by Glyn Harries
At the May 2010 Barking and Dagenham council elections, the BNP lost all their 12 Councillors, all previously elected in 2006. And their national party leader Nick Griffin, who it was suggested would take the Parliamentary seat, only came 3rd, and petulantly walked away declaring Barking and London ‘finished’.
But away from the headlines the actual results in Barking and Dagenham show the BNP nearly doubled their vote from 2006 to 2010, though where they had stood previously their vote did decline slightly. I have used their highest votes in each ward. While it is good news to see the Councillor parasites of the BNP wiped out, the Hope not Hate victory claims are as ever deeply flawed.
HnH (and to a lesser extent Unite Against Fascism) carried out a massive campaign in Barking and Dagenham. They argued there was a serious threat of a BNP breakthrough in Barking and for people to vote, but not vote BNP. In 2010 HnH put out nearly 250,000 leaflets into Barking and Dagenham: 130,000 in the last ten days, 90,000 put out by 540 people on the ‘Day of Action’ on 17th April, (5) and another 25,000 in January and March. And this was out of a massive 1.8 million leaflets delivered nationally. (6) In 2009 HnH also put out 50,000 leaflets in B&D (7) out of the nearly 3.5 million leaflets they delivered nationally for the Euro elections. (8)
Firstly, the idea that Griffin would win the seat was never likely. In 2005 Hodge got 13,800 on a 50% turnout, while the BNP got 4,900. And in the most relevant election since, the London Assembly of 2008, in those wards that make up the Barking constituency, the BNP only got around 6000. (2) And while the BNP vote increased from 4,900 to 6,600, a massive increase, Hodge nearly doubled her vote to 24,600! The bookies knew best, it’s their livelihoods to do so, and while Paddy Power had Hodge at 1/6 back in November 2009, by early April Ladbrokes had Labour at 1/8 and BNP at 5-1, in political terms, unsurmountable odds.
Second though, it was always more likely that the general election race would be used by the BNP to get more Councillors. And this the BNP also failed in. While they increased their overall vote to a massive 15,000 and would have held many of their seats on a similar turnout to 2006, they were wiped out on a massive increase in the Labour vote, e.g. almost 100% in Valence ward between 2006 and 2010, mirroring the increase for Hodge.
So the HnH/UAF campaign essentially, and as always, relied on getting out the Labour vote, in this case for the ultra NuLabourite Margaret Hodge, the cause of most people voting BNP in the first case!
Secondly, most people vote BNP as a protest and tend not to vote BNP more than once or twice. They are not ardent racists or fascists and vote BNP as a protest over a number of issues. We have seen this everywhere the BNP have appeared. Britain does not yet have a majority in any area who would allow a BNP council or MP to be elected.
And thirdly the BNP are their own worst enemies; they have been infighting in Barking and Dagenham as elsewhere and have suffered embarrassing setbacks e.g. their very own national website was taken over by their webmaster alleging corruption and violence only two days before the election (9). Their local Councillors do not have a good reputation and regularly fail to attend meetings. The dispute between Barnbrook and Griffin is probably the reason behind the wide disparity between the BNP vote locally and for Griffin; In 2010 Griffin got 6,600 votes but the local council BNP votes add up to 10,000 in the wards that make up Barking. So 4,000 who voted BNP for the council decided NOT to vote for Griffin at the General Election!
What is deeply worrying, however, is that after every election in which HnH claim victory, the BNP vote nationally, and the English Defence League presence on the streets, continues to increase. At the 2010 general election the BNP have increased their vote by 150%, from 192,000 to 563,000, with dozens of saved deposits. Though this is only half of the near-million they got at the Euros, small parties rarely achieve large General Election votes due to the ‘first past the post’ system of voting. By comparison at the two 1974 General Elections, the NF got 73,000 and 113,000, and peaked at 192,000 in 1979.
And crucially, what does this now mean in terms of those who, after all the leafleting, after all the door knocking, after all the arguments that the BNP are a fascist party, still voted for the BNP in Barking and Dagenham? Are we to now believe that these voters are all fascists? There is a very real risk that by not providing any alternative and by continually marginalising those who will not tolerate the likes of Hodge we actually push those who would vote BNP as a protest into actually identifying with the BNP and actually starting to think fascism is an answer.
Indeed Nick Lowles the leader of HnH/Searchlight is well aware of this and after the Euros in 2009 wrote
“..Addressing the widespread economic insecurities, solving the democratic deficit and forging new progressive identities requires public policy changes that are beyond the remit of the HOPE not hate campaign and anti-fascism generally. We can mobilise the anti-BNP vote and even sometimes suppress the pro-BNP vote but we cannot build houses and reduce waiting lists; we cannot prevent undercutting of wages and the abuse of migrant workers. Local anti-fascist movements cannot get resources into communities, often the poorest, dealing with extraordinary levels of migration. That is the job of politicians and political parties. It is their failure currently to do so that is resulting in the increasing tribalism of local politics along racial and religious lines… To fight the BNP effectively we must move away from city and town centre events to focusing on the very communities where the BNP is drawing its support. We need to return to localised leaflets and newsletters, tapping into the local identities of neighbourhoods and addressing local issues to undermine the BNP’s message of hate…” etc etc (10)
But what Lowles writes is entirely contradictory and illustrates only too well why anti-fascism simply does not work. What is needed is a community based strategy yes, but one that is class based, and addresses all the concerns of local people and does not get drawn into the far-right’s and state’s racialising and divisive politics.
To conclude we have another situation where superficially it appears that fascism has been defeated, but it has not. And it is worth also noting that nationally they will have got squeezed by the swing to the Tories (as in 1979). These pyrrhic HnH victories based on massive time and money inputs, do not defeat fascism, frustration and anger but merely hide them. And in fact may do worse. They may even, by tieing what are seen as the Left to New Labour, break yet more links with the working class and progressive ideas.
1) asterisks indicate wards that make up Barking parliamentary constituency