Last week’s by-election in Henley was a depressing one. It’s not just that Labour polled an abysmal three per cent, but that they were beaten into fifth place by the BNP. Let me just re-iterate that fact: more people voted for the British National Party than the governing party of this country. It takes a while to sink in.
Labour’s woes and the Prime Minister’s growing unpopularity aside, it was still a worrying result, as shocking as it was unexpected, the reverberations of which are still being felt today.
If such a result can happen in the rural idyll of Henley-on-Thames, a picture perfect village as far removed from the desolation and deprivation of the scummiest inner city cess pits as one can imagine, it can happen anywhere.
Though the Henley result was their biggest, most high-profile impact on a Parliamentary election so far, the BNP have made gains in local council elections, increasing their vote every year since 2005. The BNP currently have more than 50 councillors nationally, 13 of which are in London - 12 in Barking and Dagenham and one in Redbridge - with a further four in neighbouring Epping Forest in Essex.
Other towns where they have enjoyed electoral success include Burnley (four councillors), Bradford (two) and Kirklees (two) in the North, and Sandwell (two) and Stoke-on-Trent (nine) in the Midlands. And in May, they scored their biggest win to date, claiming a seat on the London Assembly via the top-up lists by just 10,000 votes. As ever, turnout was key, and if just a handful more Londoners had voted, for whatever party, they wouldn’t have got in.
So how can they be beaten? Getting more people to vote is definitely one way, as is allaying people’s fears on immigration, but the key is to confront these vile racists head on and demolish the lies and propaganda they spread.
Ceding ground to them and trying to sound ever more right-wing, as some in the Government have been doing, is not the answer. Margaret Hodge, a third-rate backbencher and Member of Parliament for Barking, proposes just this strategy, and it’s resulted in a dozen BNP councillors in her own back yard.
Another Labour MP, Immigration Minister Liam Byrne, has gone even further; last month unveiling plans to fine and possibly jail British Asians if their relatives from India and Pakistan overstay their visas, having made them pay a cash bond in advance of their arrival.
“What we want to do is have a new system but punish people if things go wrong,” he said, referring to people coming over for family weddings and then disappearing. “We want to make sure that we can just hit people and hit people hard if their family member breaks the rules.”
When French resistance fighters killed German soldiers the Gestapo would round up innocent villagers and shoot ten of them for every dead German soldier. It was called “collective punishment”; this policy works on the same principle.
No, the way to see off the threat of the BNP is to allay voters’ fears over everything from crime to youth provision to the health service to education, and take on and destroy the racists’ propaganda that immigrants are responsible for all this nation’s ills. Immigration into this country has resulted in a net benefit to the British economy. Fact. The National Health Service would collapse without immigrants. Fact. Millions of British jobs depend on foreign trade and investment. Fact. The list goes on and on…
They may no longer be as overtly racist as they once were, and they may have swapped their black-shits and skinheads for tailored suits and slick haircuts, but scratch the surface and they’re the same nasty, repugnant filth they always were.
They may try to divide us, but united we shall remain.
When the time comes, get out and vote, for a wasted vote is as bad as a BNP one.