Firstly, let's put it in perspective. By main stream party standards, the BNP performance was poor. It would not be worthy of jubilation or celebration. Secondly, the BNP are not a national party able to appeal across the country and across the spectrum of society. Thirdly, the BNP remains on the fringe in terms of council representation. Some 60 or so councillors leaves it far behind the equally fringe Green Party. No one however makes an issue of the number of council seats held by the Greens.
So why the saved BNP deposit yesterday in Sedgefield? The constituency is not one in which there is a significant ethnic minority so there are no racial issues off which the BNP can feed. No, the reality of the situation, as I have said on other occasions on this blog is that the BNP can do well in those areas where the mainstream parties fail to engage with people and therefore where people feel they are being taken for granted. A political vacuum will be filled, either by the mainstream parties, or if they are allowed to, by the extremists such as the BNP.
Clearly there is more to it than simple engagement. Doing something about the problems that exist is a significant part of the solution as well.
In Sedgefield we have an area where a rotten one party state has been in place for decades. Failure to tackle problems lies at the feet of the Labour party who can blame no one but themselves for the lack of action to sort out problems. Nevertheless, they did make an attempt at covering up their own failures. The most laughable one was the state of the town centre in Newton Aycliffe. They had a petition calling for the town centre to be "saved". But the petition itself was to no one. And it didn't call for any action to be undertaken.
Sedgefield is a constituency where Labour had not bothered to engage with the people. There was no contact, no non-election leaflets, no communication except when an election was held. In other words, there was a political vacuum waiting to be filled. So it wasn't a good campaign by the BNP that gave them the boost they got. Instead, it was a failure to engage with the people by the Labour party overthe decades they have held this area. And lurking behind that is the failure of the other mainstream parties to engage directly with the people. It is interesting to note that in the Hurworth part of the constituency, where we are well organised and hold the council seat, the BNP did not register at all.
The overall problem we as a party face however is finding the people on the ground who can lead the campaigning and enagement with the people. In Hurworth we had Martin Swainston, the councillor who organised the ward and reached out to the people through Focuses and the other systems of engagement we use. One person like him in each ward, building up our organisational strenght and, most importantly, engaging with the people, and we would have romped home in the by-election.
And finally, a word on Blair. He was a dreadful constituency MP. Sedgefield was used as a stepping stone to Parliament. He failed to tackle local issues and problems. Sedgefield was a photo opportunity to be hauled out when it suited him. Sedgefield deserved better.
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