Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/578/7254
How can the BNP really be defeated?
In the 2004 European elections the far-right, racist British National Party (BNP) received 800,000 votes, its best ever result. This time, against the background of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s and the deepening unpopularity of the government, there is a real danger that it will succeed in getting members of the European Parliament (MEPs) elected.
Hannah Sell examines the processes behind this development, and what is required to stop the BNP.
Over the last five years the BNP has increased its number of councillors to just under 50. To give a sense of proportion, this is out of a total of 22,000 councillors. Nonetheless, twelve years ago the BNP had no councillors. Plus, in the last London elections the BNP won a seat in the Greater London Assembly, its first ever above council level.
A further breakthrough in the European elections could represent a qualitative step forward for the BNP and would create the real possibility that - like the Front National in France, the Vlaams Belang in Belgium, or the Freedom Party and the Alliance for Austria's Future in Austria - it could become a party with a semi-stable mass electoral base.
In a bid to become more electorally popular, the BNP is attempting to disguise its fascist roots. In reality, however, its policies have changed little. It stands for "native Britains" to be given preference in housing, education and jobs. Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP and head of its European election list in the North West region, denies that the Holocaust took place.
Unsurprisingly, statistics show that where the BNP wins elections, increases in racial attacks follow. Racist attacks increased by 32% between 2002 and 2004 in Barking and Dagenham, east London, after the BNP began to build an electoral base.
No wonder that, for many workers and young people, the main issue in this European election is simply: 'how best can we stop the BNP?' However, to answer this question it is necessary first to answer another question - why has the BNP started to get far bigger votes than at any time in its history?
The answer does not lie primarily in the changes that the BNP has made to its image, but in the broader changes that have taken place in society and in politics. The overwhelming majority of BNP councillors represent working-class areas - in Bradford, Rotherham, Stoke-on-Trent, Barking and Dagenham - which previously had rock-solid support for Labour. Historically most workers saw Labour as 'their party'. Today, with Labour transformed into New Labour - an out-and-out party of big business - the working class has been left without a mass political voice.
For twelve years New Labour has continued with Tory policies. The government looked after the City - continuing the deregulation of big finance that began under the Tories - and has left working-class people struggling to make ends meet.
In Britain, in 2008, the gap between rich and poor was the second highest of any economically developed country in the world, surpassed only by the US. Now the capitalist 'free market' has entered its worst crisis since the 1930s, throwing millions who were already struggling, into absolute poverty. The response of the three pro-big business parties - New Labour, Lib Dem and Tory - has been to ask workers to pay for the crisis in the capitalist system, a system these parties support.
No wonder that a majority of working-class people feel utterly disillusioned with the establishment parties. With the BNP posing falsely as a party of the 'white working class' and as anti-establishment, a minority of working-class people are prepared to show their anger by voting for the BNP. A majority of potential BNP voters, do not agree with, or even know about, the BNP's far-right programme.
In reality, far from defending working-class people, the BNP is anti-trade union and does not challenge the domination of Britain by a tiny, massively wealthy elite. The BNP was completely opposed to the historic miners' strike, demanding that the Thatcher government bring in the army to crush the strike. Today, the BNP opposes the right of most public sector workers to take strike action. Where the BNP has councillors it has repeatedly voted for cuts in services and for hikes in council tax - no different to the big three parties it claims to oppose.
Nonetheless, it has given itself a radical veneer on some issues, saying, for example, that it supports renationalisation of the railways and energy companies and 'socialism' in the NHS. In this election campaign it is particularly highlighting its slogan 'British Jobs for British Workers' - suggesting that, in contrast to Brown, "we mean it".
By doing so they are hoping to tap into the fears of millions of workers facing the threat of unemployment. This is also a disgraceful attempt to associate themselves with the magnificent Lindsey construction workers' strike, which far from dividing workers on nationalist lines, as the BNP attempt to do, brought workers of different nationalities together in struggle.
As The Socialist has explained, Lindsey strikers threw BNPers off their picket lines. Nor did the strike adopt the slogan: "British Jobs for British Workers", despite a few workers displaying it initially. The strike succeeded in defending jobs and trade union-agreed pay and conditions for all workers, regardless of national origin.
Two of the leaders of the Lindsey strike, alongside leaders of the Visteon car plant occupations and other workers involved in struggle, are standing in the European elections. They are standing for No2EU - Yes to Democracy, a pro-working class, anti-racist, internationalist electoral platform which was initiated by the RMT railway workers' union and has as one of its primary goals the undermining of the BNP.
Undermining the far right in Britain can only be achieved on the basis of the development of a genuine mass working-class alternative, combined with effective campaigning against the BNP. It is not a coincidence that in Germany the far right have not recently made breakthroughs comparable with many other European countries. The growth of the Left Party has succeeded, at least on the electoral plane, in cutting off the road, for the time being, to the far right. Whether this remains the case is not certain, depending on how the Left Party develops.
Unfortunately, the response to the BNP of the majority of the national trade union leaders in Britain has been limited to funding, and supporting the strategy of, the anti-BNP campaigns Unite Against Fascism, Hope not Hate, and Love Music Not Racism.
While these campaigns have organised concerts and other anti-racist activity which could, if part of a correct strategy, play a useful role in undermining the BNP, their political approach is counter-productive because they limit themselves to pleading with workers to simply vote against the BNP.
The clear implication is that people should instead vote for one of the three main parties, usually Labour. All three campaigns emphasise their support from politicians from Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat. Hope not Hate also praises the neo-liberal, unelected, and deeply unpopular European Commission as an alternative to the BNP.
Far from undermining the BNP's vote, in some areas these campaigns, by mobilising the very forces that are driving some desperate people towards the BNP, could actually have the opposite effect. Particularly as Labour, facing electoral disaster in the European elections, is grasping at fear of the BNP as a means to try and shore up its vote. This will have an effect among some workers, but others will be repelled.
It is New Labour's transformation into a party of big business which has left the space for the BNP to grow. No2EU is an attempt to create a left political alternative - both to the parties of big business and to the rabid far-right BNP.
New Labour politicians will undoubtedly argue that No2EU is splitting the anti-far right vote. But this argument, never valid, is particularly specious in the European elections where the electoral system means that the main way that the BNP will be prevented from winning a seat is by increasing the overall turnout.
Many who vote No2EU would not have been able to bring themselves to vote Labour, Liberal or Tory - even holding their noses - in the hope it would stop the BNP.
For the Socialist Party, No2EU is not only about this election. We see it as a potential step towards the creation of a mass political party that would represent the millions of workers, pensioners and young people who are facing increased hardship as a result of capitalist crisis.
No2EU - Yes to Democracy: Platform
● Reject the Lisbon Treaty
● No to EU directives that privatise our public services
● Defend and develop manufacturing, agriculture and fishing industries
● Repeal anti-trade union ECJ rulings and EU rules exploiting workers
● No to racism and fascism. Yes to international solidarity of working people
● No to EU militarisation or an EU army
● Repatriate democratic powers to EU member states
● Replace unequal EU trade deals with fair trade that benefits developing nations
● Scrap EU rules designed to stop member states from implementing independent economic policies
● Keep Britain out of the euro zone
In The Socialist 6 May 2009:
Defend victimised trade unionist
No 2 EU - Yes to Democracy
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party campaigns