The BNP’s drubbing in Barking, where they lost all their previous 12 council seats to Labour, and elsewhere is very good news indeed. Some will see the BNP’s defeat as a proof that bland “don’t vote Nazi” messages and music festivals work.
But the Hope not Hate campaign in Barking, though formally “non-partisan”, was in fact very closely tied to Labour, and must have been seen by local voters as such. Labour MP Margaret Hodge’s majority increased as a result of the extra campaigning. In the grand scheme, and as compared to the alternative of the BNP gaining ground, this is all good.
We should be happy about these BNP results in Barking — and the fact that they fared no better in their Stoke-on-Trent target seats. However the BNP got steady percentages elsewhere — 10.4% in Rotherham, 8.9% in Barnsley Central, 8.6% in Barnsley East and 7.7% in Rother Valley. In Dagenham and Rainham their share of the vote rose from 4.4% to 11.2%.
And if the “government question” remains unresolved over some time, with a possibly unstable coalition, then the BNP will adapt.
The conditions that have allowed for the BNP’s organisational growth and previous electoral victories remain and are likely to intensify in the short-term. Another general election in a short time provide new opportunities.
Depending on how things pan out, the BNP or any successor organisations (the party is currently an explosive mix, and we can expect to see some ramifications for the defeats) could easily turn to EDL-type activity, i.e. a return to previous patterns of street fascism.
If the economic situation gets worse and as cuts make an impact, the working class and working-class organisations are not, as yet, in a position to counter the nationalist and racist sentiments that could emerge as easy “answers”.
The BNP are not “defeated”. We should continue to propagandise for and where possible organise working-class campaigns against racism and fascism.
No room for complacency
Dave Malbon, Secretary of Barking, Dagenham & Havering Together, spoke to Solidarity.
The BNP’s spectacularly poor results in Barking and Dagenham, and elsewhere in east London, are obviously very heartening.
There were some elements of luck involved — the emergence of a video of a local BNP candidate attacking Asian youths on the streets damaged them. Having the council elections take place at the same time as a general election was also important; we knew that the BNP didn’t want a high turnout.
But the campaigning that was done in the area particularly by Hope not Hate and UAF was also absolutely vital to wiping the BNP out of Barking and Dagenham council. The targeted campaigning was most effective; we worked to target particular groups of voters and particular areas, with material specifically tailored around the issues that mattered in each ward.
It’s no coincidence that the BNP’s losses were Labour’s gains. In Havering, the BNP’s electoral base isn’t traditionally Labour, but in Barking and Dagenham it’s very much ex-Labour-supporting white working-class people who’ve gone over to the BNP. Even though Hope Not Hate and UAF ran “non-partisan” campaigns, it was inevitable that if people in Barking and Dagenham were going to be mobilised to vote against the BNP they were going to vote for Labour. I think the non-partisan approach is right, though; anti-fascists have got to mobilise whichever group of voters is most likely to keep the BNP out.
There’s no room for complacency now. The BNP have been wiped out as a force in official politics in this area but that could create the potential for a turn towards the “street-level” type of organising we saw from the far-right in the 1970s and which we’ve been seeing recently from the EDL. The anti-fascist movement has to guard against that; we’ve got to win hearts and minds and keep distributing literature that keeps making the arguments.
Crucially, the movement needs to put a lot of pressure on Labour to make sure there is action on the issues, like housing, that the BNP were able to exploit in the first place. The Labour councillors and MPs have to deliver.
Trade unions are even more central now, as they’re the organisations that can really put pressure on Labour in power. Barking, Dagenham and Havering Together came out of the local Trades Council, and we’ll be looking to embed ourselves further in the local trade union movement after the election and look at how we can carry on campaigning on the key issues.