While so many other political issues were up in the air last Friday morning, one of the few things that became immediately clear was that the BNP had had its arse kicked. It lost all 12 seats on Barking and Dagenham Council and Nick Griffin was pushed into third place during parliamentary elections in Barking, where Labour's Margaret Hodge actually increased her majority. Even the Times was talking about "indications of a national collapse in the BNP vote". But is that really what happened?
Yes, Griffin lost, and lost badly, particularly when you consider the amount of energy the BNP poured into Barking. But the number of people voting BNP still increased by 795 even if share of the vote declined. Those numbers are a little weak, so let's look elsewhere. In Dagenham, the number of BNP votes went up by 2,082 (share up by nearly 2%). On the council, the actual number of votes picked up by each BNP candidate only fell by about 100 or so since 2006 (it's difficult to do an accurate comparison because only 5 of the 12 stood again). You'd probably expect them to do better, but it's not what we'd call a 'collapse'. Further afield, the BNP increased votes and / or share in Stoke on Trent Central, Oldham West and Oldham East, while the focus on Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood meant we missed the news that the BNP picked up an extra 1,265 votes, and even though Morley booted out its BNP councillor he still polled 163 votes more than in 2006.
It's also worth remembering that all small parties did badly last Thursday. Despite us saying the idea of a Green win in Lewisham Deptford wasn't completely ludicrous, Darren Johnson dropped 595 votes - but for a real idea of what happened to the small parties, we need to look at the councils. We'll stay in Lewisham because it used to (used to, sadly) be a wonderful example of a rich political culture, including six Greens and even two Socialists. Now there's just one Green councillor left - despite the candidates picking up more votes - as the council swung heavily towards Labour. It's a similar story in Hounslow, where the local Independent Community Group lost all their six seats, and even the Lib Dems now have no presence. Clearly this isn't a scientific study across the capital (how much time do you think we have?) but something odd seems to have happened.
We suspect that 'something odd' was the higher turnout. Not only did it cause massively annoying delays on the night, but in London it seems to have produced a Labour surge. This general election was the most uncertain in years (1997 produced huge change, but it wasn't exactly unexpected), all the talk of a hung parliament put the willies up people. So they turned out in droves, London evidently more determined - for whatever reason - to stop the country turning blue. (This might also explain why the Lib Dems did so badly.) And while Labour voters were at the polls, they voted tribally in the local elections. Add an extra 20-30% to the usual turnout, and the smaller parties got drowned out.
We're not saying there's anything wrong with this. It's a little disappointing to see political uniformity across so much of London, but that's democracy for you. What we're saying is this: next local election, when turnout goes back to usual levels, expect to see the smaller parties back - and that includes the BNP.
Because, you know, the reasons they're picking up support haven't gone away. We've been reading up about this* and, basically, there's a fair bit of latent support for BNP policies in the general population - add in dissatisfaction with the political system (gosh, the election where 'everyone lost', anyone?) and BNP visibility on the doorstep when parties tend to ignore the electorate in safe seats, and you do get a certain amount of far right votes. It's just what happens. Will Labour be able to keep up the high-profile campaigning that got people out in East London? Or was turnout driven more by the fear of a Tory government than a desire to stick one to the BNP? We don't know. We're just bloggers doing some speculating.
Still, it's not all doom and gloom. Even if - as we expect - the BNP return to some council seats in the future, their hilarious incompetence and infighting (and less hilarious violence) won't allow the vote to grow much bigger than it is. All the modernisation in the world can't paper over so many cracks. Which makes it even more important that, if you live somewhere with a BNP candidate, you get out and vote in local elections to help drown them out. Their numbers are steady - but it's all about vote share.
(Also - just because they're out of power, it doesn't mean the BNP can't do damage within the community. Down does not necessarily mean out.)
* Because we are fascinating people who you would love to talk to at parties