The BNP gained seats in the May local elections because it put together a better package of lies than the mainstream parties
Despite recent claims to the contrary, the vast majority of British voters find the policies of the BNP nauseating. In the run up to the 2004 local and European elections and again during the 2005 general election, all manner of people, organised in their respective groupings, mobilised against them, from Labour and Conservative Party activists and the myriad left-wing groups, to student bodies, church groups and trade unions. Back in 2004, Searchlight, the anti-Nazi organisation, produced 28 versions of a newspaper targeting the BNP election campaign and distributed 1.5 million copies in areas where the BNP were perceived as posing the biggest threat. Prior to this year’s elections, Searchlight handed out 400,00 copies of their newspaper in 16 versions as well as quarter of a million postcards and again the left and the unions campaigned where the BNP were felt to be most active.
This time round, by all accounts, the panic was just as big as an in 2004. In the wake of a huge election push by the BNP, the anti-racist group Searchlight identified 18 key “battlegrounds” where the neo-Nazis had to be confronted. Other anti-racists groups observed how the BNP, standing 364 candidates, were as strong now than at any time since 1982, when it displaced the National Front as Britain’s favourite bone-head magnet. Ever the pessimists, anti-racist organisations believed BNP pre-election claims could be an underestimate and suggested that a 5 percent swing to the BNP could see them increase their tally of councillors to 70.
A YouGov poll conducted by the Daily Telegraph, prior to the elections, suggested the BNP was set to make “significant gains” in the elections. The poll showed that 7 percent of voters were ready to back the BNP and that some 24 percent had considered voting BNP in the past or were thinking of doing so now.
Regardless of how much these smiley-faced fascists claim to have changed their image, supposedly booting out the bone-headed troublemakers of yesteryear, they still represent the politics of hate – and their writings and statements still contradict the respectable shirt-and-tie image they try so hard to project.
For over six months BNP literature had been portraying the coming elections as a “Referendum on Islam”, linking the threat of Islamist terrorism in Britain to the Labour Government’s asylum and immigration policies and the war in Iraq. One BNP leaflet, handed out in the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London, declared: “If only they had listened to the BNP.”
Moreover, the BNP’s anti-Islam position has gained in prominence since Nick Griffin was acquitted of racial hatred charges at Leeds Crown Court back in February. It did not help that the judgment came at the same time as the hullabaloo over the anti-Muslim Danish cartoons and the consequent display by a handful of young Muslims dressed as suicide bombers and demonstrating in London, a coincidence that allowed the BNP to pass itself off as the champion of freedom of speech and all things British.
Overnight, the BNP moved further to the right in its anti-Moslem line of attack. Heartened by what they perceive as a lowering of tolerance for Islam, the BNP has become more obsessive. Speaking to the Observer, (24 April), Simon Darby, the man BNP leader Nick Griffin has appointed to take over should an appeal to re-convict him go ahead, said: “We are giving voice to the concerns of ordinary people, Yes, part of it is still about race.” Since 9/11 and 7/7, he says, “things have changed: the new issue is Islam”.
Two years ago the BNP were fortunate to ride a wave of patriotism – a tool they can use to great effect when it suits – in the run up to the election, with voters going to the polls as the 60th anniversary of D-Day was being commemorated and rammed down our throats every night on TV, and the English football team were gearing up to compete in Euro 2004 and when manufacturers were reporting sales of 4 million St George flags. This time round they could count on the nationalism whipped up by the World Cup taking place in Germany as well as the patriotism created by the Queen’s 80th birthday celebrations. And neither is their raw branch of nationalism that unique in today’s climate where the UKIP and the Conservative Party can make huge gains in the European elections on a “say no to Europe” platform, proclaiming the merits of British sovereignty, and where the Labour Party is all too ready to send British troops off to far away lands to protect the interests of Britain’s ruling elite.
