Ten years ago or so, voting for the BNP was a dirty little secret that few were prepared to disclose.
On the very odd occasions I came across someone who I thought might be a BNP supporter, they would generally be evasive about their voting intentions. From their splentic comments about hanging or immigrants, however, they would leave me in no doubt that they were one of the few people in the ward who backed the far right.
That truism is breaking down, and if you doubt me, go up to Chilton. In the midst of the Durham Unitary election campaign, the BNP have made this their target seat, and flooded the ward with leaflets. I counted maybe 10 houses with BNP posters in windows in the area I canvassed in today. So what's going on?
It's fair to say that a small clique of the far right have been active in the area for years - from what I have been told the National Front were a presence at one time. And yet this isn't a community that has somehow been "forgotten" by mainstream politics - it was a pleasure to work for Labour's local candidates Brian Avery and Christine Potts today because so many people I spoke to not only knew them, but had been helped personally by them too. Labour are campaigning from a position of strength. The village has benefitted recently from a complete make-over following the construction of the long-needed bypass.
When you talk to some people who are potential BNP voters, they generally couldn't give a reason why they might vote fascist - simply that they were disaffected. I didn't detect that there was some growing support for the BNP's repellant policies, simply that some people wanted change. They could equally have voted Tory or LibDem if those parties seemed likely winners.
And yet there is a huge amount at stake here, because as we know, a BNP success in the Chilton seat will be feted by that party as evidence of growing support for their programme. One of our activists told me about a conversation he'd had with a BNP supporter in West Cornforth, who'd told him that Hitler was right when he gassed the Jews. Like all parties of the far right, they seek to marginalise and stigmatise minorities who they like to blame for all of society's ills. Their politics remain as noxious in the 21st century as they were in the 1930's and 40's.
There's a huge amount at stake in places like Chilton this May. I will going there to campaign again before polling day.