'SHOCKED'. 'DISGUSTED'. 'Horrified'. Those were the reactions of many people on the streets of Blackburn last weekend. The Nazi British National Party won a council by-election in the Lancashire town that is the parliamentary seat of New Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw. The Nazi candidate was elected by a 16-vote margin in the town's Mill Hill ward on Thursday of last week.
The BNP got 578 votes while Labour got 562 votes. The Liberals, who had previously held the council seat, got 505 votes, with the Tories on 154 votes. The turnout was 39 percent. Blackburn is just a few miles from Burnley, where the BNP got three councillors elected last May.
The Blackburn election marks a horrifying spread of Nazi electoral success, one which should be a wake-up call right across Britain. There are areas similar to Mill Hill ward in scores of towns in Britain. Behind the BNP's election victory lies a deep disenchantment with the New Labour government and all the mainstream parties.
It is also a result built on racism. That racism is fuelled by the media and mainstream politicians, including New Labour ministers, and then exploited and deepened by the BNP. At last Saturday's 100-strong rally in the town centre organised by the Anti Nazi League local people spoke about what happened in Mill Hill. Chris Mottershaw is a student at Blackburn's further education college:
'The BNP lied in their election campaign - about what they stood for, about local issues. But they got support because people felt let down. People were promised that their lives would get better. We have had five years of New Labour government and we have a New Labour council here, and people feel nothing has been delivered.
'That creates a situation where in Mill Hill the BNP built support, especially over racism against asylum seekers.' The population of the ward is overwhelmingly white. Around one in seven of Blackburn's overall population is of Asian background, and Asians are concentrated in the poorest areas of the town.
There are pockets of deep poverty in Mill Hill too. But mostly it is like so many other areas in Britain, with a general air of neglect and a feeling of people struggling just to get by.
In the wake of its Burnley election success the BNP began targeting Blackburn. The BNP fed off press and politicians' racism over asylum seekers. Over the summer a closed down private residential care home near Mill Hill, Witton Bank, was subject to a planning application to become residential accommodation for up to 30 single people.
The building ended up being sold to a project for children with learning disabilities. But rumour spread that the building could be used as a hostel for asylum seekers.
The BNP was behind a local petition which gathered over 1,000 signatures against any such plan. That laid the basis for its campaign when a by-election was then called. George Davis, the GPMU union rep at a local paper factory, explained, 'We need to be clear that when Blunkett and Straw talk about asylum seekers in the way they do they only help the BNP. They must be told to stop using that racist language.'
Imtiaz Patel, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Blackburn who spoke at the Anti Nazi League rally, also slammed the media for the publicity they give to the BNP.
He stressed, 'This election should be a wake-up call for everyone. After Burnley and now Blackburn the BNP will hope to get more elected unless we stop them.' Dave Harling, a Labour councillor who spoke at the Anti Nazi League rally, said, 'I am gutted. We had fascists here in the 1970s and now they have returned. We have to unite to stop them.'
Steve O'Donnell from Burnley Trades Council joined the Blackburn protest: 'We need to make clear to people who is really to blame for the poverty and problems they face.
'We have just lost Michelin, a major factory in Burnley. It is rich white people who closed that down, not Asians.' Tom Fallows is the GMB branch secretary in Blackburn. He lives in nearby Burnley, where he used to be chair of the local Labour Party. 'There are not 578 Nazis in Mill Hill. We have to show people what the BNP really stand for.'
And he added, as so many did in Blackburn on Saturday, 'The lies and racism the BNP push only get a hearing because mainstream parties will not bring solutions to the poverty many people live in.
'Labour has abandoned people. This is a New Labour council, but that means privatisation of services. It means PFI in the local hospital.' The Fire Brigades Union and the Anti Nazi League issued a leaflet, 'Unite against the BNP', which was well received on the streets of Blackburn at the weekend.
On the picket line outside the local fire station firefighters backed that stance. 'We are totally behind this leaflet. We oppose the BNP,' said FBU rep John Riley.
Firefighter Nigel Gouldthorpe, who used to live in Mill Hill, argued, 'People feel disenfranchised now because New Labour is Thatcherite. 'But we have to work to get the message over - what the BNP are and that they are not the answer.'
Rebecca Hickey, a student at the town's further education college, stressed that 'more people voted against the BNP than for them. They got elected only by a minority. 'Most people in Blackburn are not racist. We can mobilise the majority to convince people and to defeat the BNP.'
Unity conference against racism and the Nazis, Saturday 30 November, 10am-6pm, Burnley Mechanics Institute, Manchester Road, Burnley. Called by Burnley Trades Council. Speakers include Mick Rix of Aslef, Bob Crow of the RMT, and Asad Rehman of the Stop the War Coalition.