The Socialist 8 December 2010 |
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Battle for Barking
a review by Naomi Byron
RMT general secretary Bob Crow addresses an RMT protest against the BNP in Barking called before the election, east London, photo Senan (Click to enlarge)
DESPITE THE crushing electoral defeat for the British National Party (BNP) in May 2010, and the internal struggles it caused them, the discontent and anger they were exploiting still exist in Barking. This documentary clearly shows that many working-class people in Barking feel that Labour no longer understands or represents them.
It's a good introduction to why a far right, racist group like the BNP has been able to build support. The tragedy of the BNP supporter whose son died in Afghanistan, fighting in a war his father didn't support, brought home the failure of Labour's policies in a deeply personal way. The BNP quickly exploited his grief, asking him to be part of their election broadcast.
The Labour Party's total inability to adopt pro-working-class policies to create a positive alternative to the racist, far-right BNP comes across clearly. This left Margaret Hodge's campaign at a severe disadvantage, with her strongest argument being that voters should "hold their noses and vote for me to keep the BNP out".
The footage of Hodge wearing Jimmy Choo shoes at a building site for a photo-opportunity about a few new houses being built by Labour summed her up.
The documentary concentrated on the personal and unfortunately didn't show the true colours of either Hodge or the BNP. Hodge came across as a well-meaning liberal who hated racism, but she has been prepared to whip up racism and anti-immigrant prejudice to win votes back from the BNP and save her parliamentary career.
Three months before the election, Hodge wrote an article in the Daily Mail calling for migrants to "earn" the rights to benefits and council housing - as if most migrants were given these things automatically on arrival at the airport.
A few facts like this, or about Labour's record at scapegoating migrants for their own failures in government, would put Hodge's complaint that every issue "is seen through the prism of immigration" in context!
One BNP canvasser in The Battle for Barking says "most of us who were in the party, we're ex-Labour members and ex-Labour supporters, we just believe that the party's left us behind." But, faced with a voter who refuses to consider voting BNP because they are "Nazis", the canvasser dismisses this as "nonsense".
Similarly to Hodge's actual record, none of the BNP's Neo-Nazi links, ideas or history are really discussed. It's almost as if the word "Nazi" is just an insult without real meaning thrown by both sides at each other. The documentary let people present themselves as they choose without real challenge, so the BNP's rich backers and their anti-working-class, divisive policies were not discussed.
It also reflects the de-politicisation of the anti-BNP campaign by Hodge, the Labour Party and groups like Unite Against Fascism (UAF) who would not criticise Hodge or the Labour Party publicly for their role in opening the door to the BNP.
This allowed the BNP more support than they would have got if a more radical campaign, promoting a real left alternative locally, had developed in time. A march through Barking during the election organised by Youth Fight for Jobs, demanding work on a living wage and free education, got an excellent response.
Fortunately, as the documentary shows, the BNP got plenty of opposition from both voters and local youth. But until a new party of the working class is built, the door remains wide open to the far right. Anti-cuts, trade union and socialist candidates standing in next year's local elections can help towards building this party!
Available on More Four On Demand