September 16, 2007

Searchlight - The year ahead

Nick Lowles looks at the year ahead and stresses the need to improve our campaigning in order to keep the BNP in check.

There were few smiles as first Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, rose to speak, then Eddy Butler, the party’s national elections officer. Around the table were gathered the leaders of the British National Party, key regional organisers and those involved centrally in the election campaign. They were meeting to analyse the party’s performance in the May local elections.

A week before the polls the BNP had confidently predicted it would win 30 to 60 local council seats. In the event the party won just nine, one more than it lost. Even the BNP leadership admitted it was a poor result.

“Our opponents have now worked out how to keep us out,” the audience were told. “In key wards we were out-organised. In many cases we have a very good base vote, but to win we need a spike of support on top. As a direct result of our repeated electoral success, in particular our pioneering use of postal votes in our crushing by-election victory in Barking three years ago, the Labour Party has undergone a paradigm shift in the effectiveness of its election machine. They and their union allies are now capable of out-organising us in a limited number of places, thereby cutting off the top of our support spike.

“It was this ability, carefully targeted, that held us back from winning in several dozen wards in May.”

May seems a long time ago now. These elections are now history and the battleground has already moved on. If anyone believes the BNP has been beaten they are gravely wrong. In areas where anti-BNP groups and political parties took the BNP seriously the fascists were beaten, and beaten well. In areas where the old dogma of ignoring the BNP prevailed, principally in the East Midlands, the BNP performed very well.

Over the next 12 months there will be new challenges and an increased threat. The BNP is attempting to learn from its recent political failures in time for next year’s local elections. The London Assembly elections, contested under proportional repres-entation, will give the BNP a real chance of securing a seat, and if there is a general election the BNP is likely to field a record number of candidates in what the party is likely to treat as a dry run for the elections for the much coveted seats in the European Parliament in June 2009.

In facing these new threats there can be no room for complacency. We need to build on this year’s results, further improve our campaigning techniques and mobilise even more people to get out and vote.

Lessons

It is clear that the BNP is attempting to learn the lessons of last May. At the election analysis meeting the BNP leadership discussed quite openly the shortcomings of their own operation and discussed strategies to overcome these. If the BNP can find a way to put these ideas into action – after all it has promoted them before but the rank and file membership have been unwilling or unable to carry them out – then we will be facing a more determined BNP effort.

The BNP does not admit it overstretched itself in putting forward over 700 candidates in May though it recognises that it needs to widen the number of wards it targets intensively. It also intends to focus more directly on people with postal votes. In the first instance it wants to try to reduce the number of people using postal votes by means of a scare leaflet later this autumn which will claim that there is a high chance of one’s postal votes being stolen or manipulated. Then, during the election campaign itself, the BNP wants to ensure that local units properly target postal voters before they vote, which has not happened in the past.

There will also be a greater effort to identify BNP voters and get them out to vote, another admission that despite talk over several years stressing the importance of canvassing and Voter ID work, most branches fail to do such work. We are likely to see a bigger profile for the BNP campaign, Operation White Vote.

However, the key work being promoted by the leadership will be an extension of community politics – clearing up litter and getting involved in drug rehabilitation and youth groups, local festivals and neighbourhood watch schemes. Not only does this raise the profile of the BNP and its potential election candidates but, and probably more importantly, it gives a positive image of the party which contrasts greatly with the negative anti-BNP literature that is widely circulated.

To assist with this work Mark Collett and the BNP publicity department have committed themselves to producing a monthly leaflet with space for local community activities and feedback forms. But given that he was unable to supply many BNP branches with their targeted glossy leaflets during the election campaign – a widely held gripe that was raised at the meeting but largely brushed aside by Griffin – it is still uncertain whether the new leaflets will materialise.

In addition to a more effective BNP campaign, we will also face more difficult elections. The London Assembly elections will be contested under a form of PR and with 5% of the London-wide vote guaranteeing representation it is going to be a tall order to keep the BNP out. In 2004 the BNP was just 5,000 votes short of gaining a seat, with 90,365 votes (4.8%). The election was held on the same day as the European elections which obviously boosted the UK Independence Party, which polled 156,780 votes (8.18%), securing two seats in the London Assembly. Since 2004 the BNP has emerged as a significant political force in outer east London while the UKIP has declined, and the BNP will surely be looking to eat into the UKIP vote.

