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Folk-punk legend Billy Bragg performed one his most intimate gigs for years - playing to a crowd of around 100 anti-BNP campaigners crammed into the Caribbean Club in West Bromwich yesterday.

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Bragg's five song set was a reward for activists who had delivered 50,000 leaflets to homes in Sandwell as part of the Hope Not Hate campaign supported by The Mirror newspaper, trade unions and activists of various political persuasions.

The vast majority of the 200 or so leafletters were local, but John Cruddas - a candidate to become deputy leader of the Labour party - travelled from his Dagenham constituency, and there were even a couple of anti-fascists who came over from the Ukraine.

Although the tour bus is on the road for a fortnight and has already travelled to Dudley and Birmingham, Sandwell - where there are four BNP councillors - is regarded as a key battleground.

Bragg and a steel band took their message to the market place in Great Bridge, Tipton and received a warm welcome from the locals despite the presence of one or two jeering knuckledraggers.

Tipton is also the home of James Lloyd, the far-right party's local leader - he's a councillor in nearby Princes End.

Although the BNP likes to pose as a party of law and order, Lloyd's pub The Lagoon was recently closed down because of persistent aggro (see the story here); two of his sons have been in trouble with the police; and he's admitted that he may have illegally voted at Sandwell's annual budget meeting despite being more than two months in arrears with his council tax (see the story here).

Elsewhere in Tipton, Smethwick councillor Darren Cooper was threatened by a BNP supporter while leafletting - but the bullywho threatened him soon backed down when his bluff was called.

Back at the Caribbean centre, Bragg wowed the crowd with a short set featuring his classic tune Between The Wars - dedicated to local MP Tom Watson - as well as Keep The Faith, a track from his forthcoming album.

It's been argued - with some justification - that the BNP have flourished in Sandwell because of the complacency of established political organisations.

Yesterday proved that the fightback has begun.


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