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The storm doesn't break

Nick Bird


 

I would like to imagine that somewhere the strategists of the British National Party are sitting in an empty room crying into their special brew. The coming storm of the BNP turned out to be some scattered showers; their confident predictions of a significant breakthrough now appear rather hollow. Yet the threat had seemed real enough to many people, supporters and opponents alike, over the past months.

 

In this respect it is quite right for anti-fascists to loudly celebrate the BNP’s failure to win a single MEP or GLA member on 10 June. However, I think our considered reaction to the BNP’s vote will be a sigh of relief rather than unrestrained joy. The statement by Searchlight which claimed that voters had “decisively rejected the fascist party” is not entirely accurate. The BNP did not get its political earthquake, but it did not retreat. If you can contemplate the reality of 800,000 people voting BNP without feeling any concern or fear then perhaps you have also been at the special brew.

 

The BNP’s vote in the Euro elections was up across the board. Only its weakness in Scotland held its average below 5 percent, and in the midlands and north it scored between 6.4 and 8 percent. It is highly likely that the surge in support for UKIP took the sting out of the BNP’s campaign, but to what extent it is hard to say. In the London elections the party nearly doubled its vote and came within a whisker of getting on the GLA.

 

The BNP’s local council results were more mixed, but it still edged forward. True, it lost its sole representatives in Dudley and Thurrock and failed to get a foothold in Oldham or Sunderland, but it won four new councillors in Bradford and three in Epping Forest. It still has six members on Burnley council and in Stoke-on-Trent, where it has two councillors, it won 28 percent in the eight wards it contested. In all its malign presence is felt on eight local councils.

 

 I believe that such results demand a continuation of the two-pronged approach to containing and reversing the fascist vote. Undoubtedly the massive effort put into distributing Unite Against Fascism and Searchlight material during the election period has helped to tear the cloak of respectability from the BNP and expose its true nature. It has hopefully encouraged some people to vote, if not out of enthusiasm for a particular party then out of revulsion at the prospect of being “represented” by a fascist MEP.

 

However, on its own this strategy will founder. I was reminded of this by a local election result a few miles up the coast from me in Great Yarmouth. The National Front, the BNP’s even uglier sister, put up a candidate in one of the most impoverished wards in Norfolk. With three councillors to elect, the NF came fifth with 378 votes, beating the Lib Dems. Local campaigners leafleted every house in that ward but it didn’t stop substantial numbers of people voting for a fascist.

 

The left has to get its act together in places like this and offer people an alternative. We need to get to the people who are so disaffected with mainstream politics that they edit out warnings about fascists and cast a vote for an extreme party because of their own extreme anguish and alienation. We need to create a socialist centre of gravity in communities which cuts through lies about asylum seekers and builds campaigns that unite people around collective solutions to the privatisation, cuts and poverty that blight our lives.

 

Hopefully the BNP will be demoralised by its failure to crack the political big time, but it will not go away. The social and economic conditions of modern Europe are proving to be fertile ground for the far right. Yet the alternative can also be seen in the anti-war movements, the social forums, the trade unions and the new left that is finding its feet in a post-9/11 world. These movements have enormous potential, and breaking the march of the fascists is just one task among many that we will have to accomplish in the years ahead.

 

June 2004

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