LONDON (Reuters) - The Labour Party faces a serious threat from the far-right British National Party (BNP) in this year’s European elections, Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman warned on Friday.
With unemployment rising due to the global financial crisis, politicians fear anti-immigrant parties will gain more support. The BNP is seeking to win its first parliamentary seats in June’s European poll.
Harman told The Independent that Labour was mobilising at local level wherever there is a sign of heavy BNP activity.
The party believes the BNP threat is greatest in England’s north-west, where its leader, Nick Griffin, is a candidate, and in Yorkshire and the East and West Midlands.
“Most people are not aware the BNP is standing. It is below the radar. There is very low public awareness of these elections. For us, it is a question of pointing out the dangers of the BNP, which now wears suits but whose ideology is as pernicious as ever,” Harman said.
She told the newspaper Labour feared a double blow from voters protesting against the recession, combined with a low turnout.
Harman said the party’s challenge was to convince people that their vote counted as the BNP could end up winning seats in June’s poll by taking 9-12 percent of the vote under the proportional representation system used in European elections.
“We are telling people every vote counts, to come out and vote or else they will let the BNP in,” she said.
“There is always a danger of low turnouts in European elections. People know what their council and their government does for them. They are not quite clear yet what the European Parliament means to them. A low turnout does not help us.”
The BNP does not have any representatives at national level. It has won some seats in local council elections and one on the high-profile London General Assembly.
The newspaper also reported that Harman told Labour MPs at a private meeting that the June elections would be a “dry run” for the general election.
She played down the remark in the interview, pointing out that Labour has done poorly in local and European contests before, only to win the following general election.
“It is an opportunity to get our message across. But it is a very different kettle of fish because of the turnout issue,” she said.
Reporting by Frank Prenesti; Editing by Mark Trevelyan