ANTI-BNP STRATEGY: A PATH NOT TAKEN YET..

Right from the start NFB has watched with trepidation the BNP's stuttering but real advance since Nick Griffin became Chairman in 1999. We have not just analysed, but derived from that analysis strategic suggestions, and we still do. Below is reproduced an article from Notes From the Borderland issue 7 2006 (p.3-4) sadly as relevant (if not more so) now than when it was written. 19/8/10

AS BNP ELECTORAL ADVANCE CONTINUES--NOW IS THE TIME FOR ANTI-FASCIST PLAN B

As the May 2006 council elections fade into memory, it is now opportune to revisit the vexed subject of Britain's largest fascist organisation, the British National Party (BNP), to assess where it leaves them and, more importantly, anti-fascist opponents. The following areas are looked at:

1) How well the BNP did and why.
2) Futile methods of opposition.
3) Some ideas about what successful opposition should include.

THE PROBLEM

Excluding parish councils & such-like which the BNP cheekily include in their total, the BNP currently have 49 seats, give or take two court actions. The England First Party, who entered into a local electoral pact with the BNP, have two in Blackburn. This means a BNP gain of over 30 seats from previously, and they now have over 16 times more seats than all previous fascist parties put together—one for the 1930s BUF, 2 for the 1970s National Party (in Blackburn also). A total of 238,727 votes in 364 wards far eclipses the NF's best ever showing (191,719 votes in 303 constituencies: 1979), and indicates the BNP are likely to better the 192746 votes they got at the 2005 General Election. Within the overall figures, there are variations--most notably in Barking & Dagenham, where the BNP won 12 out of 13 seats contested. Reports have reached me of BNP representatives being harangued by voters about not standing in enough seats! Worryingly, the BNP came second in 79 seats—indicating they are potentially poised to gain at least some in future elections.

Putting to one side successful areas, like Sandwell and Stoke-on-Trent, the underlying picture is still disturbing. In Oldham, where no BNP candidates were elected, they got an average 20% of the vote, and in Sunderland (standing 25 unsuccessful candidates) 15%. Bradford, where only one BNP councillor was elected and two seats were lost, nonetheless saw 16 candidates get 25.5% of the vote (and 8 second places). While there is no certainty the BNP will make further advances, these statistics give the lie to propaganda from the usual suspects that the BNP has been decisively routed in those localities. Taking into account that whatever spin the BNP place on their ethnic relations policies non-whites are unlikely to vote for the party, some of these percentages are frighteningly high. And no fluke--between 1999 and 2004 the BNP's vote in European Elections increased more than five-fold, from 0.9 to 4.9%.

WHY THE BNP DID WELL

Cassandra wasn't too popular in Ancient Greece, and neither will I be for pointing out that many reasons for BNP break-through have already been covered in this very magazine [1], Without going over old ground, the nine reasons given were:

  • Tory failure strategically
  • Labour writing off the working class
  • occupying empty political space
  • improved BNP organisation/image
  • media/Left complacency
  • election frequency helping momentum
  • lack of credible fascist rivals
  • the odd secret state favour
  • inadequate opposition

Most of the above still apply. Specific 2006 circumstances include:

(1) THE MAY 2006 MOMENT

It could be argued (wrongly) that the national political climate prior to the elections uniquely favoured the BNP. Media headlines were dominated by stories concerning the non-deportation of illegal immigrants who had served prison sentences. Though Charles Clarke lost his job as Home Secretary just after the elections over this, its roots went back far further, inasmuch as accurate records have not been kept for 15 years. Did somebody leak this chronic problem to harm New Labour—or even help the BNP...Every day brought a fresh 'prisoner problem' headline. The fact is, though, there were equivalent 1970s scare stories & moral panics (Ugandan Asian immigration/mugging) yet the National Front never broke through. So we must delve a little deeper to explain BNP success. Some, of course, don't want to delve—far easier to shoot the messenger, or amplifier, than come to terms with an uncomfortable message, one they don't like.

