The British National Party doubled the number of its councillors in the local elections, making gains in east London where it became the second biggest party in Barking and Dagenham.

The far-right party had targeted its hardline anti-immigration message at disaffected working-class Labour voters in a drive to increase its tally of 20 out of the 22,000 council seats. In Barking and Dagenham the BNP seized 11 of the 13 seats it contested, with one ward still to declare.

Turnout rose dramatically to 38 per cent in the borough, up from its usual 22 per cent.

Liam Smith, the local Labour agent, said: ‘It seems as if the BNP have become a mainstream party all of a sudden.”

As votes were being counted, he criticised Margaret Hodge, the local MP and employment minister, for giving the far-right party “the oxygen of publicity” when she said white, working-class voters in the area were no longer ashamed to vote for the BNP

Mr Smith said: “Since she said that eight out of 10 families might vote BNP, we have never seen so many reporters and cameramen around here. She has raised their profile and put them in the limelight. We have had people saying they are considering voting BNP because they feel that once the Labour minister says something, it must be right.”

The BNP won 17 per cent of the vote in Barking at the general election but previously had no councillors in the borough.

The Conservatives failed to put up candidates in some wards but the BNP targeted traditional working-class Labour voters who were angry over a lack of housing in the area.

The BNP was fielding 357 candidates, focusing also parts of the West Midlands and northern boroughts, where it made gains in boroughs with significant Asian populations.

It won a seat in Burnley and now holds seven seats, while it gained two more seats in Kirklees, West Yorkshire, and a first seat in Leeds. But the party lost seats in Bradford and Calderdale.

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