Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The far right and May 5th

The Labour years saw a steady increase in the vote of the far right, a rise that took the BNP to historic levels of support and unprecedented, if modest, success at the ballot box - predominately in Labour "safe" seats where the electorate had been taken for granted and ignored for years.

However, by the time our new coalition overlords came to power the BNP's momentum was well and truly broken as the organisation fell into infighting, expulsions and paranoia. Other groupings like the English Democrats and the National Front have made life extremely uncomfortable in selected areas, but as organisations are abject failures.

Sadly, this does not mean that the mood which spawned these far right organisations has disappeared. In fact the last general election saw a record vote for the BNP and with UKIP's more, cough, eccentric approach attracting many of the right's stability challenged individuals we have a movement that has been beaten organisationally but not psychologically.

Of course that doesn't stop the BNP's chief Mussolini impersonator Nick Griffin from being a bugbear used to frighten the children.

For example, the Yes to AV people have been playing heavily on the fact that Griffin opposes AV and if the black shirted devil thinks something we can't possibly agree with him. That rather ignores two obvious things.

Griffin is also for renationalising the railways and opposed the Iraq War. Are the millions of people in this country that do the same somehow capitulating to fascism? Of course not, no more than vegetarians are similar to Hitler. Griffin will hold a host of views, some political some not, that are not the defining feature of his politics. Yet somehow this political irrelevance is being used to give the moral high ground to all those who are voting Yes on May 5th.

It also ignores the fact that Nick Clegg is far more hated than Griffin (because more people actively think hate-y thoughts about him more of the time) so it might not be wise to start playing the "You can't agree with him" game. It makes no more sense to "vote Yes to oppose the BNP" than it does to "vote No to annoy Nick Clegg". Well, it actually makes less sense.

I digress. The electoral prospects for the BNP are dismal at best as they are standing fewer candidates than for years and some former strongholds have no BNP candidates at all. This is all very satisfactory and people in those areas can concentrate on averting the global catastrophe that is mainstream politics free from the distractions of goose-stepping uniform fetishists.

Of course, organisations like Hope Not Hate are working hard targeting those council wards where the BNP can be driven out once and for all. The BNP are defending eleven council seats this year, in particular in Stoke on Trent, and if fail to keep these seats that will be half their remaining councillors gone and the organisation's spirit broken for good. This is where the battle is.

It's frustrating to see in Edinburgh posters up advocating  us to "vote to keep out the BNP". It's frustrating because the BNP don't have a hope in hell of winning an MSP anywhere in Scotland, nor even of coming close to winning one. This election isn't even remotely about the BNP and the only people going into the polling station thinking of the BNP will be the genuinely tiny number of people who will be voting for them.

It's also frustrating because this tactic of mobilising the vote against the far right has a real use under particular circumstances. The classic example is that of Derek Beackon, a BNP member who won their first ever council seat back in 1993, the same year Stephen Lawrence was murdered. The anti-fascist movement came out in droves to get Beackon out and the next year he was out of the council again.

However, whilst inspiring it is worth noting what, specifically, the anti-fascists achieved electorally. Leaving aside the added confidence in the area to those opposing the right, the BNP's vote actually increased from the '93 by-election to the '94 full council election where Beackon gained more than 2,000 votes in his ward (over 28%) but the Labour vote was also dramatically increased as the obvious candidate to beat the BNP.

In the context this was an incredibly useful strategy, but in areas where they have no chance of winning this tactic (which inevitably increases the far right vote) serves simply to advertise the presence of the far right in areas where they do not have the man-power to make their presence felt themselves. In other words in places like Edinburgh ignoring them in elections where they don't have a chance is the best and most effective anti-fascist tactic even though banging the drum might make you feel better and allow you to recruit to your organisation.

The only people going out of their way to let the people of Edinburgh know they can vote for a Nazi this May are the small group of anti-fascists, and the only possible result of their activities is that the BNP's impact in the area is increased. I'd also say that this tactic is less well suited to proportional representation elections (which the second vote is) anyway, because concentrating the "not fascist" vote into one party doesn't stop them getting elected.

The BNP is dying on its arse. In those remaining eleven council seats it needs to be squashed out of existence, but everywhere else the very worse thing we can do is to make out they are still a significant force in UK politics, because frankly the only thing that could save them now is if people start to believe that.


Peter Cranie said...

A good post Jim. I was overly pessemistic about what would happen if the BNP made a Euro breakthrough. I regret we didn't keep them out in the NW and Y+H regions, because if we had, they would be bankrupt now, rather than in distress.

However, I think it is a mistake to write them off yet at a regional level. Council elections served their purpose for Griffin from 2004 to 2009, but his only concern in 2014 will be re-election, and as an incumbent beating himn will be a different proposition.

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