Anti-fascists are concerned that the British National Party (BNP) could control Stoke-on-Trent City Council within the next three years, following its gains in last month’s elections.
The party’s most notorious success in May’s local and London elections was Richard Barnbrook’s seat on the London Assembly, but it also made substantial gains elsewhere.
In Stoke, the BNP increased its presence from six councillors to nine, making it the joint second-largest party on the council, along with the Conservative and Independent Alliance. In two of the city’s wards, the party holds all three council seats. The BNP is also the second-largest party on Barking and Dagenham Council.
Locals fear that within two or three years the party could control Stoke Council, and possibly win next year’s mayoral vote.
Many in the city have blamed the rise of the BNP on the last Labour council, which they claim did not address the concerns of the local population.
Sydney Morris, president of the Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire Synagogue, said: “The previous council didn’t do a lot to prove itself, and now it is feasible that the BNP might become the majority party. It could certainly happen.”
Although the Jewish community in the city is small, with only 22 synagogue members, Mr Morris said the rise of the BNP in Stoke was still of huge concern.
“It does worry me,” he said. “People must not be apathetic. It must be brought to people’s notice, so that we stand a chance of combatting them.”
Barbara Goldstone, president of the Manchester Jewish Representative Council, which looks after the Stoke community, also expressed her fear over the BNP’s increased popularity in the city.
“We are very concerned with it and will do all we can,” she said.
A spokesman for the Community Security Trust said: “The fact that the BNP has recently switched targets from Jews and blacks to Muslims and asylum-seekers merely shows that they threaten all of our society.”
Stoke has traditionally been a Labour stronghold. In the mid-1990s, Labour held all 60 seats on the council.
This time, however, Labour has only 16 councillors, who include the elected mayor.
One of the main reasons cited for Labour’s decline in the city and the increased popularity of the BNP is the decrease of the manufacturing and pottery industries, which previously employed around 50,000 people.
Now just 6,000 are left working in the mines and pottery industries, and Stoke-on-Trent has one of the lowest proportions of people in employment in the country.
In 2007, the city was ranked as the second most deprived borough in the West Midlands, and the 16th most deprived in the country. At the turn of the century, it had been the 34th most deprived.
Thirty-three per cent of areas in the city are in the top 10 per cent of most deprived areas nationally.
But Stoke-on-Trent is not the only area concerning anti-BNP activists.
The anti-fascist magazine Searchlight this week called on people to vote in upcoming council by-elections in East London, in order to prevent the BNP making gains.
On Thursday, July 3, by-elections will be held in Chadwell Heath (Barking and Dagenham) and South Hornchurch (Havering).
Nick Lowles, Searchlight editor, said: “It is vitally important that we stop the BNP from winning either.”