IF the far-right British National Party's ground-breaking three-seat victory in Burnley last year was a shock, then its grasp last night of six seats to become the second-largest party on the council can only be described as startling.

But it is stark and disturbing evidence, too, that Burnley is still a town beset by problems of racial division.

It is a worrying indication also that, despite the measures supposedly put in place following the riots that rocked the town two years ago, Burnley's so-called parallel societies remain intact.

Nor can the fact that the BNP failed to make inroads elsewhere in East Lancashire be read as a sign that its success in Burnley is a post-riots effect peculiar to that town alone.

For there was a far from weak vote for the BNP in Pendle, in which it was second in three out of four wards, and in Ribble Valley, where it came ahead of some of candidates of the otherwise-triumphant Conservative Party.

The results last night amount to an alarm call to the major parties in East Lancashire and all community bodies seeking to dismantle the divides which the BNP exploit. Their efforts urgently need to be redoubled.

Overall, it was a bad night locally, and nationally, for Labour, but how much should we read into this when traditionally governments in mid-term always tend to suffer in local elections?