Recent scandals within the mainstream reformist parties, particularly the Labour Party, and coming in election week, clearly helped boost the BNP vote and resulting in their tally of councillors leaping from 20 to 48. Not least of which was the Home Office fiasco involving the release of foreign prisoners from British prisons, many of whom went on to reoffend, and which played straight into BNP hands. The sleaze turned many would-be voters away from the polling stations too – something the BNP further capitalised on with their supporters making a point of going to the polls. For instance, the BNP claimed a surprising win from Labour in Solihull, when it won the Chelmsley Wood ward by 19 votes, taking its first fascist seat on the council there. But look closely and we see that in Chelmsley Wood 74 percent of the electorate never bothered turning up to vote.
In the borough of Dagenham and Barking, the sitting Labour Party MP, Margaret Hodge, clearly made the BNP look like the party of the moment when she announced shortly before the election that she had discovered massive support for the BNP, offering that as many as 80 per cent of the electorate would vote for them. She commented: "That's something we have never seen before. They used to be ashamed to vote for the BNP. Now they are not." The media, of course, made much of this, with the BNP thriving on the oxygen of publicity.
Of course there were other factors at play in Dagenham and Barking, such as the government’s refusal to allow the council to build housing and the council’s allocation of housing on a points basis. The areas continuing deindustrialisation, marked by job losses in the docks and at the Ford plant in Dagenham, was also an issue the BNP could mobilise support around. Where the mainstream parties where seen as having let voters down, that was where the BNP found the greatest success.
Lord Tebbit, writing in the Daily Telegraph (21 April), had this to say about the BNP:
“I have carefully re-read the BNP manifesto of 2005 and am unable to find evidence of Right-wing tendencies. On the other hand, there is plenty of anti-capitalism, opposition to free trade, commitments to ‘use all non-destructive means to reduce income inequality’, to institute worker ownership, to favour workers’ co-operatives, to return parts of the railways to state ownership, to nationalise the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and to withdraw from Nato. That sounds pretty Left-wing to me.”
It certainly does sound like left wing reformism – but not Socialist – with the assumption being made that capitalism can be managed for the good of all.
Stuart Jeffries, considering Lord Tebbit’s comments in the Guardian, (28th April), remarked that: “the notion that the BNP might be considered left-wing shows the political vacuum that Labour has created. Not that many of those who will vote BNP next week want to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy. Rather, alienated from their traditional party by its shameless plutocracy and neglect of its core support, some white working-class voters will opt for a party that offers easy lies about their plight.” Suggesting that BNP support is rooted in the failure of mainstream reformism, Jeffries continued: “Blair may not be responsible for populist racism, but he and his party are responsible for putting despair in place of hope from politics for many, and thus making the election of racists likely in several British towns.”
Considering the views of the Labour and Conservative parties on asylum and the former’s part in so overtly upsetting the Islamic world in recent years, their concern for the apparent rising support BNP does seem a mite misplaced. Labour and the Tories may well abhor the policies of the BNP, but have been unsuccessful in confronting them where they have made significant political gains because to do so would mean acknowledging the shortcomings of a system they champion and which gives rise to the politics of race and hate.
The BNP is more the product of the total failure of all the reformist parties to make capitalism a fit society to live in. And this is not really the fault of the mainstream parties, for they are controlled by the system and not vice versa despite their claims and promises. When capitalism fails to deliver, when despondency and shattered hopes arise from the stench of the failed promises and expectations that litter the political landscape, is it any wonder that workers fall for the scapegoating bullshit of fascists and the quick fix they offer?
The hundreds of thousands of misinformed workers who fell for the BNP spiel in May are the products of the demoralising system we know as capitalism, deluded into thinking that neo-nazi solutions to social problems – which they have been led to believe are largely rooted in the colour of a person’s skin – would suddenly improve their miserable lives. In truth, a shortage of council housing and poorly maintained housing estates, low wages and pittance benefits are no more the fault of asylum seekers than, in fact, the mainstream parties who mistakenly believe capitalism can be run in the interests of the workers. At the end of the day the BNP simply put together a better package of lies and, just like the other reformist parties, promised voters little more than extra space at the trough of poverty – and tens of thousands, their minds numbed by the politics of reform fell for the scam.