I visited Barking and Dagenham recently to gauge the strength of the British National Party in the area, where BNP leader Nick Griffin is standing against Labour’s Margaret Hodge—and where the BNP is also hoping to take the council. Jon Cruddas, one of Labour’s most eloquent MPs, is also fighting the neighbouring seat of Dagenham and Rainham (renamed after boundary changes). His seat is pretty safe from the BNP—as his three most troubling wards migrated across to Mrs Hodge—but he faces an energetic fight from Simon Jones, the Conservative candidate.
So what’s there to fear about the BNP? Its vote share has risen in the area (it won 17 per cent in local elections in 2006, making it the official opposition in the borough), while Labour’s fiefdom has collapsed—from 65 per cent in 1997 to around 50 per cent in 2005. The party has made much of immigration into the borough, and has stressed the pressures that it has made on housing and education. On paper, Mrs Hodge’s seat is the most vulnerable post boundary changes.