Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/316/11606
Fighting The BNP In Stoke
In the Abbey Green council by-election in Stoke-on-Trent on 18 September New Labour regained a seat from the Independents. They beat the BNP into second place but only by 60 votes on a 26% turnout.
Andy Bentley, Stoke Socialist Party
New Labour see this as part of a recovery after recently losing control of the city. Since 1997 when they held all 60 seats they have lost seats to the Liberal Democrats and Independents and even one to the BNP.
At the time of their election, we explained that the Independents and Lib Dems would not be any different. This has allowed New Labour to regain some lost ground.
Stoke is not fundamentally different from other cities and towns in Britain. We have lost thousands of manufacturing jobs, suffer from poverty, notoriously low wages, poor housing and the crisis in the NHS and education.
Mayor Mike Wolfe is planning to increase council tax by 20% and the city council is planning to sell off local services. Residential care homes are being closed and the refuse collection service has already been advertised for sale without any in-house bid from the council.
Although opposing each other's plans in words, no credible alternative to this slash and burn policy has been put forward by any of the other parties or the Mayor.
When working-class people are let down by different parties claiming to represent their interests, they will look for alternatives. Mainly by scapegoating asylum seekers, the BNP are trying to fill this void and are having some success.
The other parties opposed the divisive and anti-working class unity policies of the BNP by making an appeal on moral grounds - basically saying that the BNP are "nasty people".
But this is clearly not enough.
Stoke Socialist Party decided to stand a candidate in this by-election to offer a socialist alternative. Our campaign demanded an end to the cycle of cuts in jobs and services and council tax increases.
We called for a needs budget - based on what is needed to provide jobs and improve services - to be planned by the city council and a campaign to demand a return of the money taken by successive Tory and New Labour government cuts to pay for it.
We have never stood in Abbey Green before. We gained 61 votes (3%).
Hundreds more who didn't vote for us supported our campaign. 99% of people we spoke to on the doorstep signed our petition demanding no 20% council tax increase and for a needs budget.
We sold 130 copies of the socialist and a number of people are interested in joining our party.
To a certain extent, our vote was squeezed by a desire of many to vote New Labour as the best way of preventing the BNP from winning. Whilst we relied on our own local members and supporters, New Labour and the BNP bussed in many people to help their campaign.
Nick Griffin, BNP leader, their regional organiser and car loads from as far as Stockport were all drafted in to help.
Many will be relieved that the BNP did not win a second seat in the city. Our campaign, which exposed the character of the BNP while also putting forward a serious alternative which tackled the root causes for the growth of the BNP, certainly played an important part in this.
New Labour boasted in their leaflets that they have provided new schools and a refurbishment of others in the area. This is true but it is all based on a PFI scheme.
New Labour will be making a big mistake if they think their success in this by-election is an endorsement of these privatisation plans. On the doorstep we did not find one person who supported privatisation of any service at all.
Labour 842 34%
BNP 782 32%
Independent 374 15%
Conservative 249 10%
Liberal 154 6%
Socialist Party 61 3%
In The Socialist 27 September 2003: