Health Secretary Andy Burnham describes it as “a sad moment for British politics” 08 June 2009: Even as British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin hailed the achievement of winning first seats in the European Parliament as an "astounding earthquake in British politics", the mainstream parties lamented the breakthrough made by the party they regard racist.
"It’s a sad moment for British politics," Health Secretary Andy Burnham said.
Anti-fascist protesters threw eggs at Griffin’s car when he arrived at Manchester town hall for the vote count and he said a car window was smashed. Candidates from the major parties walked out when Griffin gave his victory speech.
The BNP campaigns for a halt to immigration and British withdrawal from the European Union. Griffin, one of the two party members elected, had only recently earned condemnation after he had asked Olympian boxing hero Amir Khan to leave Britain. The Bolton-born Olympic boxer had walked behind the Union Flag for his professional debut, yet Griffin had dismissed claims that his departure would strip the country of talent.
Griffin was elected in the northwest region, while BNP member Andrew Brons won another seat in the northern region of Yorkshire and Humber, where the party took 10 per cent of the vote. The seats were gained at the expense of the Labour Party.
Political pundits believe the BNP, which advocates voluntary repatriation of immigrants, managed to gather support in urban areas from among a working class competing for jobs and services with immigrants during the days of recession.
"I think that, for years, the British public have watched in growing concern as our country has been transformed in all sorts of ways by an out-of-touch political elite and finally enough of them have summoned up the courage to do something effective about it at the ballot box," Griffin told Sky News.
He said his priority in Brussels would be "to do as much as we can to delay the process of further European unification because it is taking away Britain’s sovereignty and our freedom and our identity."
The party would oppose Turkey’s entry into the EU "because if people thought that the impact of cheap Polish labour was bad, wait until you see what happens if Turkey is allowed in," he said.
Griffin said the BNP’s membership policy had "nothing to do with race."
"We are just as opposed to mass immigration from all-white Poland as we are to immigration from Nigeria," he said.
Speaking to the BBC’s David Dimbleby, Griffin also claimed people had voted BNP because racism in this country is "overwhelmingly directed" at whites like himself.