At the beginning of the summer the British National Party looked set to significantly expand its electoral base in East London; half way through July, their hopes are in tatters.
The last month has seen the fascists lose their Goresbrook seat on Barking council and frustrated in their attempts to win a second seat in the council’s Becontree ward.
In September last year, the BNP won in Goresbrook with 52% of the vote against Labour's 29%. This time, despite a viciously racist campaign which explicitly attempted to cash in on anger at the Islamist bombings in London, that result was reversed: 59.8% for Labour’s Alok Agrawal, compared to 19.3% for the BNP’s John Luisis.
This BNP’s fortunes are partly explainable by the poor record of their Goresbrook councillor Dan Kelley, who triggered last month's by-election when he resigned citing ill health. Kelley was widely seen as a joke, due to his failure to take any role in the council and his admission that he found its proceedings “over his head” and “might as well not be there at all”.
Equally important, however was the local anti-BNP campaign, which was something slightly different from run-of-the-mill “anti-fascism”.
The Barking campaign was run by a coalition of the local Labour Party, trade union branches (particularly the GMB) and the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight.
Searchlight recently withdrew from Unite Against Fascism’s steering committee because they said, under the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Action, UAF had priortised glamorous national events over local campaigning activity and insisted on the exclusion of any issue beyond racism from discussion. The Labour Party campaign in Barking took a different approach, involving large numbers of Labour and trade union activists and producing literature which focused on refuting BNP claims about local issues such housing.
There is a lot to criticise in all this — despite avoiding the crass “don’t vote Nazi” popular-frontism of UAF, the campaign remained largely within the bounds of liberal anti-fascism, appealing to the spirit of World War Two and failing to raise clear working-class demands. Nonetheless, it represents a big step in the right direction.
Despite its defeat in East London, the BNP is still on the up. The BNP will continue to exploit the London bombs, and there have already been a number attacks on Muslims. We urgently need a campaign, led by the unions and based on local working-class and community activism, to fight racism and push back the fascists’ advance.
At the same time the need for a campaign to popularise socialist ideas is urgent.