About one thing everybody is in agreement--we live in politically dangerous times, with the BNP on the verge of a major breakthrough, having already done far better than any previous British fascist group in terms of seats. The difficult, political, question is how anti-fascist Greens should respond, in particular to the suggestion that we run up the white flag in Barking, and act as footsoldiers in Margaret Hodge's New Labour army. That course of action, you will already gather, is not my preferred one, and I'll tell you why. I have been a veteran anti-fascist for over 30 years, a Green Party member for 20, and have been closely watching and analysing, the trajectory of Nick Griffin and other fascists for all that time, much of my research published in Notes From the Borderland as well as in the past Lobster, Tribune, Labour Briefing, New Socialist etc. I have also appeared discussing the far right on Channel 4 News, BBC 'On the Record' and Sky News. Additionally (when there was one) I edited the Green Party Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Newsletter. For good measure, my PhD subject was modern British fascism--and featured, as one to watch, Nick Griffin (London University 2001 'Creating Political Soldiers' for those into that sort of thing). None of this makes what I have to say necessarily correct, but does, hopefully, at least indicate my views are not uninformed.
As is my style, I will put my arguments in point form--which will make it easy for third parties to see which points get answered, and which not..
1) Margaret Hodge--she really does epitomise all that is rotten about New Labour. Incompetent, arrogant, unprincipled. Her role in presiding over the chronic abuse that took place in Islington children's homes while she was council leader, that she swept under the carpet, is bad enough. So bad, in fact, that in 2005 one victim of that abuse, Demetrious Panton, stood against her. Even worse, when she should have been drummed out of politics, she was made Minister for Children by Tony Blair--the ultimate insult.
2) Hodge herself has given the BNP great publicity--and in doing so, helped legitimise them politically locally. Don't just take my word for it--even local Labour critics have said as much. Check out The Times here
3) The role of New Labour politics in helping create space for the BNP--a difficult but essential point to geasp: and the fault lies not just with the Labour establishment, but full-square with the GLCs 'pioneering' policies of the early 1980s. The key political problem facing the ruling class in the early 1980s was black street miltancy, evidenced in the uprisings in Brixton (1981/85) & Toxteth (1981) etc. The GLC set out to do what the Thatcherite Tories were unable to do--incorporate key leaders of ethnic communities into the state structure, as a way of channelling and defusing militancy. This is relevant, because it is this 'racialisation' of politics, from above, that allows the BNP to, astutely, appropriate the very language of ethnic identity, and rights, in order to appeal to the disaffected white working class. Not surprisingly, because there is no funding (or kudos) in researching this topic, studies have been few--though I would commend Kenan Malik's recent book 'From Fatwa to Jihad' and also the recent Independent Working Class Association report here . Once you realise that the BNP is feeding off the very language and political discourse supposedly intended to marginalise them, you see what a political mess we are in. And, crucially, how the Green Party aligning itself with the ideology and practice that created space for the BNP to capitalise on (once they got their act together under Griffin) would not only be wrong in principle, but counter-productive, especially considered alongside the next reason...
4) We should reach out to, not write off, the white working class--already, I suspect my daring to use the word class will have caused near asphyxiation to any muesli-eaters amongst you if you are having your breakfast. But the fact is, New Labour already have a core message to the white working class, whether it be in Barking & Dagenham, or Burnley, or Gateshead--it is, to be indelicate, 'Fuck off & die'. The Greens cannot and should not write off these people, whether in Barking & Dagenham or elsewhere. Yet that is the implication behind the targeting of the 20% BME voters in the constituency alone (or even primarily), and as such disastrous. We need to have something to offer to all, irrespective of colour--and that means people of all ethnicities. Green politics has hitherto been seen as irrelevant to such areas, and I concede, gladly, that we are weak. So I am glad the Greens have grasped the nettle in Barking & Dagenham, and will hopefully use the publicity of this election to try and do something about it. I strongly suggest people have a look at the book by Geoff Dench et al 'The New East End' (Young Foundation 2006) especially p.55-87 before you condemn them to the disgusting political choice of Hodge or Griffin alone. BNP voters need to be understood before they can be won away--something I have attempted to do with regard to their European Election votes in 2009 in NFB issue 9.