(2) HODGE & THE BNP

One straw clutched at by opponents to account for BNP success in Barking & Dagenham was the admission by Employment minister Margaret Hodge weeks before the election, that when knocking on doors "eight out of ten of the white families" announced their intention to vote BNP [2], Media coverage of this was seized on as evidence that "by exaggerating the BNP's hold, they have helped the fascists to spread their poison" [3]. This is beside the point that without fertile ground for the BNP, Hodge wouldn't have made the admission, the media wouldn't have covered it, and votes wouldn't have been cast in their favour. Granted, others had motive for talking up the BNP. On Labour's part, to mobilise disillusioned voters, and on the Tory side (Telegraph/Spectator) to keep David Cameron's 'liberal tendencies' under control [4]

(3) HOUSING ISSUES

Searching beyond Hodge's admission and resultant media frenzy, serious policy problems explain BNP success in East London and elsewhere. Exemplified by three interesting local studies published recently, two from the same source. First is the 2005 Report 'The Far Right in London' [5], with an afterword by John Cruddas Labour MP for Dagenham. Researchers found a correlation between high levels of BNP support and lower middle class voters, and Cruddas got to the heart of the matter. He outlined how New Labour's success is based on appealing to Middle England swing voters—for whom 'social housing' is not an issue, whereas it is locally. Cruddas also pinpointed how "immigrant labour is the axis for the domestic agenda of the government yet it fails to defend the principle of immigration" [6]. Another report (April 2006) from the same group The BNP: the roots of its appeal' [7] found that "a significant minority, as many as 18 to 25% of the population, would consider voting for the BNP even if they do not do currently" [8]. Not all the report is spot on--the BNP strategy chapter buys into the BNP=Nazi/criminal line peddled by Searchlight and their academic Quislings. In a hardly prophetic passage, they state that "even in Barking and Dagenham...the party is disliked and distrusted. The BNP was seen as a racist, anti-immigrant and deceitful party and voting for it an aberrant or embarrassing act" [9]. Yet the BNP won 12 out of 13 seats. A graphic illustration of consequences when academics pontificate outside their competence.

As regards the BNP's success in Barking & Dagenham 'The New East End: Kinship Race & Conflict' [10] is particularly useful. A detailed and empathetic book, it brings out well the resentment felt by the traditional white working-class in Tower Hamlets, especially at family members being excluded from social housing locally. It is many of these family members who have perforce moved to Barking and Dagenham. Predictably, this report's authors have been attacked, unfairly, for "legitimising racism by accepting the argument that Whites in the East End have lost out as the welfare state provides for Bengali immigrants" [11].

(4) LEFT WEAKNESS

Ultimately, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) decision to liquidate itself into the Respect Unity Coalition was a historic mistake. De facto subordinating the universal Leftist agenda to George Galloway MP on the one hand, and a minority ethnic community on the other, is bad news. While Respect commendably did well in Tower Hamlets, they are not competing for the same political space as the BNP. Few Leftists are—the Socialist Unity web-site carries details of where the BNP stood against candidates to the Left of Labour. In 10 contests the Left came out on top, in 14 the BNP did [12], Elsewhere, therefore, in 340 or so seats, the BNP were unchallenged. With the best will in the world, the IWCA, successor to Anti-Fascist Action, isn't directly challenging the BNP either [13].

(5) BNP STRATEGY

The BNP are getting ever more adept at electoral campaigning, and novices receive detailed strategic instructions, including how to 'target wards' as good as anything issued by the Liberal Democrats [14]. The BNP Council Election manifesto is a hybrid, some parts such as LETS schemes and reducing councillor allowances undoubtedly resonated with voters aware of them. Launching the manifesto at a Press Conference including three women was not a new tactic to disarm the media, and thus voters, but effective. Well organised canvassing teams, sophisticated computer technology, and the capacity to issue multiple leaflets, including attack rebuttals--all helped. Nick Griffin's web-log ('Chairman's Column') certainly kept the election momentum going. Momentum being an important facet of BNP strategy right now [15].