The general election, likely to be held in spring, will present advantages and disadvantages for the BNP. It is likely to field many more candidates than in 2005 and save a greater number of deposits. The free mail drop and party political broadcasts will get the BNP message into many more households than in a local election when leaflets have to be delivered through the door by activists and this will greatly increase the party’s profile ahead of the European elections.

The party’s key targets will be Barking and Dagenham in east London, all three Stoke-on-Trent seats and West Bromwich West in the West Midlands, and Dewsbury and Morley and Outwood in West Yorkshire.

There are also likely to be as many as 25 constituencies where the BNP vote will be bigger than the margin of victory. This will be a particular problem for the Conservatives who will be competing with the BNP for those people who are angry with Labour’s immigration policy.

However, the BNP is likely to be squeezed by the major political parties in many constituencies around the country and outside its key targets it will find it difficult to establish a profile. If the general election is on the same day as the local elections it will be even harder for the BNP.

Our response

The BNP will undoubtedly put in place a better election operation next year than this and we will need to continue improving to ensure that it fails to make any significant breakthrough. It is not a matter of radically altering our campaigning strategy but of expanding it. We won this year because the political parties rose to the challenge, their candidates worked harder over a longer period and re-engaged with voters. Complimenting them was Searchlight, trade unions and local anti-BNP groups which delivered targeted anti-BNP material, operated phone banks and knocked up anti-BNP voters.

One of the most successful elements of the campaign was the local specific leaflets that Searchlight produced for some candidates. Everywhere where these were produced, including 15 of the most vulnerable wards, the BNP was defeated.

Tom Watson, the MP for West Bromwich East, believes that it was this partnership that helped drive down the BNP vote in Sandwell considerably. “Searchlight worked closely with us and inspired us to work harder. The Sandwell Day of Action [when 220 people delivered 45,000 newspapers] gave us the extra push to defeat the BNP. In addition, the story about local BNP criminality, which was on the front page of the paper, really resonated with people who might have previously voted for the BNP. I’m still getting people in my constituency telling me that they liked what the BNP say on many issues but didn’t vote for them because of their sinister side.”

The role of the trade unions too was vital in many areas this year. They were more integrated into the overall anti-BNP campaign than in previous years and this paid off politically.

Hard work, engaging with voters and year-long campaigning appears a simple recipe for defeating the BNP. However, if we are honest there are still too many areas where this is not being done. Too many local political parties merely pay lip service to good campaigning and not enough local anti-BNP groups are working on the estates where the BNP gathers its support.

To keep one step ahead of the BNP we need to ensure that this strategy is followed through. To help with this Searchlight will be holding a series of seminars across the country, including an organisers’ school aimed at political activists and local anti-BNP groups.

There will be a special focus on London in the run-up to the London Assembly elections, more of which will be revealed in Searchlight over the next few months. We will also formalise our general election strategy which will recognise the limitations of anti-BNP campaigning in a general election but will focus on the core areas, not only to limit the BNP vote but to use the election as a Voter ID-gathering exercise that will be vital in subsequent local elections.

Much of our work over the coming 12 months will form a prelude to the major battle in the European election campaign. Let there be no mistake about the seriousness of these elections. If the BNP wins seats in the European Parliament, it will have made its political breakthrough. The financial and political benefits will mean that we will forever find it difficult to push the BNP back into the margins. What we do now will impact on those elections. This May the BNP vote fell in many of the party’s key areas. If we can continue this then we can prevent the BNP from achieving any success in 2009. If we let up then the BNP will get MEPs elected.

Griffin and Butler compared their struggle with the life cycle of bacteria. By defeating the BNP this year, they claimed, we would suffer as the party came back stronger “more virulent” than before.

The analogy is fitting. The BNP is a bacterium that constantly needs defeating and like bacteria the consequences of not ridding our society of the BNP could be very dangerous indeed.

Searchlight

12 comments:

AFA Leicester said...

""The analogy is fitting. The BNP is a bacterium that constantly needs defeating and like bacteria the consequences of not ridding our society of the BNP could be very dangerous indeed.""

I'm anti-fascist (honestly) but all this reads like a keep paying Searchlight ad.

I won't because the BNP were bolloxed in my area by good old fashioned anti-fascism.

If Searchlight is that desperate to keep the BNP out why doesn't it engage with anti-faacists on an altruistic not a profit making level?

The BNP's vote is NOT growing. We all know that and the UAF on this blog has said so often. We're winning, so why the bullshit scare tactics from Searchlight?

