BARKING, England (Reuters) - Labour minister Margaret Hodge easily saw off a challenge by the far right British National Party (BNP) in the deprived east London seat of Barking on Friday in a win she called the “moral battle of her life.”
Hodge, a minister for tourism and culture, retained the seat the Labour Party have held here since 1945 with a majority of more than 16,000 after gaining 24,628 votes.
BNP party leader Nick Griffin had hoped to improve on the party’s 2005 election result but was beaten into third place with 6,620 votes by the Conservatives on 8,073.
Hodge, 65, who told reporters she had waged the “moral battle of her life” in order to “smash this wave of fascism,” said it was a victory for democracy.
“On behalf of all the people in Britain we in Barking have not just beaten, but we have smashed the attempt of the BNP to here,” she said to loud applause.
“The message from Barking to the BNP is clear: Get out and stay out. You’re not wanted here and your vile politics have no place in British democracy.”
Cambridge-educated Griffin, 51, who had earlier told supporters by email the election represented a “watershed” for his party regardless of the result, blamed the very high turnout for electoral defeat.
“The scale of the turnout is much bigger than we expected, and that will probably work to our disadvantage,” Griffin told reporters before the final result.
According to its website the BNP fielded 326 candidates nationwide — more than the 303 its predecessor the National Front put up in the 1979 election which swept Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher to power.
The BNP had hoped to capitalise on widespread public disaffection with Labour’s social policies in the borough on issues ranging from a shortage of housing, unemployment and the hot topic of immigration.
Under Griffin the party has vowed to stop the “immigration invasion” and return Britain to the way it has “traditionally been.”
Traditionally a white-working class area, Barking has seen its diverse immigrant population balloon since Labour came to power, placing pressure on services in one of London’s most deprived communities.
The London borough of Barking and Dagenham was ranked sixth worst London borough in a 2007 deprivation index. It was ranked 11th most deprived out of 354 nationally in the same study.
The BNP’s next target is the local authority elections, results of which are due later on Friday, where it hopes to win control of Barking and Dagenham council and a budget of 154 million pounds.
In the local elections in 2006 the BNP took 12 of the 51 seats on Barking and Dagenham council. Labour firmly holds the local authority with 34 councillors.
Political analysts say gaining control of the council is the BNP’s ultimate prize.
“In symbolic terms winning a seat is important, but in party development terms winning the council would probably be an even more important victory,” said Prof. Robert Ford, a political sociologist at Manchester University.
“It will be their opportunity to actually govern something, to control significant tax resources and declare them as they see fit.”
Editing by Michael Holden