Greg Hurst, Times political correspondent, says despite the frustrations of some voters the British National Party does not represent a credible political force - yet.
Why are white, working-class voters feeling frustrated with the main political parties?
The sort of frustration among some voters which the BNP is exploiting is concentrated in certain communities.There is no evidence that it is widespread among white working class voters generally.
Research commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust found that in Barking and Dagenham in East London people questioned in focus groups last year felt that the main political parties were not being truthful about the scale of immigration. They felt that Labour had failed them, but older voters aged over 45 blamed previous Conservative administrations too.
Is it just Labour heartlands which are affected, or are other parties involved?
The nature of these communities, which tend to be in poor inner city areas, mean they are much more likely to have Labour councils and MPs. Other than East London, the other areas of recent BNP activity include Bradford, Burnley, Kirklees and Oldham.
What are the grassroots issues that potential BNP voters feel are not being addressed?
Immigration is the central issue, although much BNP literature makes claims that asylum seekers and other immigrants have preferential access to public services. Housing and benefits, healthcare, local school places and similar issues can therefore be linked to such argument. Unemployment is another issue on which such fears can feed.
How has the BNP successfully appealed to former Labour voters?
Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham, argues that the trend in recent general elections for Labour to concentrate its resources, campaigning activity and policy messages on floating middle class voters in marginal seats effectively ignores safe working class constituencies such as his own. He also says that there has been a step change in the professionalism of BNP campaigning, with higher quality materials and systematic canvassing.
It is important to stress, however, that the BNP has largely been unsuccessful in attacting supporters from Labour, and indeed from other parties, in large enough numbers to make itself a credible force. It has polled relatively strongly in some local authority wards and parliamentary seats, but not strongly enough to establish a big political presence.
Does the fear of being accused of racism make it harder for political parties to have a sensible debate about immigration, and local access to housing, education and healthcare?
Labour politicians have become more frank in discussing voters' concerns about immigration. David Blunkett was the most notable example as Home Secretary. But immigration remains a sensitive area of policy: politicians who discuss some of the practical policy questions that arise may be called racist, but those who hold back from doing so are accused of political correctness and risk ceding political ground to extremists like the BNP.
Michael Howard, the former Conservative leader, tried to tap into this feeling in the last general election campaign with Conservative posters saying: 'It's not racist to impose limits of immigration'.
How seriously is Labour taking this? Is the BNP a growing political force, irrespective of its small electoral chances?
The BNP is a tiny movement and not really a political force at all. There have been recurring fears among mainstream politicians that the BNP would make a political breakthrough of sorts, particularly with the advent of new proportional voting systems for the London assembly and the European Parliament elections. But these fears have to date not materialised.
What is more, a degree of scepticism is called for as Labour has track record of talking up the threat of the BNP before elections to try and get its core vote out.
25% of voters 'considering BNP'
Staff and agencies
Monday April 17, 2006
Up to a quarter of voters are considering supporting the far right British National party, according to a draft report for a social policy research group.
A BNP rosette. Photograph: PA
The authors of the study for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust said today that feelings of "powerlessness and frustration" with the main political parties had led to increasing numbers indicating that they might vote for the BNP.
The claims follow a warning by the employment minister, Margaret Hodge, that disillusioned white, working-class voters were deserting Labour for the BNP. She said that as many as eight out of 10 white families in her Barking constituency in east London admitted that they were tempted to vote BNP in forthcoming council elections.
One of the study's authors, Professor Peter John of Manchester University, said the research suggested many voters in white working-class areas feel their concerns are ignored.
"They think they have been let down by the main parties. They feel their voices have not been heard, the main parties have ignored them," he told the BBC's Today programme.
"I think if I was in the main parties, I would be worried about this, that I have not talked about an issue which one of my core constituencies thinks is important."
He said that focus groups were conducted with voters in east London as part of the Rowntree report, but stressed that the levels of underlying support uncovered by the report would not necessarily translate into electoral success for the BNP.
"This is a very hypothetical question. It is not what party you will vote for, but who you might vote for. The idea is to try to tap into some underlying attitudes which may translate into electoral support, but may not and in the past have not," he said.
The study also analysed the wards in which the BNP enjoyed most support and found they were "white working-class areas" with little racial diversity, Prof John said.
He also accused the BNP of spreading "myths" which had particular potency in areas experiencing significant levels of change.
Phill Edwards, a BNP spokesman, said that during the last 40 years Britain had been transformed from "a racially homogeneous society" into one "where the cultures are now quite alien".
"That does add quite a lot of tensions and stresses," he said. "There are borders around countries. People require passports to move around. Borders are there to protect population groups, to give security and freedom, democracy and identity to population groups.
"These people shouldn't just be allowed to wander wherever they like. The fact of the matter is that people who come from these countries in the Third World, many of them do not share our culture and identity. They bring with them their internecine, inter-tribal warfare, they bring with them ailments and diseases and it does cause a lot of frustration."
The Home Office minister, Andy Burnham, said indications of growing readiness to consider a vote for the BNP reflected a trend towards protest voting, especially at local elections, but he played down the significance of the party's threat.
"When people hear their views, I think they will see them for what they are," he told Today. "But there is a danger in giving undue prominence to the threat that they pose. They pose a very localised threat and I am worried that if we give them too much coverage, it can back up the notion that they are a potent protest vote.
"Let's give them the coverage they deserve, in my view, which is very little."
The BNP launched its local election manifesto on Good Friday and said it was "standing for local freedom, security, identity, democracy" and putting "Britain first".
The party, which has 24 local councillors, said 356 candidates would stand for election next month.
According to analysis by the anti-fascist group Searchlight, the BNP is within a 5% swing of winning 70 council seats.
"They are posing a much bigger electoral threat than they have," Searchlight's director of research, Nick Lowles, said.
The BNP was increasing its anti-Muslim rhetoric in the wake of the July 7 bombings and the Danish cartoon row, he addded. The party was also benefiting from disillusionment among Labour voters, and the Tories' apparent shift to the centre, which had left a gap on the right.
Ms Hodge told the Sunday Telegraph that for the first time white working class people were no longer ashamed to say they will vote BNP.
"When I knock on doors I say to people 'Are you tempted to vote BNP?' and many, many, many - eight out of 10 of the white families - say yes." she said. "That's something we have never seen before, in all my years, even when people voted BNP they used to be ashamed to vote BNP. Now they are not.
The BNP is standing in seven of the 17 wards in Barking and Searchlight predicts it will get 20-30% of the vote. The party secured 16.9% of the vote in Barking in the 2005 general election. In neighbouring Dagenham, its vote was 9%.
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