Foes of Foreigners Grow Vocal In Britain

Richard Barnbrook, center, a British National Party candidate for local council, goes door to door in a working class area of London.
Richard Barnbrook, center, a British National Party candidate for local council, goes door to door in a working class area of London. (By Kevin Sullivan -- The Washington Post)
By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 4, 2006

LONDON, May 3 -- Paula Mitchell, cutting fresh flowers in the Gale Street Florist shop in east London, said she's voting for candidates of the British National Party in local elections on Thursday -- but she hopes they lose.

"If they got in, I'd be absolutely horrified," said Mitchell, 38, who described her planned ballot for the vehemently anti-immigration BNP as a protest against what she sees as out-of-control immigration to Britain.

"We're against people coming in and taking our jobs, taking our school places, getting priority in housing," said Mitchell. "Everyone is fed up, and we want to make our feelings known."

The BNP declares itself "wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples." It seeks to restore the overwhelmingly white makeup of Britain before 1948; its leader has called Islam a "wicked, vicious faith." Support from people like Mitchell, a white mother of three whose political views otherwise appear generally mainstream, illustrates rising anti-immigration sentiment in Britain and across Europe.

Parties long dismissed by many as the racist fringe have become increasingly popular as governments that once freely accepted immigrants question how many more their nations can take.

"It should be a worry for all Western democracies," said Nick Lowles of Searchlight, an anti-racist group that publishes a magazine in Britain. Lowles said many voters were turning to extremist parties to vent anger at their political leaders. "People are shouting out," he said, "and they want to be heard."

In France, a public opinion poll last month showed that more than a third of respondents believed the anti-immigrant National Front, led by the outspoken Jean-Marie Le Pen, was in line with "the concerns of French people." Numbers like that could make the party a power in presidential elections next year.

The anti-immigration Danish People's Party in Denmark and Progress Party in Norway, meanwhile, both reached record levels of the vote -- 13 and 22 percent, respectively -- in elections last year.

A British study this month concluded that up to a fourth of British voters were considering supporting the BNP. Their country now has an estimated 7 million people of various minority groups. "The BNP's message is simple and seductive," Lowles said. "It's always nice to be able to blame someone else for your problems."

The BNP's appeal "stems not so much from crude racism, but from disillusionment with the government," said Vernon Bogdanor, a professor of government at Oxford University. He and other analysts said immigrants are often blamed for tough economic times, and many voters fault the Labor Party government of Prime Minister Tony Blair for not doing enough to control immigration.

Blair's government has been rocked by scandals recently, including the disclosure that more than 1,000 foreigners convicted of crimes including murder and rape had been released from prison instead of being deported, and many are still unaccounted for. On Wednesday, Blair told Parliament that he was drafting a plan to automatically deport foreigners convicted of serious crimes.

Public anger over the scandal deepened Wednesday when the government disclosed that the prime suspect in November's shooting death of a female police officer was a Somali immigrant who had not been deported despite multiple criminal convictions and prison terms in Britain.

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