The fight against the far right in Britain has never been harder – or more important. That is the message that came over loud and clear at the Unite Against Fascism national conference at Congress House in London on Saturday.
More than 400 politicians, trade union activists, members of Muslim, Jewish, black and Asian groups, and lesbian and gay organisations got together to sound the alarm about the rise of the British National Party.
The BNP has been winning council seats and polling record votes for a neo-fascist party in Britain and the fear is it could gain seats in the European Parliament unless a vigorous campaign is mounted this spring.
Ken Livingstone, chair of Unite Against Fascism said: “The BNP’s and fascists’ targets change. First it was the Jews, then the Irish, then the African, Caribbean and Asian communities. Today the prime targets are Muslims. The Muslim community is one of the most integrated communities in Britain. Opinion polling showed more Muslims in London felt patriotic towards England than the average Londoner. There is no Islamic enemy within.
“We must unite together against the BNP and forms of bigotry. Just like the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism fought the National Front in the 1970s, Unite Against Fascism is bringing together a movement to stop the BNP.”
Peter Hain, Labour MP for Neath, said: “The most important lesson of history is of unity against the BNP. Today’s fight is harder than the movement in the 1970s, with fascists polling high votes and attempting to present themselves as a legitimate, normal political party. I campaigned against apartheid in South Africa, and now I campaign against fascism, racism and Islamophobia.”
Glyn Ford, Labour MEP for South West England, said: “The BNP is emulating France’s Front National strategy. By June 1984 the Front National made a breakthrough and France has since then never been able to get rid of them. If the BNP get elected here it will be the start of a permanent presence. Our job is to stop the BNP. We must get out there, organise and mobilise the vote. People not voting will give fascists an electoral breakthrough.”
Those calls came in the wake of the shock BNP victory in a by-election for Sevenoaks council in Kent. The BNP won Swanley St Mary’s with 408 votes pushing Labour, which had held the seat, into second place with 332. The Tories came third with 247.
Paul Golding, the BNP candidate, called it “an outstanding result” and “a historic day for the BNP”. He said: “It has implications far beyond Sevenoaks and bodes well for the entire south east and the upcoming Euro elections.”
Swanley St Mary’s has, traditionally, been a safe Labour seat on a Conservative-controlled council. Swanley has a lot of social housing and little in common with the leafy lanes and commuter belt wealth of its near neighbour Sevenoaks.
It is the second council seat the BNP has taken in the south east of England outside London – Emma Colgate was elected to Thurrock council in Essex in May last year.
Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham, said: “With UKIP faltering and the economy hurtling into recession we need everyone who opposes the BNP’s message of hate to play a part because a BNP victory will change the political landscape in Britain.”