By Pete Radcliff
The local elections this year, in England at least, are likely to result in further major gains for the British National Party.
The BNP claim to be standing 796 council candidates in areas removed from the main centres of socialist and trade union activity — outlying suburbs, commuter belt territory and areas where local industries have declined and trade union presence diminished.
In Nottinghamshire for example, they are not standing in Nottingham, instead standing 21 candidates in borough elections in the “M1 corridor” between Nottingham and Derby. The BNP are clearly positioning themselves for general election challenges in these areas, capturing the UKIP/Veritas vote as well as continuing to feed off disenchantment with government and the major political parties.
In order to make this strategy work, they need to heighten their profile with a presence on local councils and for this, at least initially, they appear to be prepared to moderate their stand.
In their electoral literature there are, of course, the slogans of “No to the Veil”, “No to Asylum Seekers” and “Yes to Celebrating British Culture” but these are packaged with “Yes to Weekly Rubbish collections”, “Yes to a better NHS”, “No to Council Tax Rises” and similar.
These are given, wherever possible, a racist twist. Their leaflets “oppose Labour’s cuts and looting the Third World for cheap staff instead of paying English nurses proper wages”. Exactly how they could organise wage rises for English (and presumably white) nurses whilst not paying those born in other countries they don’t say.
In Nottinghamshire, and elsewhere, the state of the anti-fascist left is not good.
For a long time sponsorship of Unite Against Fascism has been the token gesture of the trade union movement. No questions are asked about how decisions are taken in UAF, how democratic local groups are, how open they are to those the SWP doesn’t like and what alliances the SWP make on behalf of UAF.
UAF operates not only on a cross-party basis but also a cross-class basis. Tories, liberals, religious reactionaries are all invited to be a part and the politics of its literature is simplistically anti-Nazi.
Of course those actively sought to be a part and to front that alliance are chosen by the SWP and sometimes this causes reaction from trade union sponsors. Attempts to have Sir Iqbal Sacranie (then General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain) take a prominent role at press conferences and in UAF literature led to uproar from a number of unions. But the policy of UAF remains to ignore anti-government dissent on low wage employment, welfare services and the issues behind the racism that the BNP cashes in on.
UAF does not attempt to build ongoing democratic campaigns in the areas where the BNP exist. In Nottingham, as probably in most places, one-off, haphazard leafleting is announced. Nothing is said about who has organised it. In reality it is arranged by the SWP and largely dealt with as a party building stunt. UAF is essentially an adjunct of the SWP.
The other major national anti-fascist organisation, Stop the BNP, is more open than UAF, but some of the recent material has been less than adequate. Its election leaflet quotes Alan Sugar, near billionaire and arrogant boss-figure — hardly the sort of person alienated working-class people can identify with. When it has Gordon Brown speaking on its platforms (as in Glasgow on 6 April) it can hardly relate effectively to working-class despair and dissent with the government.
Despite the weakness of these national campaigns, there are serious possibilities open to anti-fascists to organise. In Nottingham, large meetings are being organised in the very centre of BNP activity. One in Brinsley, reported in an earlier issue of this paper, attracted 40 people.
Elsewhere in Broxtowe, Labour Parties are working with anti-fascists to organise meetings and leafleting of areas where the BNP are standing.
There is an inevitable tension between anti-fascist activists, who are overwhelmingly anti-government, and Labour Party organisations who have a more equivocal stance. AWL supporters believe that where there has been no work done and no base for independent working class candidates, as in almost all the areas where the BNP is standing, a vote for Labour is needed against the BNP. Some anti-fascists disagree with us on this. But all the active anti-fascists involved in the campaign acknowledge the need to organise those that oppose the BNP — to build activity in trade unions and the working class communities around the issues that the BNP tries to exploit.
There is increased awareness in trade unions of the need for a genuine anti-fascist campaign. Likely BNP successes in this year’s election as well as the increasing success of Le Pen and the Front National in France is likely to increase this.
The AWL is working with trade unions, in the universities, and in the Labour Party during these elections to call a conference in Nottingham to take work forward.
At the time of writing the nature of BNP election campaigns is unclear. In areas where there is a hard racist presence they are likely to try and relate vigorously to that with an aggressive racist stance. But generally they are playing down their racism, in their electoral literature at least.
They have capitalised on the unpopularity of the government and the collapse of other party organisations. They have been active in ‘community’ campaigning. In many areas they have built a significant base. The results of the elections will reveal more.