Just when the construction industry thought it was making headway in its fight against racism, along comes builder and British National Party councillor Robin Evans to grab the headlines. We spent a day talking politics with him, his girlfriend and his party minder.
Posing for a photograph next to his Union Jack-emblazoned Ford Sierra, Robin Evans looks more poor man's Austin Powers than a political heavyweight. Yet this self-employed builder has drawn the ire of no less a figure than foreign secretary Jack Straw, and won his first election after just two months of political activity.

Evans received more national newspaper coverage last year than anyone else involved in the building industry. But the fact that this hard-working, community-driven builder attracted this media attention is not good news for the construction industry.

Evans is a councillor for the far right British National Party, which believes in the voluntary repatriation of blacks and Asians, as well as the redistribution of regeneration money from poor ethnic minority areas to white communities. Steve Wolski, who lost his council seat in Burnley to the BNP last May, says: "The BNP are using the same tactics throughout east Lancashire – saying that whites aren't getting their fair share of regeneration funding."

Evans scraped into the Mill Hill constituency – 96% white – in Blackburn by 16 votes in November. This was one month after construction tried to tackle the race issue at the Respect for People conference. A report co-sponsored by the Construction Industry Training Board and launched at the conference criticised the 2% retention rate of black and Asian workers in construction.

Building is to meet Evans and his entourage for a late lunchtime drink in The Navigation, a Mill Hill pub. The white faces in this local are joined by Simon Bennett, the BNP's campaign organiser and de facto leader for Blackburn and Burnley, the towns in which the party has had its greatest electoral successes.

Bennett's views don't always seem to follow the BNP's official line – he doesn't see any particular problem with mixed-race marriages, contrary to his party's constitution, and jokes that he is on the BNP's wet wing. Five years suffering from ME and problems with his house in Burnley, which was bought by the council through a compulsory purchase order, have perhaps left him feeling resentful and marginalised, and seeking solace in the clenched fists of the BNP.

I’ve been asked to work on several mosques before. I would work on old mosques, but not new ones

After a few minutes Evans walks in with a young woman, in her early 20s. "We even brought some glamour along," says Bennett. She looks embarrassed and rarely speaks throughout the day. It later turns out that she is Julie Russell, the party colleague that Evans, 38, left his wife and son for in December – despite running partly on a family values platform in the election. Evans' estranged wife claims that he has been "brainwashed" by the BNP. Evans' opponents are sceptical that there was anything to wash in the first place.

He is wary. It is Bennett who explains that November's campaign was based on a planning application for a 30-bed residential development in Mill Hill. Bennett says that it was BNP pressure that forced the council to admit that the application was for an asylum centre and then forced its planning committee to refuse permission: "If we hadn't campaigned on that asylum seeker centre it might have gone ahead. We showed that we could do some groundwork in the community and reap the benefits."

A later check shows that the council had no desire to build accommodation for asylum seekers. The application was made neither by the owner of the existing building nor the council itself. Although the centre was refused permission, the owner of the existing building never intended to sell it to the applicant. It is now used as offices for a disabled school.

Evans, nervously playing with a packet of Marlboros, often seems to be Bennett's puppet. Asked when his next council meeting is, he looks to Bennett for help – a pattern that continues though the day. Bennett says it is the 30 January, and explains that Evans has yet to receive the training he requires to sit on his two scrutiny committees – regeneration and education and lifelong skills. "It's not the greatest council, isn't Blackburn," Bennett says of the organisation that won the 2002 Council of the Year award.

Evans attempts to explain his political philosophy by using an example from his working life. For 15 years he has been a builder, and one of the saddest sights he has seen was on a job for a local resident. A 99-year-old woman employed him to install a hot water tap. This half-deaf, half-blind woman had only cold water. "It's unequal distribution," he says. "Asylum seekers put nothing in and get somewhere to live, washing machines and, apparently, driving lessons."

Talk of asylum seekers brings us to the party's main votewinner: the council's unequal treatment of predominantly white and predominantly Asian districts. Evans says Mill Hill does not receive any funding for physical regeneration whereas Whalley Range, a mainly Asian community, gets regeneration money "year after year after year after year".

Asylum seekers put nothing in but get somewhere to live, washing machines and driving lessons

Evans is right on this one: the council does treat the areas unequally. Mill Hill has been one of the council's six community regeneration zones since 2001 whereas Whalley Range has not received any funding since 1998, when it got City Challenge money – a government handout to the nation's poorest communities. Hamid, a Whalley Range mortgage adviser, told Building earlier: "Apart from a new school, there has been no development in the five years I have been here."

As you may have guessed by now, the BNP cannot be accused of slavish adherence to the facts. It has opposed the council's application for funding for a regeneration project in Whalley Range from the North West Development Agency on the grounds that part of it would be used to build a replica of the giant scimitars that span a street in Baghdad in honour of Saddam Hussein. Needless to say, this has been dismissed by Whalley Range community leaders as an example of the big lie.

Evans' next claim is that attitudes towards him have not changed since he was elected to the council: "I've had no hostility. People who know me know that I'm a genuine chap."

Yet before his election more than half his work came from the Asian community. Asked what the percentage has been since then, Evans flounders. "Not a lot. Maybe they'll get used to it," he says at last. Then again, there are some things that you never get used to – and Evans' ideology means that he would refuse to help out on the construction of a new mosque, even if asked. Evans offers this somewhat contradictory philosophical summation: "I've been asked to work on several mosques before [his costings were too high]. I would work on old mosques, but not new ones."

Evans leads a tour of his constituency. As he walks out of the pub and further away from the watchful gaze of Bennett, his views become more extreme. He gives his views on racism on building sites. This is an issue very much on the mind of the construction industry after the award of £18,575 in damages to Najjif Shah, a worker from Preston who was the victim of racial abuse by fellow workers on a Channel Tunnel Rail Link site. Evans says that racist abuse is protected by the right to free speech. "If someone wants to say something, they should be perfectly entitled to say it. This is a democracy after all." It's pointed out that Shah was accused of being a spy of Osama Bin Laden. "Well, was he?" he asks.

There have been questions raised in Burnley over the effect the BNP is having on business investment in the area after it won three council seats in the city last May. Evans dismisses thats claim. He points to Francis Street car park, which was developed in December. Asked if he believes that this investment was a direct result of his election, Evans smiles: "You tell me. It wasn't here before."

A later check with another of Mill Hill's three councillors, Malcolm Doherty, reveals that the development was built by a private landowner after spending 18 months in the planning process.

Personal effects

Who is your political hero? Nick Griffin [leader of the BNP]. Not Churchill, Lloyd George, Attlee, Thatcher? No. Nick Griffin. When and where did you last take a holiday? Last year – I went to Hunters Quay caravan park, just north of Glasgow. What’s your standard building job? I’m a roofer really, but I do bits of most things. Have you always lived in Blackburn? No, I lived in Haslingdon until I was 13, about 10 miles away. Then they built a motorway through our house and we moved to Blackburn. Has being a builder informed your political views? Yes. I see all the money being spent on minority areas.