Thursday, April 20, 2006

A tale of two London boroughs

ANTI-FASCIST and anti-racist campaigners all over Britain have, for the last few weeks, been pounding pavements on countless housing estates, delivering leaflets and newsletters and speaking to voters on their doorsteps to convince them not to vote for the fascist British National Party. This is not difficult.
Once voters are told who and what the BNP is and the lies told by the BNP are explained and refuted, only a tiny, tiny handful would ever support them. The vast majority of the working class in Britain are not racists or fascists.
And it is not difficult to find volunteers to do this work – much easier than to find people willing to canvass votes for Blair’s New Labour. Many are trade union activists and campaigning against the BNP can involve people from a wide political spectrum from the left fringe to Tories.
But this weekend these valiant volunteers all felt as though they had been stabbed in the back by remarks from Barking Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who claimed that eight out of ten voters in the estates she has canvassed in her constituency have considered voting BNP. This is an enormous exaggeration and an insult to the working class people of Barking. But more reliable research by the Joseph Rowntree Trust and by Searchlight anti-fascist magazine puts the figure of those considering voting BNP at between 20 and 30 per cent – which is quite high enough to raise real concerns.
The BNP has targeted the area, as it has the neighbouring borough of Dagenham but there is a different story in Dagenham. Dagenham Labour MP Jon Cruddas has a long and honourable record of leading the anti-fascist campaign in Dagenham, of going round on the doorstep, talking to people and taking up their concerns. Consequently support for the BNP in Dagenham in last year’s general election was less than half what it was in Barking.
Hodge has never done this door to door work until now. Like too many of the New Labour elite, talking to ordinary people was beneath her. Now suddenly she is crying that Labour has neglected the needs of the white working class and thousands of people are going to vote for the fascists in protest.
New Labour has neglected the concerns of all the working class whatever their colour – and it expects to do badly in the coming local elections. Some believe that Hodge may be preparing an alibi in advance for that electoral disaster to come. If so, she is playing with fire. The BNP itself is jubilant at her remarks.
Others believe she is trying to scare people into voting Labour on the basis that there is no alternative. Searchlight criticises other mainstream parties – the Tories and Liberal Democrats – that they are not standing in many wards, leaving voters who oppose Labour with nowhere else to go but BNP or abstention.
Make no mistake, the BNP must be stopped. Its aim is to gain up to 70 council seats throughout Britain on 4th May. It will do nothing with these seats. BNP councillors have never functioned as proper councillors. But the party aims to use this base to go on eventually to take a seat in the European Parliament; to become part of the neo-fascist bloc with Le Pen from France and Haider from Austria and so get European Union funding.
The condescending New Labour elitism of Margaret Hodge will not be able to stop them. The traditional Labour grass roots hard work of Jon Cruddas, talking to voters and taking their concerns seriously, can smash the BNP’s hopes.
Other measures that would turn out the Labour vote in force on 4th May of course would be bringing the troops home from Iraq, rescuing the NHS from its financial crisis, dropping the privatisation of our public services and sacking Tony Blair.
We call on all Labour MPs – along with trades unionists like those who have been campaigning tirelessly against the BNP – to use the strength they have in the Labour Party to bring this about.