The British National Party (BNP) won 1,072 votes (52 percent) in the Goresbrook ward of Barking and Dagenham two weeks ago.
The BNP is now standing in the Village ward council by-election in Dagenham, set for Thursday of next week.
Swastikas and racist graffiti were scrawled on tower blocks within days of the election.
Dagenham has been a Labour area for generations, but has faced deepening poverty under Blair’s government.
Tony Brown is branch secretary of the Dagenham local government branch of the Unison union.
He says, “The borough of Barking and Dagenham has the lowest proportion of university graduates and the lowest level of car ownership in London.
“It is among the four areas with the highest innumeracy and illiteracy rates in Britain. There is no local hospital.
“The housing is crappy, no one has much money, the schools are poor and there is a high rate of teenage pregnancy. It’s no-hope city—the kind of environment where you would expect the far right to do well.
“The borough has always been a bit of a backwater, and the council has never been at the cutting edge. If you go to Newham or Tower Hamlets you feel that you’re part of London. But when you get here you don’t. You feel out of touch. It’s like the poor relative no one seems to remember.
“Some 167,000 people live here. If it was a town on its own, not in London, you’d be seriously worried about it.
“There is no political culture in this part of east London. There is little voluntary campaigning. Even the trade unions have no campaigning culture.”
Dagenham was hit hard when the Ford multinational closed its assembly plant.
“Ford was supposed to develop its plant in Dagenham and bring in suppliers to open high-tech factories,” says Tony. “But then Ford said, ‘Sod that. We’ll just make engines.’
“When I moved here in 1975 Ford Dagenham employed 27,000 people. Now it’s down to 5,000. Industry is declining and not being replaced. That is part of the root cause.
“People have the impression that if you are white and working class you are being left behind. They are asking how they can upset the Labour Party.”
Charlie McDonald is the London regional secretary for the PCS civil service workers’ union. He was brought up in Dagenham. He says, “There is absolutely nothing in Dagenham for people. All people have is the football—following West Ham—and drinking.
“It is a very violent area. In Dagenham all you’ve got to do is look at people the wrong way. My brother was assaulted a couple of months ago by white youths.”
The BNP has sought to capitalise on the discontent, turning people’s anger towards the minority of blacks, Asians and Eastern Europeans moving into the area.
They have tried to tap into the racism perpetuated in the media, which seeps into many people’s lives.
“When I first went to work at Barking social security office I had racist views,” says Charlie.
“The first girl I went out with was mixed race—whenever you went out you would get racist comments. My racism was broken down by that relationship, and by working with Asian people.
“There are more black faces in Dagenham today. But many of the same attitudes exist. I see it when I go out drinking with my dad and his mates. He worked at Ford Dagenham, and they’re all industrial workers.
“I could see some of them voting for the BNP, although my dad draws the line there.”
Mick Roche, who lives in Dagenham, says, “People believe the hype about asylum seekers taking all the homes. This is quite a poor area. Nothing exciting ever happens here.
“People can be easily swayed by the BNP, who swamped the area with canvassers for the Goresbrook election. The local paper has run interviews with local people saying they’re glad the BNP got elected, and it’s time something changed.
“Deep down people are boiling over. They’re fed up with New Labour. Regeneration is not happening.”
Many in Dagenham are determined to ensure the BNP do not win another seat in the upcoming council by-election in the Village ward.
Phil Waker, the Labour Party candidate, says, “The BNP are trying for a populist appeal. Some of the stuff they are saying is very clever—they say they want to shake up the council.
“They are also telling complete lies—like claiming that Africans are getting £40,000 to come to the borough.”
THE LAST time councillors were elected in Goresbrook, in May 2002, only Labour and the Lib Dems stood. Since then Labour’s vote has fallen by about a third.
The BNP grabbed almost all the non-Labour vote this by-election, and support for other mainstream parties has crumbled.
Unite Against Fascism are campaigning to stop the BNP. To get involved phone 020 7833 4916.