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BNP, English Democrats and UKIP

The threat from racism and the Far Right, political strategies for the future.

Peter Cranie, 2004 Green Euro Candidate, NW Region


 

BNP graffitiIn London Assembly elections the BNP gained 4.82% of the vote, narrowly missing out on election by just 3,293 votes. In the North West Region of England, Nick Griffin also missed out on election to the European Parliament, gaining only 6.4% of the vote. UKIP, as we all know, were a spectacular success, electing MEPs from nearly every English region and two London Assembly members. We have all been very fortunate.

 

Griffin had been counting on winning a Euro seat to vindicate his attempts to legitimise the BNP. His failure means that his vision for the BNP is now under threat from the less sophisticated and increasingly violent BNP rank and file. It may prove impossible for him to hold together this fragmenting party but it is too soon to disregard the BNP as a future threat. Locally based anti-fascist and anti-racist work remains essential.

 

The English Democrat Party (and the pockets of England First Party activity in the North West) represent the beginnings of the fragmentation on the far right. Had the English Democrat vote been added to the BNP vote in the North West, the combined total would have been enough for a seat. The sudden appearance of the English Democrats was very fortuitous for anti-racist voters and campaigners.

 

However, it is the overwhelming success of the far right and overtly nationalist UKIP organisation that should attract our attention. Thanks to massive financial backing and widespread media exposure, UKIP were able to mop up protest votes in both London and the North West that might otherwise have gone to the BNP. For that, we should be thankful. It has for the moment, sabotaged Nick Griffin’s ambitious plan to emulate his continental counterparts, Le Pen and Haider, and establish himself as an elected figurehead for his far right movement.

 

Our strategy for dealing with racism and the far right must work within this new political reality. Local anti-fascist campaigning has proved effective in denying the BNP a foothold in areas it is not yet established. This should continue. However, the continued ability of the BNP to win council seats means we must look for new solutions, particularly in council by-elections and in areas of established BNP support.

 

The success of UKIP in electing councillors as well as MEPs means we can now encourage them to stand against the BNP. This means dialogue with a political party we would rather not to engage with, but I would argue that this can form part of an effective strategy to deal with the far right. The BNP remain for now the principal threat to democracy, freedom and civil liberties in Britain. We must ensure the 2004 elections result was their high watermark in UK politics, and that by 2009 they are in decline and disarray.

 

UKIP state that they are in no way a racist party. Perhaps the fact that Kilroy-Silk’s tan is seen as their inclusive gesture? What I take this to mean that in no way will they be “overtly” racist. I do not know if UKIP has any black members but I do know that all their representatives are white middle class men. However, it would be a mistake to treat them in the same way as the BNP. As a party largely motivated by a middle class anti-European agenda, that is their principle vulnerability.

 

UKIP’s stated aim is for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union following a referendum. Their party name and the simplicity of their idea is also their biggest weakness. Pro-European parties in Scotland (and Wales) are much stronger than anti-European parties. Any UK wide referendum on leaving Europe that led to a UK majority voting “yes” would be likely to include a Scottish majority voting “no”. We need UKIP to make the constitutional and practical implications of any such vote absolutely clear in any referendum.

 

·       Would Scotland be forced to leave the European Union or could it remain within Europe by seceding from the UK?

·       If Scotland remained in Europe, how could England maintain the much vaunted Schengen agreement that currently gives the UK greater control over its borders?

·       How would the constitutional break up be managed?

 

UKIP can take two positions on this. They can try to set out a careful framework that gives due consideration to these important questions, or they can attempt to sweep it aside and continue to simplistically talk about UK independence. In both scenarios, it will expose them as the “England Independence Party”. In the former, it means they must deal with real politics and try to win an impossible argument. In the latter case, it means uncomfortable exposure to attacks from the Conservative (and Unionist) Party, who have so far been slow to spot this obvious frailty in UKIP’s stance.

 

Lower interest rates, structural funding and fishing rights would be examples of the issues that could be debated by a vocal Scottish Parliament, before or after any referendum. My belief is that the benefits to Ireland as an independent state within the European Union have been huge, and this would heavily influence any pre-referendum campaigning. However this is not for us to debate right now, but it is actually an effective tool to start exposing the limitations of the UKIP position now. “United Kingdom” Independence may mean the end of the UK. It will only actually guarantee “English” independence.

 

The difficulties that UKIP will face over the next four years as their policies are subject to proper scrutiny should ensure they are a short-lived phenomenon, albeit a heavily funded one. In the meantime, encouraging UKIP to compete locally will bring a short-term benefit if they can damage the BNP and fragment the far right at a local level. It should also be viewed as a way of challenging them to firstly show they are not linked with the BNP, and secondly to demonstrate that they are a genuine political party. If they fail to stand, we can attack them as a far right group with racist links, opportunistic, exploitative and shallow.

 

I have not yet mentioned the Tories, who are likely to benefit from the demise of UKIP. We cannot rule out the possibility that by 2009 they once again look like a plausible party of government (even if that is as part of a Lib Dem led coalition). They must be encouraged step up to the challenge of the BNP. In some local elections they have failed to stand a candidate against the BNP. This can only help BNP candidates seeking to establish a foothold. Some Tories will vote BNP if there is no Tory option. At a local level we must be prepared to lobby local Tories to ensure that they also throw their hat into the ring.

 

We have a difficult task ahead. Exposing the limitations of UKIP and using smarter political tactics against the BNP will not solve the underlying problems of xenophobia, racism and ignorance. We have other battles to fight locally. We must also find innovative ways to tackle the propaganda put out by our right wing press. We must keep putting forward the arguments for a just asylum system, fight to remove institutional racism and begin tackling the emergent covert racism we see today.

 

The far right in Britain are at their strongest for over seventy years. In part this is due to the weakness of the Tories but it is also because we have allowed them to present a conveniently simple message to working class voters in places like Burnley. First hand, we’ve seen that fragmentation on the left has persisted once established, and successive projects to unite the left have so far failed. By working to fragment and weaken the far right, we can help to ensure that the racist and fascist elements, backed by an emotive national press, can never again present themselves as a realistic option to the British electorate.

 

 

August 2004

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