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One in five English voters are considering supporting the far-right British National Party [BNP], a report released by the University of Essex's Democratic Audit project has found, with support among Londoners for the anti-immigrant party reaching 25 percent.
The report released earlier this week follows statements made by Britain's Employment Minister, Margaret Hodge, that as many as eight in 10 white working-class voters in her East London constituency were tempted to support the BNP in the May 4 local elections.
Long considered a fringe party with roots in the pre-war British Union of Fascists and the extremist National Front of the 1970s, the BNP under its Cambridge-educated leader Nick Griffin has attempted to shed its anti-Semitic fascist image and move into the political mainstream.
In a 12-point party manifesto released on April 14, the BNP adopted a law-and-order platform, calling for a clampdown on asylum seekers, lower taxes, stronger policing and more representative government.
In the 2005 general election the BNP polled over 192,000 voters. While receiving only 0.7% of all votes cast and electing no members to parliament, it garnered 150,000 more votes than in its 2001 showing.
The BNP, which has 24 elected local councillors, reports that it will have 356 candidates stand in next month's local elections. A 5% swing in voter support could give the BNP 70 council seats, the anti-fascist campaign group Searchlight reports.
The Democratic Audit report found that, among their focus groups, support for the BNP arose through a "strong sense of frustrated nationalism and powerlessness and anger with a 'pussy-footing' political class that denies the dangers of immigration and European power and fails to assert the national interest."
The authors of the study warned that there was "significant potential support" for the BNP. "At a time when the main political parties recognize the need for further immigration, and 'Europe' is set to become a defining political issue" the BNP and other fringe parties had "opportunities in abundance to exploit" voter discontent.
In an interview with the Telegraph published on April 16, Hodge stated the support for the BNP came from voter frustration and fear. "They can't get a home for their children, they see black and ethnic minority communities moving in and they are angry," she said.
"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.' That's something we have never seen before, in all my years," Hodge noted.
Prof. Peter John of Manchester University told the BBC's Today program that the results of a study he was preparing on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust supported the conclusion that BNP support arose from discontent with the current political system.
"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 said.
While the BNP has sought to enter the political mainstream, its leadership has a history of anti-Semitism that worries British Jewish leaders, who tell The Jerusalem Post the move to anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric from Jew-bashing is not a change of heart, but a tactical political move.
In 1997 pamphlet entitled "Who are the Mindbenders?" BNP chairman Nick Griffin wrote, "very few people in Britain are aware of the huge influence over the mass media exercised by a certain ethnic minority, namely the Jews".
It was the Jews, Griffin wrote, who had provided Britain "with an endless diet of pro-multiracial, pro-homosexual, anti-British trash." Griffin has also questioned the historical reality of the Holocaust, saying that while "the orthodox opinion is that six-million Jews were gassed and cremated...orthodox opinion also once held that the earth is flat."
"I have reached the conclusion that the 'extermination' tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter-day witch hysteria," Griffin claimed.
Speaking on February 24 outside Washington to a gathering of the American far-Right, Griffin noted the change of enemies was a political calculation. "The proper enemy to any political movement isn't necessarily the most evil and the worst," The Nation magazine reported him as saying. "The proper enemy is the one we can most easily defeat."
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