BNP elected to the GLA – our response

British National Party Councillor Richard Barnbrook, the leader of the BNP group on Barking & Dagenham council, was elected to the Greater London Assembly on 1 May 2008.

On 13th March Hackney Independent (HI) leafletted a meeting at the Hackney Empire hosted by Hackney TUC which was part of a campaign to ensure that the BNP failed to get a councillor elected to the GLA. The meeting was supported by anti-fascist magazine Searchlight and the Unite Against Fascism (UAF) organisation. Our leaflet was critical of the strategy being pursued through this meeting – of encouraging everyone to vote for any party except the BNP, therefore decreasing their share of the vote. This strategy had been supported by all the main parties elected to Hackney Council.

There was a similar campaign during the 2004 GLA elections. The BNP did not get elected and no further work was done. In 2008 the campaign was relaunched. This time it failed. So it seems reasonable to ask if those behind the campaign will now start to carry out any meaningful anti-fascist work, or will they wait until 2012 and run yet another “vote for anyone but the BNP” campaign?

New London Mayor Boris Johnson will continue with Livingstone’s pro-developer stance of gentrifying working class areas of London. Will anti-fascists actively oppose this, or will they focus on standing outside the GLA and chanting “Nazi” at lone BNP Cllr Barnbrook while leaving unchallenged the handing over of London spaces to big business property developers?

This is the text of the Hackney Independent leaflet:

‘Fighting the BNP in London – Criticisms and an alternative strategy’ from Hackney Independent

This meeting tonight represents an old and failed method of combating the BNP.

This ‘bureaucratic’ strategy is one which seeks an alliance of anti-racist and anti-fascist activists with mainstream political parties and institutions which has long been proved counter-productive.

The mainstream political parties and their policies are not part of the solution but part of the problem.

It is no surprise at all that all the mainstream political parties in Hackney are supporting this strategy. They all profess a hatred of racism and all, understandably, want to halt the electoral growth of an opposition political party.

However, they share a political consensus that supports policy which encourages support for the BNP in many areas of London and elsewhere in the country – be it overcrowded and poor housing conditions, free market ‘solutions’ to social problems, increasing social inequality, etc.

This is particularly true of the Tories and New Labour, but also true for others like the Liberal Democrats where they control local councils. In housing, for example (a key campaigning area for the BNP) the policy of Right to Buy, lack of genuinely affordable housing, overcrowding and poor maintenance, has created conditions which make it easier for the BNP to blame immigrants.

Anti-fascists should understand that the fight against the BNP is also a fight against the inequalities and poor conditions faced by many working class families, irrespective of race; and is therefore a fight against the parties and ideologies which pursue the policies damaging to working class families.

Forming anti-BNP alliances with those that create the problems which allow the BNP to grow is a strategy which is justifiably met with contempt by those tempted to vote for them.

Labelling the BNP ‘Nazi’ is simplistic and misses the mark.

Recent history should have taught anti-fascists that a campaign of sloganeering against the BNP by calling them ‘Nazi’ or ‘Fascist’ is of no practical use. It does not deter people from supporting them. This is because the BNP does not set out to appeal to Nazi sympathies within its constituency.

On the contrary, the BNP – whatever the far-right sympathies of its leadership – has increasingly adopted a form of local, community politics which looks to address the very real problems faced by working class families. Similarly, the BNP can persuasively argue – in the accepted language of official multiculturalism – that it is legitimately representing the interests of an ethnic group, just as other ethnic groups are represented.

In this manner ‘the establishment’ has gifted the BNP with an opportunity to both increase their public profile and cast themselves as free-speech martyrs. The majority of people voting BNP are not hard-core Nazis or racists.

Evidence shows that most of their support over the last 15 years comes from disillusioned Labour voters. These voters are not rabid-right-wingers, nor are they stupid people who need to be ‘educated’ by alliances of the middle-class Left and Right. They are quite justified in feeling disillusioned with New Labour. They do not deserve to be lectured down to. They deserve to be genuinely listened to and their problems taken seriously.

If anti-racists and anti-fascists don’t attempt to bring them into struggles for social justice is it any wonder that some are persuaded to vote for the BNP?

The way forward

What is required to combat the electoral growth of the BNP is for anti-fascists and anti-racists to engage consistently in local, community politics in order to:

a) address the very legitimate needs and concerns of working class families and,

b) provide an alternative to both the BNP and failed mainstream politics.

The ‘bureaucratic’ strategy – building alliances with middle-class parties, moralising against instead of engaging with – is not only useless as an anti-fascist strategy, it has been proven to be counter-productive and boost the BNP’s electoral opportunities through protest voting.

Hackney Independent was originally one of a number of community politics groups that formed in the late 1990’s following the BNP’s turn to electoral politics. This criticism of ‘bureaucratic’ strategies to combat the BNP was formed during the campaign against BNP councillor Derek Beacon on the Isle of Dogs in 1993. (It is tragic that those lessons, 15 years on, have still not been learnt.)

We believe that it is only consistent pro-working class community politics that can ultimately neuter the BNP. Those that offer the BNP electoral support need to be offered an alternative, so that they are able to fight for improvements in the conditions of their lives without being sucked into the arms of racists.

The best possible outcome for this meeting tonight in Hackney, therefore, and other meetings like this throughout London, is that anti-racists and anti-fascists organise themselves to work with working class communities to challenge not just the BNP, but also to challenge the social policies pursued by mainstream political parties which directly contribute to the disillusionment off which the BNP feed.