By Dave Landau
In most parts of the country the BNP’s results are disappointing (for them). For all their efforts in the West Midlands — where they put up 86 candidates — they had a small handful of gains. In the North West they made a gain in Burnley and in Pendle, failing yet again to make it in Oldham. In Yorkshire they did badly in Bradford, but did make a gain for the first time in Leeds.
Whilst the gains they have made are of concern, this is certainly not the result which they hoped would place them on the map as a serious electoral contender. You would not think this from the way the press have bigged them up — based on the Barking and Dagenham results. The worry is that this enhanced public profiling of the BNP as a success story, speaking up for the ordinary working people, could help them reach that level in the future.
On the other hand the BNP came second, or more correctly, next one after the lowest winner, in about 70 wards. Whilst this is still a long way from the national breakthrough they hoped for it strengthens the necessity for a strong and effective anti-racist and anti-fascist movement and for a political alternative to the mainstream parties.
For the couple of weeks leading up to the elections the news was dominated by the ‘foreign criminals’ story. The response of the mainstream politicians and the media was nothing short of a disgrace. They all accepted without question a discourse in which foreign criminals were somehow worse or more dangerous than other criminals. The only question that mattered was how culpable Charles Clark was and whether he should resign.
This is racist. If someone has served their sentence and is released into the community then it matters not one jot what the immigration status or nationality of that person is. If some of these people are dangerous then how many more dangerous British people are released into the community every day!? And should we be dumping dangerous people onto other countries? None of this was questioned.
This is precisely the atmosphere upon which the BNP thrives and must have boosted their support so the fact that they did not make their promised breakthrough nationally indicates their weakness.
The South Eastern Cluster — the Hodge Factor
But certainly what has happened in the South-East is a disaster. The eleven seats they won in Barking and Dagenham made the headlines but actually their success was wider than that — they made gains in other parts of a sub-region. They won a seat in Hainault ward in the London Borough of Redbridge getting the largest vote (they only stood one candidate and there were three seats), they won three seats in the Loughton wards of Essex District Council joining sitting BNP councillors thus controlling these wards. And they won a seat in the London Borough of Havering also. As an anti-racist in this area this very frightening.
How can we account for the difference with these results and their relatively poor showing elsewhere? I have little doubt that the Hodge factor was significant. Her statement and the media interest in the BNP this area that followed meant that many who previously thought that a vote for the BNP was a wasted vote, cast their votes for the fascists.
Another factor in Barking and Dagenham may well have been the fact that there were two anti-fascist campaigns. This was not the case however, in Redbridge, Havering and Epping Forest.
Fear and fascism
But are there crucial socio-economic differences? Recent studies into potential BNP voters seem to indicate that there is no correlation between deprivation indices and support for the BNP. Furthermore support, or potential support (amongst white people) tends not to be great where there is a great mix of people, but rather the opposite. This confirms what I have always believed — that fear and insecurity drives people towards the fascists. Fear of the unknown in terms of newcoming people. And insecurity about precarious relative privelege.
This perspective gets some support from the results in Hainault and Debden (Epping Forest). These are predominantly upwardly mobile working class areas, where the previous generation has moved out of the East End. Predominantly white areas with very little experience of refugees and asylum seekers. At last count there seemed to be one asylum seekers in the whole of Epping Forest District.
However Barking and Dagenham itself is somewhat different from these areas in that the material conditions are worse. Health indices are not good, especially pollution related health such as asthma and the closure of most of Fords and therefore of many smaller employers related to the car industry leads to an economic downturn not experienced in many other parts of the country.
But the fear of incomers remains a factor. The borough as a whole is quite mixed but many of the wards in which the BNP has been successful are not very mixed and the fear and resent of the other is significant.
The success of the BNP in these areas will increase the confidence of racists throughout the East London and Essex Regions and we must brace ourselves for a likely increase in racist harassment and racist attacks.
Across the country there is a danger of a further racist lurch in the mainstream parties as they draw the wrong lessons from Barking and Dagenham — namely that they have to accommodate to racism in order to stop the BNP’s success being duplicated elsewhere. Look out for yet more immigration controls — internal and external — and a competition between the parties on who will be harder. We have already seen this happen with the criminals issue.
The struggle goes on
The need for anti-fascist and anti-racist campaigning is as strong as ever. New questions are thrown up by Barking and Dagenham with so many councillors. Will they be allowed to function? What should local authority unions do? How can Labour Councillors make them ineffective?
Campaigns need to have a strong relationship to the Labour and trade union movement but they must keep their independence from parties in power who are often despised — rightly — by the communities they are supposed to represent and serve.