5) We need to pose a national alternative to both New Labour and the BNP--a simple statement, but with far-reaching implications. Put bluntly, do we want the Greens to continue to be seen as the 'nice' people (alone)--the party of wheelie-bins, bicycle clips and worthy comatose meetings about Agenda 21. Or do we want to give the voters an idea that, actually, we do have a broad range of policies, including ones on the economic crisis. Whatever it's limitations, Sean Thompson's recent (if elusive) Green Left pamphlet on the economic crisis is an attempt to address that very issue. Imagine if a Green candidate was up there confidently articulating those policies--tremendous! As for Griffin, do you really think Hodge will be giving a detailed critique of his pseudo-Green policies: not just Climate Change, but also nuclear power etc? Hardly. The real question--do we as Greens believe, or want to believe, we could ever form a government? If we don't, then by all means 'walk on by' the media opportunity that will be Barking & Dagenham in 2010.
6) We do not need to, and shouldn't, tail the multiple failed groupings that I term the 'Last Century Left'. Let me put my cards on the table, I have been for many years, and remain, a revolutionary socialist, albeit of a Green variety, but regard with contempt, frankly, the assorted failures, Stalinists, Trotskyants and other peddlers of clapped out verbiage who litter the political scene. They had their chance in the 20th Century, and failed, spectacularly--there is a lot we can learn from them, but it is mostly from their failures, about what not to do. It amuses me, knowing intimately as I do the harsh arrogant and empty core that lies at the heart of their politics, the way these grouplets pretend to be 'friendly' and 'open to Green ideas'. Individuals within these groups certainly are--but the leadership cadre merely view the Greens as a recruiting pool, part of their 'periphery', of whom 'class conscious' elements can be won over, and those not won over dismissed as 'petit bourgeois'. Work with these people in specific campaigns, yes--the United Front as Trotsky would say--but taking their advice and supporting Hodge? That's political disaster--aka the 'Popular Front'.
7) Supporting Hodge means lining up with her against anti-fascist Labour critics--I'd rather not, thank you. Councillor Val Rush, for example--who spoke out against Hodge over the BNP in 2006 was deselected, as was another councillor, John Denyer, apparently deselected because he was unable to canvass--yet he is disabled. There is indeed civil war in Barking & Dagenham Labour Party--and her critics strongly allege--in Leftist publication Tribune and on their own blog that the reason for this split is Hodge's attempt to root out local critics from the Labour party itself. Therefore, if we had endorsed Hodge the Green Party would ineluctably--like the UAF/Hope Not Hate--be taking sides, consciously, with a reprehensible faction in an intra-party dispute. I am not saying that everybody Hodge opposes and has had deselected is worthy of our support, nor should I be misrepresented as saying that. What I am saying is we should emphatically not use Labour rebellion against the local Hodge regime as an excuse to support her. I left the Labour Party in 1976 as not fit for purpose, and I'm damned if the Green Party is going to be turned into a New Labour satellite when the going gets tough. If it is, I'm clearly in the wrong party.
8) Those providing the political 'anti-fascist' rationale for Greens not standing are not all what they seem. I obviously do not intend my criticism to apply to Green Party members who in good faith reproduce the arguments of Searchlight's Nick Lowles (SearchlightJanuary 2010). I do doubt Searchlights approach & have done so (with good cause) for many years--see here for a start. To be specific: Hope Not Hate is not an independent or grass roots organisation, but a cleverly constructed but rigidly controlled front group--and right from the start has been pimping for New Labour. It is particularly galling to see Lowles referring to the publicity 'Nick Griffin MEP' will get in Barking, when it is the Hope Not Hate strategy of pushing Labour that cost the Greens Peter Cranie the North West MEP seat in the first place! Thus, the decision that anti-fascists 'have to' vote Labour is not unilaterally come to, but a Searchlight/Hope Not Hate starting point! To turn Lowles' mendacity on its head, if the Green Party had not stood, posing a Left/Green alternative to both the BNP and Hodge, the election may have become merely a referendum on the BNP, just as the presentation of Question Time in October benefitted the BNP greatly by turning them into the sole/main issue. Anti-fascists should not repeat that mistake. In any event, let Searchlight explain how much cash they and their front Hope Not Hate get from Labour-funding union leaderships, and John Denham's Home Office 'anti-extremism' fund for white working class communities? They won't of course. Lowles is so desperate to gull the unsuspecting into voting for Hodge not only does he not mention anti-fascist rebels like Val Rush, he puts UKIP support in the constituency as 14.8%, not clearly spelling out that in the 2005 parliamentary election, UKIP only got 2.8%.