HOW NOT TO FIGHT THE BNP

Currently, despite committed activists, weaknesses/omissions hinder much anti-BNP struggle:
1) Plugging the Nazi=criminal label, as exemplified by the front page of Searchlight's tabloid headlined 'The Nazi Assassin...Nazi godfather spills the beans' and the back page on 'Neo-Nazis target England's World Cup Stars'. Pathetic [16],
2) Combining Respect with existing groups like 'Unite Against Fascism'. Two failures don't make even half a success.
3) Denying there are serious issues over Housing, jobs, and council services.
4) Constantly alleging the BNP are/were 'imploding' (see the Lancaster UAF website for daily details).
5) Ludicrously blaming it on Hodge/the media, as in this Searchlight classic "Hodge's ridiculous comments...lit the fuse. The media were never out of the area....Against this backdrop, there was little anti-fascists could do" [17].
6) Now the BNP have significant representation, producing specious arguments about their 'inexperience' and the fact that councils can't change national policies, or having a go at them for not standing in various towns/cities etc [18]. All those things are not insuperable for the BNP, in that they want to change national policies, and expand their numbers. If, along the way, this causes chaos in town halls, as 'revolutionary nationalists' BNP strategists would welcome that.
7) Popular frontism, whereby all other parties line up against the BNP. This only confirms their sense of persecution, and dismissal of opponents as 'in it together'.

SOME POSITIVE IDEAS

Given the dire situation anti-fascists find themselves in, nothing is easy. Again I draw on my article in NFB issue 5 (p.56-7), which outlines a strategy (Plan B) rather more fully than here:
--dropping the term Nazi as description
—-downgrading the obsession with pinning the 'criminal' label on the BNP
--taking the BNP seriously and not automatically assuming they will fadw
-—properly analysing BNP ideology
--exploiting tensions between elected councillors and the rest of the party
--street opposition where apposite
--closing down the BNP's political space, by connecting with legitimate aspirations.

I stand by all of that, and supplement the above list as a matter of urgency with:
1) Detailed analysis of BNP policies and their fascist sub-text. Supplemented with strategic analysis. This hard work is essential. Shallow analyses like that of Copsey, whose work skewed the Democratic Audit Report, are lacking [19],
2) Rigorous examination of the precise weaknesses of UAF/Together strategy.
3) Positive engagement with the Trevor Phillips proposals on national identity, without his emphasis on using the state, or indeed the CRE interfering in elections.
4) Paying attention to housing policy, and expanding Housing Association properties.
5) Placing new arrivals into to the country directly into prosperous neighbourhoods, like Hampstead, rather than already-overburdened (in terms of demand on services) working class areas.

In the end, rather than mere opposition, we need a new social vision, articulating a self-sufficient equitable and sustainable decentralised model applicable to those local working class communities written off by the established political and economic system. Or else we will remain chasing the game—a deadly pursuit antifascists cannot afford to lose.

FOOTNOTES

1 NFB 5 (2003) p.56-57.
2 Sunday Telegraph 16/4/06 (Melissa Kite)
3 Socialist Worker 29/4/06
4 see also The Spectator 15/4/06 (Peter Oborne).
5 'The Far Right in London' Joseph Rowntree Trust (York) 2005. Just ignore Lowles self-serving waste of a few pages.
6 ibid. p.23
7 published by Democratic Audit, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex 2006
8 ibid. p.5
9 ibid. p. 12
10 Geoff Dench, Kate Gavron & Michael Young (Profile/London 2006).
11 'Where Now For antifascists' www.socialistunitynetwork.co'uk/activate/Election2006/bnp03.htm (Andy Newman, Searchlight's representative on earth)
12 'Left Right clashes' Socialist Unity web-site May 2006
13 see Black Flag 225 2005 p.6-11
14 'Guide for Prospective BNP Candidates' (internal publication)
15 Voice of Freedom May 2006 p. 12
16 see NFB 6 p.33
17 'It was the media that won it' stopthebnp web-site 6/5/06.
18 Andy Newman (op. cit.) is interesting but nonetheless plays all these tunes.
19 see my review of Copsey 'The BNP & the Quest for legitimacy' (Palgrave 2004) & the far better Alan Sykes 'The Radical Right in Britain' (Palgrave 2005) in Lobster 49 Summer 2005 p.30-32. For my alternative see NFB 6 p.33 and in rather greater detail 'Striding the Paths to Power?' (2005/unpublished)

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About NFB Magazine

Welcome to Britain's premier parapolitical investigative magazine Notes from the Borderland (NFB). We have been producing the magazine since 1997 but some published material before then.

Our political perspective is Left/Green, but we welcome truth-tellers, whatever their affiliation. Research interests include the secret state (MI5/MI6/Special Branch, now SO15) & their assets, including those in the media. We are resolutely anti-fascist, and to that end investigate the far right and state infiltration of various milieus. In a shallow age where many TV programmes and print/internet stories are spoon-fed to servile journalists/bloggers by shadowy interests, NFB stands out as genuine investigative research. 

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