THE concerns of the voters who backed the British National Party (BNP) in the European elections should not be ignored, a North-East MEP has warned.

The region’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat MEPs were yesterday in jubilant mood following Labour’s dismal display at the ballot box.

Conservative North-East MEP Martin Callanan said: “We won in every poll in the country apart from the North- East, where we were just five points behind Labour.

“But this is Labour’s heartland region and we’re very pleased.”

He said that although the Tories finished behind Labour, they won in several local authority areas, including Darlington, Stockton, and Redcar and Cleveland.

Mr Callanan described the election of two BNP candidates in Yorkshire and Humber, and the North-West as “not good for the democratic process”.

However, he added: “We need to listen to concerns of those people who were prepared to vote for them. We can’t just condemn them.”

Liberal Democrat Fiona Hall, who was elected to represent the North-East for a second time, said: “I think the Lib Dem vote was extremely good in the North-East – we got the highest percentage of the vote of anywhere in the UK.”

Mrs Hall said she was “saddened”

by the success of the BNP elsewhere in the country.

Timothy Kirkhope, MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber and leader of the Conservative delegation in Brussels, said it had been a good night for the Tories, particularly in several key Westminster constituencies.

But he added: “There’s no doubt about it, the Labour vote collapsed because of the deeply unpopular Government.

That has allowed the BNP to gain MEPs.”

Christian Schweiger, lecturer at the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University, said most of the big parties lost ground to the minorities such as UKIP and the BNP, but particularly Labour. “I think it shows a trend in recent Europe elections that people vote on national issues,”

he said.

“They don’t see the point on voting for an MEP because they are unsure of their influence – it’s all far too complicated.

They want to punish the Government and they can vote for the BNP, even if they are a bit worried about what they might stand for, because they think they cannot do much harm in Europe.”