That doesn't mean we sit back and take it easy. True anti-fascist won't. But it doesn't mean we've got to buy into Searchlight's scaremongering crap either.

I've been reading Lancaster UAF since February. It has always been correct and almost all of its predictions have come true. It's also dug out things that Searchlight hasn't.

You don't need to post this Searchlight profit making crap, Ketlan. You and your team are on the ball. You get it first and you get it right. It's Searchlight that rides on your coat tailes.

Did Searchlight dig up Avocado and Horse Matters? Has SL come up with any gripping (or accurate) analysis of all the BNP's shananigins in Solidarity or its internal purge?

No it didn't. You and your team Fister and Denise got all that and kept us on top of it, not profit making Searchlight.

Keep doing what you do. I'll take Lancaster's analysis before anything I read in £earchlight.

Antifascist said...

Thanks for your comment AFA Leicester (I thought AFA had entirely evolved into Antifa?) and I'd like to respond to a couple of points.

'...the BNP were bolloxed in my area by good old fashioned anti-fascism'

By which I assume you mean getting out on the streets and making your voices heard. That's the way the fascists will always be beaten but as AFA you'll know that there are a lot of ways of doing this; leafleting, demonstrations, events, public meetings, canvassing, home visits etc, and all of them have their relative merits and demerits. Different strokes for different folks as they say, and who is to say that any one is more or less valid than any other. Personally I like the word 'unite' in our title and see unity as the key to fighting the likes of the BNP, BPP, NF and so on. Searchlight works one way, UAF another, Antifa/AFA another and so on. Personally I don't give a toss what all the disparate groups do or how they do it as long as we're able to complement each other when the chips are down, and we have been completely supported by all the groups (and more) I mentioned in various ways when it's really mattered.

'If Searchlight is that desperate to keep the BNP out why doesn't it engage with anti-faacists on an altruistic not a profit making level?'

Having worked with Searchlight in a fairly intense way over the past couple of years I have to say it frequently does. If it somehow makes a profit on its activities, good luck to it. I wish we did.

'The BNP's vote is NOT growing. We all know that and the UAF on this blog has said so often. We're winning, so why the bullshit scare tactics from Searchlight?'

Different strokes again - but we can understand the different approaches. The belief that the BNP is NOT growing and in fact is stagnating could change at a moment's notice depending on what the government does or says, what the media comes out with or through any number of other reasons. The BNP could itself change its tactics and the article makes it clear that that's a process that's occurring now. Happily, no matter how slick the election-machine gets, the BNP have the seeds of its own destruction built in with its appalling inadequacy in selecting candidates. All very well the BNP having a great election campaign followed by a resounding win but if its candidate is then going to beat the crap out of his wife, defraud the benefit system or earn himself an ASBO for harassing his neighbours, it's ultimately going to get nowhere. This could change though (and probably will eventually).

'That doesn't mean we sit back and take it easy. True anti-fascist won't.'

Too right. The Searchlight article urges that we do not become complacent - and it's right to do so.

'It's also dug out things that Searchlight hasn't...Did Searchlight dig up Avocado and Horse Matters? Has SL come up with any gripping (or accurate) analysis of all the BNP's shananigins in Solidarity or its internal purge? No it didn't. You and your team Fister and Denise got all that and kept us on top of it...'

Very kind comments and I can tell you that we certainly appreciate them but there's a couple of things worth saying in response. The Lancaster UAF blog is always on and is updated daily where Searchlight is (presently) a print magazine backed by a website that updates once a month, thus we can have the immediate response that Searchlight inevitably lacks. If Searchlight set up a blog, we'd find ourselves faced with very stiff (though welcome) competition indeed. Searchlight articles though are extremely well-researched and based around many years of experience in fighting fascism not just here but throughout the world. Comparing Searchlight and Lancaster UAF doesn't really work because we're so different - it's like comparing apples with shoes. Apart from anything else, Searchlight is frequently an authoratative resource for us when we're researching for an article and has always been at the end of the phone (or email) when we need a question answered or some detail explained.

I make no apologies for our links with Searchlight, nor with UAF, nor with the trades unions, AFA, Antifa, SPLC, Indymedia, the church (in all its various forms), anarchists or members of any of the political parties with whom we've worked. All have made valuable contributions to what we do and all are valued for what they do. If Lancaster UAF is well-regarded in the anti-fascist movement, it's largely thanks to all those groups and the support they've given us.

