Far right posting gains in England
Fueled by the recession, the groups have won members and seats in recent elections.
For decades, the tiny city of Stoke-on-Trent in central England has been a stronghold for the country's left-leaning Labour Party, but disillusionment among poorer white residents and tensions with their Muslim neighbors is pushing the city to the far right.Skip to next paragraph
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The whites-only, anti-immigration British National Party (BNP), has gone from being a fringe group to gaining a 15 percent stake in Stoke-on-Trent's governing council. Many observers now believe the group could win enough votes to control the council by 2011.
Some mainstream politicians are now voicing concerns that BNP is poised to make nationwide gains. While white Britons have lived in relative harmony with immigrants for years, the nation's deepening recession is raising concerns of heightened anti-immigrant sentiment, and is sparking support for the far right, says Jon Cruddas, a parliamentarian who represents the London borough of Barking and Dagenham.
"History suggests that the far right tends to do well in times of economic trouble," says Mr. Cruddas, who was appointed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to spearhead a campaign against the far right.
Of the roughly 8,000 town council members scattered across England, only 50 or so are members of the BNP. But during June elections, the BNP is expected to make significant gains and could win up to three of England's 59 seats in the European Parliament, according to experts. Such results would also indicate a chance for the party to potentially capture two seats in the United Kingdom's national parliament.
Although the BNP has attempted to distance itself from more militant sections of the far right, such as skinheads, mainstream politicians still regard the party's true colors as inherently fascist, and point to its leader's 1998 conviction for incitement to racial hatred using material denying the Holocaust. Other members have convictions for various types of racial violence. One former activist brought havoc to London in 1999 in a nail-bombing campaign, which killed three people. He later told police he wanted to ignite a race war. The party has links with far right groups and individuals abroad, including former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke, and the National Alliance, one of the foremost white separatist groups in the US.
BNP's popularity might be growing, but that doesn't mean the group has gone mainstream – membership in the group remains grounds for firing for police officers, for instance. A stir was created Monday when BNP's entire membership list was posted on the Internet, identifying thousands of supporters and exposing some to the risk of being fired. The party blamed a former member for leaking the list of around 13,500 names.
Phil Woolas, the newly appointed minister of state for borders and immigration, and a Labour Party member, sparked controversy with comments that the number of immigrants allowed into the UK may have to be reduced because of the economic crisis. He says the government should not allow the population, presently 61 million, to surpass 70 million people.