ANTI-FASCIST campaigners should not be too downhearted after the neo-Nazi British National Party gained 32 new councillors in last Thursday’s local elections, leaving them with a total of 42 throughout the country.
Only one of their existing councillors, whose seat was up for re-election, held that seat. Elsewhere voters who had experienced life with a BNP councillor did not want to repeat the experience.
The largest BNP gain was in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham (one subject to a High Court petition).
The anti-fascist magazine Searchlight said: “Any BNP victory should be a cause of concern. Its presence raises tensions and divides communities, and its lies, which are central to its campaigning tactics, incite fear and racial violence.
“While the media focused on the success in east London, BNP fortunes elsewhere were more mixed. Although the BNP took three seats in Stoke-on-Trent, Epping Forest and Sandwell, there were other areas where it failed to make its expected breakthrough.
“There were no BNP successes in Oldham, Dudley, Blackburn and Thurrock. The BNP fell back in Calderdale, where it was defending two seats but only succeeded in one. Kirklees was another top target and the two councillors elected there were fewer than expected.”
In Bradford the BNP gained only one new councillor compared to the four it gained in 2004, despite serious BNP threats in nine wards, it lost two of the wards it had won in 2004. The defeat of the BNP in these areas was down to serious grass roots hard work by anti-fascist campaigners, including the Searchlight organisation, local anti-BNP groups, political parties and trade unions.
Searchlight said: “The work done by a few activists across the country cannot be underestimated. Over 400,000 copies of the Searchlight newspaper, in 16 editions, were distributed as were 220,000 postcards.
“The Searchlight telephone banks identified 33,000 anti-BNP voters and it is clear that our direct contact with these people in several wards stopped the BNP from winning. Coseley East, Tipton Green and Longton North are just three examples. “The large increase in BNP councillors is discouraging but not altogether unexpected. The media’s coverage of the BNP was quite despicable, especially the BBC which at times appeared more like BNP TV.
“Then there was the Home Office’s debacle over the foreign prisoners issue, which unsurprisingly played straight into the hands of the BNP. The BNP will never get publicity like it again, especially in the run-up to an election, and with that in mind one could argue that if it could not break through in some places this year then it never will.”
The BNP gains in Barking and Dagenham came after remarks from local New Labour Margaret Hodge that eight out of ten of the constituents she spoke to “had considered” voting for the BNP. For this boost the BNP sent her a bunch of flowers.
The problem was exacerbated by the failure of other parties to stand. In many Barking and Dagenham wards, the only names on the ballot papers belonged to either Labour or the BNP. Protest votes against Labour had nowhere else to go.
“Barking and Dagenham was obviously the worst result of the night,” said Searchlight, “but no blame could be attached to the local Labour Party, unions or local anti-BNP activists. The quite ridiculous comments from Margaret Hodge, the MP for Barking, lit the fuse that ended with 12 BNP councillors elected.
“The media were never out of the area and they did more than the BNP themselves to spread the racist message and present the BNP as a legitimate protest vote.
“Against this backdrop, there was little anti-fascists could do. There is no disguising the BNP threat. Anti-fascists need to regroup and critically assess what have been their most effective campaigning techniques. The trade unions need to look again at how to prevent their members from supporting the BNP.
“All of the political parties need to look at how they can re-engage with voters rather than take them for granted. And there also needs to be serious consideration of wider public policy.
“How can local government be made more meaningful and important? How can we manage an increase in migrant workers without creating a backlash from those who see their jobs disappear as a consequence? Most fundamentally, how can we connect growing numbers of disillusioned people with the political system?
“Our task gets harder but the campaigns in Dudley, Oldham and Bradford prove that we can win even against the background of a media love-in with the BNP. The 2006 local elections were disappointing but the BNP did not achieve the political breakthrough some think it did.
“Our job is to make sure that it is downhill from now on for the BNP.”