Having said all that, thanks for your comment. Your reservations aside, we really do appreciate the compliments. :-)

Mr Fister said...

1) "If Searchlight is that desperate to keep the BNP out why doesn't it engage with anti-faacists on an altruistic not a profit making level?"

I dunno if Searchlight makes a profit or not, but I imagine that the union funders would have a pretty good nose at the books before contributing. [As UAF's head office has apparently found to it's detriment.] As for genuine antifascists and the BNP being "bolloxed" in your area, they stood there at the last elections, when prior to that they did not. What genuine anti-fascist work did you undertake, if it wasn't the enormous distribution of their materials, which a far as I am aware were free to activists? I don't wish this to sound like an attack on you personally, but Searchlight ran a national campaign that had a good, united, and mainstream backing.

The fight against extremism, can no longer be the sole domain of the left (if it was, we'd have no Denise G for instance! And we all know how sad that would make Sidney.)


2)"The BNP's vote is NOT growing. We all know that and the UAF on this blog has said so often. We're winning, so why the bullshit scare tactics from Searchlight?"

I agree, it has dropped from 19% to around 15% based on the last election. But that included a few hundred extra candidates, many of whom fought no campaigns at all. I would imagine it fairer to say that the vote does show signs of if not increasing, then at least picking up. (Where there was once no BNP candidate for instance, merely by standing they secure up to 15%) So the is a worrying trend
that the BNP is tapping into areas and votes. The 4% drop is merely because it stood more candidates.

3)You and your team Fister and Denise got all that and kept us on top of it, not profit making Searchlight.

We do indeed, but without Searchlight we'd be fucked!

Jkv said...

"I make no apologies for our links with Searchlight, nor with UAF, nor with the trades unions, AFA, Antifa, SPLC, Indymedia, the church (in all its various forms), anarchists or members of any of the political parties with whom we've worked. All have made valuable contributions to what we do and all are valued for what they do. If Lancaster UAF is well-regarded in the anti-fascist movement, it's largely thanks to all those groups and the support they've given us."

Bloody well said Ketlan!

Searchlight accountant said...

I have re-read the article and cannot find anything in it that asks people to "keep paying Searchlight". Nevertheless, for the avoidance of any doubt, may I assure everyone that all donations that Searchlight receives as a result of appeals for funds are spent on campaigning against fascism and racism, in particular the BNP.

Our leaflets, magazines, newspapers etc cost money to produce and distribute; our staff who work so hard on fighting the BNP in a huge variety of ways have to be paid (even though their salaries are less, in some cases very much so, than they could earn elsewhere). If any year does produce a surplus, every penny is carried forward to future campaigns.

As for Solidarity, we investigated and analysed it from the very start in Searchlight magazine, and were the first to expose Albion Life, which preceded Avocado.

Anonymous said...

"As for Solidarity, we investigated and analysed it from the very start in Searchlight magazine, and were the first to expose Albion Life, which preceded Avocado."
Who cares? This isn't a pissing contest. The plaudits can be allocated when the fight against the fascists has been won.

Searchlight accountant said...

"Who cares? This isn't a pissing contest. The plaudits can be allocated when the fight against the fascists has been won."

You are quite right of course, it does not matter who gets a story first. I just objected to afa leicester's suggestion that Searchlight never did so. We're all working together.

Mr Fister said...

And so say all of us.

Anonymous said...

Can we please not have a mud slinging fight about who pays for what, who does what, and who is best friends with who.

The nazis would love this.

Fighting the bnp came to barking & dagenham in the last 4/5 years, we were a solid labour council with a sprinkling of torys and libs, then we got hit by the nazis, the first group to offer support was Searchlight, and by support i mean practical support and advice.
I cant speak for the UAF throughout the country, but we have had some support from London groups of UAF which at times can be somewhat challenging and confrontational, but any support is welcome.
Personally i needed to learn more and found your site here, which i find to be a great source of information and true debate.
So please no divisions just keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that.

Kirklees Unity said...

Same situation here in Kirklees.

Without Searchlight the situation in Kirklees would be a whole lot worse.

Searchlight played a massive part in stopping Heckmondwike having 3 BNP councillors.

I quite frankly am sick to death of all this "conspiracy theory" bullshit so called "Antifascists" aim at Searchlight.

Like Ketlan we at Kirklees Unity are proud to be associated with Searchlight.

Anonymous said...

in response to Kirklees unity...good radio 4 programme last night focussing on education in your area, from what i heard it was quiet a balanced programme.