The Star is reporting that Labour is likely to lose its overall majority of Barnsley Council. They look to be heading towards defeat at the hands the BNP in the St Helens ward by-election tonight. Barnsley has had a Labour council since the 1930's, but the BNP are fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Why are the BNP doing so well in Barnsley? Does this high level of support mean that is Barnsley a town chock full of racists? The straight answer is no. I'm from Barnsley and I can assure you that it is not an hotbed of racial hatred. So why are the good people of Barnsley voting for a party that has racist policies?
To understand this puzzle you need to look at Barnsley's recent history. In the last thirty years, Barnsley has changed drastically from a working town with decent wages, into a dying town with nothing but the dole, the sick and the minimum wage. Since the pits closed in the 80's, Barnsley has become a town of call centres surrounded by boarded up shops and factories.
Barnsley's industrial collapse has lead to widespread poverty, low paid jobs and a reliance on the state. That's bad enough for any town, but when you throw high levels of immigration into the mix, the situation becomes desperate for many locals. Well paid jobs are hard to come by in Barnsley, and some of the low paid jobs that would normally get school leavers onto the work ladder, are being taken up by EU migrant workers.
There is another surprising factor that has aided the BNP's growing support in the Barnsley area - Barnsley until very recently was about as ethnically un-diverse as you could possibly get. I went to an High School in Wombwell (a small town in Barnsley) during the 80's and you could count the number of non-white pupils on one hand. I don't even remember any kids with foreign accents. Barnsley is simply not used to immigration and people have a fear of the unknown.
So you have a large town that has lost its major industry - has never seen much in the way of immigration - suddenly hit by an influx of foreign men and women willing to work for minimum wage. This leaves desperate locals, who feel let down by Labour, willing to ignore the less pleasant aspects of a BNP that is promising jobs and prosperity for their families (WWII?). The failure is of course the government's for allowing large scale immigration to an already struggling area.
Barnsley is a perfect breeding ground for the BNP. The people have lost of faith in the Labour Party and have a strong dislike of the Conservative party. The majority of those voting BNP are not doing so because they share their racist views - it's because they feel that they have no one else to vote for.
It's shameful that my home town is becoming associated with racism. It's time for all the major parties to stand up, pull their fingers out, and do something real to stop this spreading to other struggling towns.