of local BNP leader Richard Barnbrook before a single result had been declared in this battleground borough straddling the East End of London and Essex.

Barnbrook - now Councillor Barnbrook - had predicted that six to eight seats would fall to his team in Barking and Dagenham.

In the end it was 11 (and could be 12 once the final results are in).

It is a breakthrough for the British National Party in London, on a scale significantly greater than anyone had predicted.

The Labour MP for Barking and government minister Margaret Hodge said the BNP was a "nasty nasty party" - it lives on lies, exploits fears, and encourages racism, she said.

Even the BNP's Richard Barnbrook made a point tonight of sarcastically thanking Ms Hodge for her "beautiful gift"

Asked how it had attracted thousands of votes here tonight, she dismissed the surge as a "protest vote" against Labour.

But it is clear that the BNP has touched a nerve here.

It has campaigned tirelessly on the theme that immigrants are "swamping" East London, claiming that they are jumping the queues for council housing, and changing the look of what a decade ago was the territory of the white working class.

And Margaret Hodge herself is now feeling the heat.

The Blairite minister made waves during the campaign when she declared that eight out of 10 white families were tempted to vote for the BNP.

Many Labour activists here are seething at her remarks, believing that she gave the BNP invaluable free publicity.

Even the BNP's Richard Barnbrook made a point tonight of sarcastically thanking Ms Hodge for her "beautiful gift".

I asked her if she had any regrets. No, she said.

She believed she'd said what needed to be said, adding: "We can't sweep it under the carpet".


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