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BNP cash in on disillusionment with Labour
THE VICTORY for the BNP in Heckmondwike, a small working class town on the outskirts of Dewsbury and Batley in West Yorkshire, has come as both a shock and a wake-up call for the labour and trade union movement in Kirklees.
By Mike Forster, Huddersfield
This is the first councillor for the BNP on Kirklees Council, having already taken two seats in Calderdale. This represents a huge challenge to all those opposed to racism and fascism, as there is now the danger of a bandwagon effect building up behind the BNP.
Their victory came about because of a local by-election. The sitting Labour councillor, Tim Crowther, had resigned because he feared he would lose a reselection battle.
It wasn't a principled decision but based on his own career in the Labour Party. It meant two Labour candidates standing against each other (one as an independent) whose combined vote was over 2,000.
The BNP won with just over 1,400 votes, beating the Liberal Democrat candidate by 140.
How did the BNP manage to secure such a big vote? They polled well in last year's local elections around the Dewsbury and Batley area. There remains big dissatisfaction with the local council, which is currently run by the Lib Dems.
There have been residential and nursing home closures, cuts in services, backdoor PFI schemes which have left voters disillusioned.
Unfortunately, all the other main parties have supported these policies, prompting many voters to see the BNP as the only protest party. The Tory vote has collapsed into the BNP and many new voters supported them in a larger than usual turnout of over 40%.
There is also a predictable racist element to the BNP vote. Although their propaganda played down their racist policies, those later interviewed about their support, expressed opinions about asylum seekers and "those Asians".
Heckmondwike has a sizeable Asian community that will feel threatened and intimidated by the BNP vote. Unfortunately, the local press ran frontline stories about an alleged 'riot' between rival Asian gangs clashing on the streets just before the election.
There is a strong feeling that the BNP has been egged on by the local media and some small business people.
The lack of alternative to the BNP has allowed them to cash in on feelings of disillusionment, despair and anger. It is imperative that they are exposed for what they are and a strong, determined campaign is waged over the next few months.
The Socialist Party will be working with others on the left to bring this about, but also seeking to reach young people about the importance of fighting back now.
Kirklees Unison must also face up to the big challenge of mobilising public sector workers against the threat of the BNP.
In The Socialist 23 August 2003: