The last few years have seen the British National Party make creeping electoral gains in local government. The foothold they now enjoy in borough, town and parish councils is directly related to two factors: their turn away from confrontational street politics to agitation around community concerns and the inability of existing anti-fascist campaign groups (Searchlight and the SWP-dominated Unite Against Fascism) to counter this new strategy.
The situation in Nottinghamshire is a case in point.
In May 2007 Sadie Graham, a leading figure in the BNP and arguably a very able political organiser, was elected to Broxtowe Borough Council for Brinsley; a small, former mining community.
What factors allowed the BNP to pull off this victory in a previously solid Labour seat? Have Sadie Graham and her colleagues managed to turn a majority of villagers to fascist ideology? No.
Most people have never heard of Brinsley, let alone visited it. Like many such communities it’s last in the queue when it comes to public services, health and transportation. A one post-box, one bus stop, three pub village. Such places have felt the sharp end of New Labour’s manifold betrayal of workers and the BNP have invested considerable resources in relating to and organising around the issues. They’ve visited every door at least once, spent time listening to and recording people’s concerns and produced regular propaganda giving their own take on events.
In the absence of other political organisations, the BNP filled the gap. The situation in Brinsley was so desperate in May that the Labour Party struggled to find a candidate willing to stand against Graham until anti-fascists started to organise. There was a major risk of an uncontested election.
By elevating themselves to the position of would-be community shop stewards, relating to the material situation and providing “answers” the BNP have built their own organisation, developed a base of support and achieved electoral “legitimacy”.
The bitter fruits of the BNP’s success came thick and fast. Within weeks of being elected, Graham’s Sri Lankan neighbours were forced from their home after a sustained series of attacks on their property. A group of travellers — having the misfortune to park up opposite Graham’s house — were held captive until police intervened. An Indian restaurant, other local councillors and Labour Party meetings have all been targeted. All the time, the BNP continues to grow.
What should anti-fascists say and do in such a situation? Some in the Labour Party insist that the BNP must be ignored — deprived of the oxygen of publicity. Searchlight often appears to think that eulogising Labour’s “triumphs” does the job. Unite Against Fascism insist that people simply “vote against the BNP”. None of these strategies goes any way towards addressing the problem in places like Brinsley. Ignoring the BNP allows them to grow unhindered. Pretending that Blair and Brown have done wonderful things for all of us ignores the material conditions that the BNP feed off. Calling on people to “vote against the BNP” with a single leaflet through the door a week before an election will not undo the hard work put in by the fascists.
Anti-fascists need to build organisations that focus on working class politics, expose the true nature of the BNP, demonstrate the role of the wider labour movement and develop an ability to mobilise considerable numbers against the fascists.
In many places like Brinsley the Labour Party is the only even quarter-way left political organisation with any life. We have to work with its members against the BNP. We should point to the work done by some Labour members of parliament — people like John McDonnell — in exposing the betrayals of New Labour and posing an alternative. Most importantly, we should argue for collective working class action as a means to stop the BNP and address other social issues.
For several years the BNP has held an annual “Red, White and Blue Festival” (RWB) without significant opposition. This year they moved the event from a relatively isolated location to the village of Codnor, fifteen minutes from central Nottingham. Clearly the BNP considers the Midlands and Nottinghamshire in particular as a political base. They use such events to widen their support, solidify the politics of their existing members and build their organisation. Such an event cannot be allowed to take place uncontested.
Anti-fascists in Nottinghamshire have called a regional conference on 19 January 2008 to prepare opposition to the RWB and discuss the way ahead for anti-fascist organising. West Midlands Unison, East Midlands FBU, Nottinghamshire Trades Council, Derby NASUWT and Nottingham NUT are supporting the conference along with a long list of individuals. We expect many more trade union organisations and campaigning groups to add their support.
This is an important opportunity to build a meaningful, labour movement based initiative against the BNP.
For more information, contact Nottinghamshire Stop the BNP at email@example.com