The British National Party has made a small but significant advance in May’s local and London Assembly elections. The BNP now have:
• A member on the 25 person Greater London Assembly;
• Ten new councillors across the country. Even though this is not as many as they claimed they would get, it is a third year of increased BNP presence in local government;
• New councillors in Stoke, Rotherham and many other urban areas;
• A firmer toe-hold in places like Barnsley where they came second in seven wards.
In many areas where they didn’t get elected there are reports of increased and sustained BNP activity. For example, in Derbyshire — particularly around the venue where they held their festival last summer — the BNP did frighteningly well. They took two of the three wards in the town of Heanor, only failing to get the third by one vote!
This May the campaign “Hope Not Hate”, backed by the influential anti-fascist magazine Searchlight and supported by many trade unions, ran a very populist campaign in alliance with the Daily Mirror. The purpose of the campaign? Just calling on people to vote: anything but BNP. Using celebrities such as Alan Sugar, contestants of the Apprentice, the casts of soap operas and a guest appearance from Gordon Brown, “Hope Not Hate” hoped to generate a popular, all-embracing campaign to defeat the BNP.
In their post election statement, “Hope Not Hate” claim the campaign was a success as the BNP failed to live up to their prediction of securing 40 more councillors. But on the “Hope Not Hate” blog, socialist and anti-fascist Dave Landau takes co-ordinator Nick Lowles to task on the BNP’s “failure” in London. “Call me old fashioned,” says Dave, “but I cannot be cheerful about them getting a seat on the London Assembly… [getting] a seat on the LA it will be a real boost and all talk of getting 40 new seats will be forgotten in favour of this ‘victory’.”
Of course, the BNP always hugely exaggerate their possibilities. Last year they only made one net gain in the number of councillors, despite significantly increasing their vote and achieving a huge increase in the number of second places.
This year there are other factors. The Tories, more credible and better organised than they have been, pulled more votes. This will have affected both BNP and more significantly UKIP. The BNP exploitation of Tory disarray in leafy suburbia has been made more difficult.
What is so depressing about this year’s result is that they were achieved despite bitter BNP internal feuding over the last six months. In December BNP leader Nick Griffin expelled a number of their leading members. The BNP opposition (“Voice of Change”) mobilised hundreds against the BNP leaders. Mutual accusations of “Nazism” filled the cyberspace between the two sides. Despite ongoing legal action the opposition now seems to be attempting to make peace and to be accepted back in. The realisation of a BNP electoral success has allowed Nick Griffin to see off his internal opposition.
If there had been a serious campaign against the BNP that wouldn’t have happened; the split that started in December may have led to Griffin losing control and all sorts of centrifugal forces being set in motion.
Opposing the BNP
The reasons for the BNP’s continuing successes are so obvious, they shouldn’t really need explaining. Every minimally class conscious worker will have heard the argument again and again from people they work with and live near. “Labour are rubbish, they have done nothing for us British (English/white or whatever other false identity springs to mind) workers. We need to look after our own kind against these foreigners.”
In the past such views would be easily marginalised. Trade union solidarity, a sense of common working class political interest, even when mediated through the distorting prism of Labour Party loyalty, were always more meaningful than such racist claptrap to the overwhelming majority of people.
But when so many trade union leaders do little or nothing to defend their members; but bend over backwards to defend a Labour Government which humiliates, attacks and disenfranchises their members, is it really surprising that the BNP racists are not so easily silenced?
This year has seen growing class militancy and increased strike activity. But strikes are localised in particular sectors. In many low paid areas of manufacturing, the service economy and local government, trade union confidence is as low as it have ever been. Even worse there is absolutely no socialist or working-class political force that can command any confidence or respect from workers. To honestly face these facts may be difficult. But once they are faced then we can start to recognise what we must do. How to respond?
1. Stop telling lies that disguise the failures of our movement.
The trade union leadership, has failed to fight back adequately against a government which continues to privatise, pamper the rich and attack the poor worker, the immigrant and the socially disadvantaged.
Our union leaders, working through the anti-fascist campaigns of UAF and Hope not Hate, shouldn’t just call on people to vote, they should use their huge organisational resources to:
• champion the interests of the working class by fighting Brown’s government;
• ensure there are council and parliamentary candidates worth voting for!
2. Don’t make alliances that compromises what needs to be said and done.
The organised left, despite having (perhaps) “read the books” on why fascism was victorious in the 1930s, seems blind to the lessons. UAF and Hope Not Hate promote “popular front” alliances with respectable religious and ‘community’ leaders and right-wing political forces who know that no one will challenge them.
• Read an article analysing the BNP from Dave Landau, written for Socialist Worker, but then rejected for sectarian reasons: