Barking and Dagenham: Election 2010

By Bernard Josephs, April 15, 2010

The electoral battle for Barking reached new levels of ferocity this week as Labour's Margaret Hodge accused British National Party canvassers of using her Jewish origins to turn voters against her.

The MP, defending a majority of 8,883, is facing a far-right campaign to oust her from the socially troubled East London constituency where the BNP has already ridden a wave of popularity to win 12 seats on the local council.

Mrs Hodge, Minister of State for Culture and Tourism, described the struggle as a "two-horse race" between Labour and the BNP, whose candidate is the party's leader, Nick Griffin.

Attacking her opponent's methods, she told the JC: "They have painted me as a rich Jewish immigrant and they have repeatedly asked people if they know what my maiden name is."

Mrs Hodge, Barking MP since 1994, was born in Egypt, the daughter of refugee steel trader Hans Oppenheimer.

"This is the most important campaign I have ever fought," she said. "I have been helped by anti-fascist organisations such as Searchlight, and we have been out canvassing six hours every day, but we could still do with more help to stop this wave of fascism."

Her situation has been worsened by boundary changes that have seen three wards, in which the BNP had a strong showing, added to the constituency.

Mr Griffin's party, which sees Barking as its best chance for a Westminster seat and for wresting control of a council, has been bussing in supporters throughout the campaign, and Mrs Hodge said she was ready to respond by discussing a common front with Tory candidate Simon Marcus and Liberal Democrat Dominic Carman, both strongly opposed to the BNP.

Mr Griffin, for his part, oozed confidence. "We are in great shape," he said. "We are running a fantastic campaign; the fact is that tension here is being caused by mass immigration and by the failure of Labour to talk about it."

Last updated: 8:02pm, April 15 2010