It is hot in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham. It feels like the first day of summer. And, in a park opposite Becontree tube station, BNP activists are gathering for their day of action. There are maybe 100 of them. Some are suited and booted, and some are in "Anglo-Saxon" T-shirts and tattoos, the very archetype of ex-National Front. Heartbreakingly, there are children here.Ah, the scene is set, then…
Nick Griffin is standing here against Margaret Hodge, the Labour Minister of State for Culture and Tourism (majority: 8,883). It is a stunt. But it is possible that Barking and Dagenham could soon have a BNP-controlled council. It is now the second largest party at local level with 15 seats and they aim to take absolute control; along with Stoke, this borough is the centre of BNP hopes.And why?
Well, this little vignette might tell you why, though the Telegraph staffer doesn’t comment on it:
Before the muster, I spend an hour with Margaret Hodge, as she walks the empty streets. She is brisk and bossy. "Come back later," says one man, dragged out of bed, when Hodge wants to register him to vote. "No," she replies, "Let's do it now."So, just like the last post with Miliband, we see the way the elite treat the public; as servants, dumb creatures to do their bidding for the prospect of a treat.
Is it any wonder they are voting – in effect – ‘none of you vile scum’ when they put a tick in the BNP box?
I go to the Cherry Tree pub to wait for Griffin, who is giving a press conference. The drinkers come out to talk. They are all ex-Labour, now BNP. "It's housing, schools, hospitals and jobs, not colour," says one man. "I believed in Old Labour but not New Labour. They have failed in this borough."All perfectly good, solid points. None of them very right wing either, as Tim Worstall points out. It almost – almost – sways the Telegraph staffer.
"People have had enough," says a woman. "We are being pushed to the back of the queue. My son couldn't get into the school of his choice. He has no chance of a council house."
"You don't appreciate that our facilities are getting swamped," says another man. "If we vote BNP, people might start listening to us. Because we have been abandoned by our government."
I begin to sympathise with their grievances, because they are right – no council housing has been built here for 30 years. The rise of the BNP is one of Labour's greatest failures. But then comes the racist bile. "Go into a supermarket," says another man, "it's full of immigrants. Why?"It seems that noticing that there’s an influx of immigrants in your supermarket, that the culture of your home area has suddenly changed, and that no-one consulted you on it, is now to be considered ‘racist bile’ by the Righteous.
Which makes you wonder just what words they’d use for genuine racism, doesn’t it?
Griffin gets into his car and we drive to Dagenham Broadway, where the BNP has erected its stall. We pass the BNP music bus, pulled over by the police for playing loud music. Griffin gets out and glad-hands; he seems to adore it.Ooooh, this’ll be good…
Reverend Robert West, the BNP candidate in Lincoln, shouts, "It is not racist to love your country!" as Pastor James Gitau, a black BNP supporter, stands next to him. Every time the Rev Mr West shouts a slogan, Gitau shouts, "Hallelujah!"
A young black girl stares on, astonished. A second black woman strides up to the black preacher, and berates him.So, in Tanya Gold’s eyes, desiring to see more of your fellow countrymen and fewer outsiders in the supermarket is ‘racist bile’, but implying that because your skin is black, you should vote with all your fellows is…what?
"Why are you holding this?" she shouts. "You are a black man. You should be ashamed." In response, Gitau waves his flag.
She never elaborates.
Griffin has, I learn, gone back to the Cherry Tree pub, where there is due to be a debate between all the parliamentary candidates in a private room. It is closed to all press and supporters except for Sky News, who will be broadcasting it. I arrive to find the gates to the car park locked, and a woman from Sky arguing with a Hodge employee. Margaret, he says, doesn't want to go into a BNP pub. But if she wants to debate, she must, "because no other venue would have Griffin". This is the mood in Barking and Dagenham.Of course, she doesn’t want to debate at all, as we learn:
I find Hodge a few doors away, outside her campaign headquarters, a brown, bare church. She is trying to find the Tory candidate's telephone number, so they can both pull out of the debate.Now, what, I wonder, constitutes a ‘BNP pub’? Is it just that this pub allowed the debate to be held there?
"That pub is BNP," she says, looking disgusted, "I don't want to walk through it."
And how would Margaret Hodge possibly know that that’s what it is, since one of the main complaints about her is that she’s hardly ever seen in the area?
And just how do they ever expect to win votes back from those old Labour voters who are now voting BNP if they never address the issues, never debate anything, and treat the voters with utter contempt?
Although perhaps she didn't want to debate with Griffin in case they wound up agreeing on some things?