BNP suffers crushing defeat at the ballot box

Far-right councillors are wiped out in Barking and Dagenham; further losses nationally.

Results from the local elections are starting to come in, and it looks like the British National Party has suffered catastrophic losses, compounding the failure of its leader, Nick Griffin, to win a seat in Westminster.

In Barking and Dagenham, where the BNP was previously the second-largest party, all 12 of its councillors have lost their seats. That includes the former party group leader Bob Bailey, who was filmed fighting in the street two days ago, and Richard Barnbrook, who was suspended from the council last year for making false claims about murders in the borough.

It is a crushing defeat for the far-right party, which many feared would seize full control of the council on 6 May. However, a concerted effort by anti-fascist campaigners ensured a high turnout and voters overwhelmingly backed Labour candidates on the day.

Elsewhere in the country, the prominent BNP councillor Chris Beverley lost his seat on Leeds City Council. The party has also lost councillors in Stoke-on-Trent, which Griffin once described as the BNP's "jewel in the crown".

The defeat is likely to intensify the internal conflicts that have beset the party in recent months. Far-right activists, commenting on the white power Stormfront internet forum, have already criticised Griffin's election strategy and called for him to go.

In a message to supporters, Griffin urged his party not to lose heart after a "bruising" election campaign and stressed that the coming months would provide an opportunity for "a massive overhaul of our political machinery". Perhaps in order to head off criticism of his leadership, he offered this advice:

If someone tells you a piece of "shocking" internal gossip which clearly is aimed at undermining the people now working to propel the party forward, then you need to treat such lies with the contempt they deserve.

Nick Lowles, who ran the anti-fascist Hope not Hate campaign, said:

We mobilised in a way our country had never seen before. In fact, in just the past few weeks, almost a thousand volunteers have joined us in Barking and Dagenham to deliver over 350,000 pieces of literature, and nearly 300 volunteers came to Stoke-on-Trent to distribute leaflets and knock on doors to turn out the anti-BNP vote.

Last year's BNP victory was not in our name -- but last night's BNP defeat certainly was. We made the world a better place.

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Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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The public sector pay freeze isn't the only Downing Street policy in danger

The government has reached the end of the road as far as politically-deliverable cuts go.

It's Schrödinger's pay freeze: is it dead or not? We won't know until Philip Hammond opens the box! Yesterday, two Cabinet ministers – Chris Grayling and Michael Fallon – suggested that it was dead. Then Downing Street said it remained in place.

But as I wrote yesterday, the pay freeze is one of four things that Conservative backbenchers think must change before the next election. (The second and third are the cuts to schools and the pressure on the health service respectively, and the fourth is their leader.) Two senior backbenchers, Stephen Crabb and Nicky Morgan, have publicly called for an easing of the pay cap, particularly for nurses.

The difficult truth is that whatever Nos 10 or 11 may say or think, there aren't the votes in the House for a budget that doesn't include some action on the pay freeze. (The government can do it and keep to Philip Hammond's revised deficit projections, as he has an extra £30bn of headroom, and a pay increase at inflation would cost around £4bn.)

It's worth pausing, forgetting May's woes for a moment and looking out at the government's long-running difficulties at passing its fiscal policies. The proposed change in business rates? Mothballed. Philip Hammond's modest change in national insurance? Abandoned and very probably a key factor in Theresa May's disastrous decision to hold an early election. George Osborne's tax credit cuts? Killed in the Lords, taking with them his leadership hopes and quite possibly Britain's EU membership. School funding changes? A question of when, not if, those are abandoned.

In a way, May's difficulties only highlight what was already true: that the government has reached the end of the road as far as politically-deliverable cuts go.  

And with Britain closer to the next recession than the last, the levers are still firmly where Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling left them after they dealt with the last crisis: interest rates are still at record lows, the government still heavily indebted. 

And that's a far bigger worry, for the Conservatives and for everyone, than how long May endures at Downing Street.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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