BNP threat in Euro elections

THE Conservatives may have scored a much-needed victory in last week's council elections – but the spectre at the feast is the far-right British National Party.

THE Conservatives may have scored a much-needed victory in last week's council elections – but the spectre at the feast is the far-right British National Party.

The party won their first ever council seat in the East of England at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire. Ramon Johns, a 70 year-old cab driver, was elected to the well-heeled district authority centred on Cheshunt, north of Enfield and the M25, which has one of the lowest immigrant populations in the whole of the UK.

The political composition of the authority largely reflects the income levels of the commuting population – Conservatives 34, Labour 2, Independent 1, and now a lone BNP.

While Mr Johns' success is hardly an electoral earthquake, it must be a worry to the strategists of the political parties in our region who will be asking themselves where will be next breakthrough come.

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Elsewhere, there is real concern. In June next year, there will be elections to the European Parliament and following the BNP's success in Burnley, plus the votes they picked up in Oldham, the party could win a Euro seat in North West region.

A push by the BNP in areas with large immigrant centres such as Manchester, Bolton, Rochdale, Preston, combined with disaffected votes in Liverpool, Salford, Warrington, Carlisle and throughout Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cheshire and Cumbria, could produce a massive shock.

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It was timely, therefore, for the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee to lambaste the Government over its policy on asylum seekers and the deporting of bogus claimants. The MPs "deprecate the setting of wholly unrealistic targets" for sending home illegals "which serve only to arouse false expectations and which can only prove demoralising for all concerned.

"We are at a loss to understand the basis for the belief that a target of 30,000 removals a year was achievable."

Pointing out that the annual number of asylum seekers has risen from 4,223 in 1982 to 110,700 in 2003, the MPs says this is unsustainable and if allowed to continue unchecked could lead to social unrest.

"It could also, and there are signs this may already be happening, lead to a growing political backlash which will in turn lead to the election of extremist parties with extreme solutions."

Which brings us back to the BNP. And while the party is unlikely ever to poll enough to win a seat at Westminster under our first-past-the-post elections, the regional list system of proportional representation used for the euro elections offers the real possibility of a British National Party Euro MP, especially if there is a low turnout.

Minor parties can succeed under the list system. The Greens had good results in the 1999 euro elections, and here in the East, the UK Independence Party won a seat, mainly because less than a quarter of the electorate bothered to vote. Had it been a 70% turnout as at General Elections, UKIP would have got nowhere.

TALKING of small parties, congratulations to Andrew Stringer of the Green Party, who unseated Tory John Gilmour in Mid Suffolk's Mendlesham division. He is the first Green councillor to be elected in Suffolk.

Elsewhere, the Greens held on to their two councillors in Braintree's Bradwell, Silver End and Rivenhall division, while Independents won a clutch of seats, mostly in rural divisions with the newly formed West Suffolk Independence Alliance Party having some success in Suffolk's Forest Heath district.

CONSERVATIVES will be buoyed by the latest opinion poll in the wake of the local elections, which shows they have narrowed the gap on Labour to just two points.

Labour stands on 36% (down 5%), the Tories 34% (up 5%), and the Liberal Democrats unchanged on 22%, according to a Populus poll for The Times.

Before the Tories get too excited, however, they must get to at least 42% in the polls to have any chance of winning an election, which means Labour will have to slip to around 32%, a highly unlikely scenario.

The Conservatives, somehow, must claw their way to some sort of electoral respectability in Scotland, Wales, the inner cities and London. Even after last week's voting, there are still no Conservative councillors in four of England's biggest cities – Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sunderland – while they lost ground in Bradford, Bristol and Plymouth.

On the positive side for the Tories, they gained councillors in Birmingham and Coventry, and took the first-past-the-post seats of Edinburgh Pentlands, Ayr, and Galloway & Upper Nithsdale in the Scottish Parliament and Monmouth in the Welsh Assembly.

Tory gains on Braintree and Tendring councils look ominous for Labour MPs Alan Hurst and Ivan Henderson in their highly marginal parliamentary seats of Braintree and Harwich. The results from Chelmsford, Brentwood, St Edmundsbury and Mid Suffolk effectively end any hopes Labour and the Lib Dems had to unseating the local Tory MPs.

But the Liberal Democrats remain a potential threat to Iain Duncan Smith and to a lesser extent Labour. The party had dramatic gains from Labour in Leicester, St Albans and York, consolidated their grip on Cambridge, South Norfolk and Norwich, hit Labour and the Tories in Colchester and Uttlesford, and sunk the Conservatives in North Norfolk, Torbay, Bournemouth, and Windsor & Maidenhead.

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