The Shape of Things to Come?
It is an axiom of politics in Northern Ireland, that an increase in support for Sinn Fein stimulates an increase in support for the DUP, and vice versa. In the early Eighties, electoral success for Sinn Fein was matched by success for the DUP. In the late Eighties, support for both parties declined. Since 1997, support for both parties has surged, leading them to eclipse their more moderate rivals.
I wonder now if something similar is starting to happen in the North Eastern quarter of London, and adjacent parts of Essex. This part of London has seen growing success for two parties at the extremes of British politics; namely, the British National Party and Respect.
The BNPâ€™s success in winning 11 seats in Barking & Dagenham, and 6 in Loughton, has received widespread publicity. Less commented on has been the fact that Respect won almost 25% of the vote, on average, across Tower Hamlets and Newham.
Its most spectacular result came in Shadwell, Labour since 1919, which it won in a landslide, unseating the Labour leader in the process. The number of council seats it won, 14, was slightly disappointing, but the fact that East Londonâ€™s Muslim population is growing should enable it to win additional support in the future, provided the party does not disintegrate, as minor parties are prone to.
The BNP obviously have the potential to extend their appeal across this part of London, as last weekâ€™s by-election in a middle class part of Redbridge demonstrated.
In turn, a growing Muslim population, and hence an increased vote for Respect, could well stimulate even more white voters to vote BNP. Labour and the Conservatives could both find themselves caught in the middle, in a similar position to the centrist parties in Northern Ireland (support for the Liberal Democrats has now vanished in most of this part of London).
In principle, both parties detest each other. One is a party of the extreme left; the other a party of the extreme right. Paradoxically, like so many of their ideological ancestors, both parties have a good deal in common.
Plausible allegations of anti-semitism have been made against members of both parties; both tend to be extremely socially conservative, regarding modern Britain as decadent; and both are anti-capitalist. It is no accident that Nick Griffin forged links with extreme Islamist groups in the 1980s, and, at that time, regarded Iran as a model state.
Both parties are likely to be represented on the London Assembly, following the next round of elections in 2008.
Last nightâ€™s by-elections saw one gain and one loss each for the Conservatives and Lib Dems and one gain for Plaid Cymru.
Warwickshire CC: Wellesbourne: Con, 1112, Lib Dem 776, Lab, 227.
Stratford DC: Wellesbourne: Con 897, Lib Dem 804, Lab. 197. Two Conservative holds in very marginal seats.
Chichester DC: West Wittering. Con 868, Independent 330, Lib Dem 139, BNP 123, Lab 48. Conservative hold. Once again, UKIP have shown how inept they are at fighting local elections, by failing to contest a seat where they had previously won almost 20% of the vote.
Dover DC, Little Stour and Ashton: Con 892 and 748, Lib Dem 336 and 254, Lab 111 and 110. One Conservative hold, and one gain from the Lib Dems. This gives the Conservatives control of the council.
New Forest DC, Totton West: Lib Dem 535, Con 498, Lab 79. Lib Dem gain from Conservative.
Conwy UA, Rhos: PC 957, Con 861, Lab 221. Plaid gain from Independent. This is an excellent result for Plaid in a seat last won by the Conservatives, in a by-election last year. The absence of independent candidates, however, makes it hard to determine its significance.
Macclesfield DC, Hurdsfield: Lib Dem 500, Lab 170, Con 82, Green 45, Independent 53. An easy Lib Dem hold.
Hartlepool UA, Park: Con 468, UKIP 208, Lab 121, Lib Dem 99, BNP 68, No Description 51. An easy Conservative hold.
Sean Fear is a London Tory