9) The model of campaigning against fascism on offer in Barking & Dagenham, which Lowles suggests we adopt, is that of Hope Not Hate--a model I have extensively criticised in NFB 9--and as inappropriate in its way as the UAF model, which I also dissect. Sadly, since the demise of Anti-Fascist Action (and Antifa is willing but to small to make an impact) there is no viable anti-fascist strategy on offer nationally. Elements of one, yes, but no nationally viable model. Which means Greens need to incorporate those elements into our overall strategic approach in Barking & Dagenham, using it as a test-case. Better that, than aligning ourselves with bankrupt strategies (HNH/UAF) in support of corrupt policies (Hodge). To take just one contradiction manifest in the article--Lowles suggests anti-fascists both increase turnout generally and reduce BNP turnout. Yet measures to do the former, especially if they present it (as will Hope Not Hate) as a referendum on the BNP, will merely serve as footsoldiers to galvanise their support. Very clever, it is not. But then, Lowles doesn't really care a fig about it--to him, its a (lucrative) job. As for the UAF, inviting Hodge to their 13/2/10 National Conference says it all about their lack of independence from New Labour, when it comes to the crunch. Concerning the BNP themselves, while fascist, they are not Nazi, and absurd attempts to present them as such, however transiently amusing, are not helpful. Undoubtedly, local BNP councillors are inept, and maybe on more than a few occasions inebriated--however many people voted for them despite these weaknesses, and it is for us as Greens to offer people genuine hope and a radical alternative to both failed ideologies on offer.
10) Not standing against the BNP allows them to pose not just as victims but as the anti-establishment option--sad, but true. Lowles, desperate to shore up the vote of his New Labour paymasters, presents it all as a defensive battle, we've got to hold the line etc. Yet fascism can only ultimately defeated if we put across a radical alternative Green vision, that has strongly positive aspects. Lining up alongside/behind the failed politics of New Labour that created the breeding ground for fascism in the first place--Livingstone as well as Hodge--means we deprive ourselves of that opportunity. If a moment of the collapse politically of the old order is not the time for radical Green politics to be articulated, when is, exactly? Ours cannot, and should not, only be a politics for comfortable areas, comfortable times, 'nice people'. A moment of crisis is also a moment of opportunity--if the Greens want to be a serious political party, rather than a collection of Guardianistas, the time to act is now. To paraphrase the great Primo Levi: if not us, who? If not now, when? If not Barking & Dagenham, where? We cannot just say, let's support Hodge and hope our turn will come later--the time to fight for an independent Left Green politics is now. Old Labour cut its teeth locally (Poplarism), as are the BNP hoping to. If we Greens are serious about politics, and ultimately state power, we cannot bottle this one. In the 2009 Election YouGov exit poll Greens came out as the most anti-racist voters of any major party. We really need to be addressing the policy questions, and false panaceas, the BNP have to offer, counterposing a genuinely radical alternative. In other words, by standing we can use the platform given to articulate our alternative, distinct from both New Labour and the BNP.
Finally, not an argument, more a tactical observation. The reason why Last Century Left groups (and Greens) are so weak on the ground in Barking & Dagenham is because they (and we) have hitherto had little to say to the white working class. It is time that changed. Concretely, we should reach out to those Labour Party rebels who have strong anti-fascist principles and certainly consider strategic alliances with them. No reason in principle, given our weakness on the ground, why we can't call for suppport for genuinely anti-fascist/anti-corrupt disaffected Labour independents and stand against Hodge herself. That way, we can help energise and galvanise politics in the constituency while supporting genuine anti-fascist council candidates.
Of course, if after reading & assimilating all the above, some of you still want to act as New Labour foot-soldiers, whether directly or via their Hope Not Hate front, feel free. In which case though, consider strongly which party you think you should be in--not the same one I'm a member of, which last time I looked wasn't the Labour Party...
I am very pleased to say there are excellent Green Party candidates standing in the General Election locally. In Barking, Jayne Forbes (Chair of the Green Party Executive), Dagenham & Rainham, Debbie Rosaman. Nearby in Hornchurch & Upminister Melanie Collins is standing, and in Romford Gerry Haines. Quite rightly, many Greens are focussing on winnable seats in Brighton & Norwich: but if the Greens are to be taken seriously as contenders for power, we have to relate to all sections of the population, not just 'winnable seats'. Getting into parliament is all well and good--but we need to arrive with a purpose, and a strategy, that includes having something positive to say to those written off by New Labour, and potentially susceptible to the dead-end politics of fascism. Those battles will be fought in places like Barking & Dagenham--recruits welcome!