We need to fight hard to keep Britain’s far right out of the European Parliament, says Glyn Ford
The European elections are less than three months away and the labour and trade union movement is in denial about the extent of the threat posed by the British National Party. While anti-fascist organisations such as Unite Against Fascism and Searchlight have been trying to desperately to sound a warning, the danger is that the response will be too little, too late.
But the warnings signs have been evident for some time. In May last year, Richard Barnbrook increased the BNP vote to 5.3 per cent from 4.7 per cent in 2004. Creeping over the 5 per cent threshold meant he won a seat on the Greater London Assembly.
The alarming prospect now is not that BNP leader Nick Griffin might just scrape a seat in the North West of England where he failed so narrowly five years ago. Rather, it is that the BNP will win half a dozen or more seats across the length and breadth of England.
The reason for this is the fatal conjuncture between these particular elections, the economy and the electorate. First, European elections are contextual. Voters treat them as less important and increasingly different from general elections where you chose the government for the next five years. “Less important” means lower participation. “Different” means an opportunity to lash out against the established parties.
This tendency has shown itself twice before in European elections in England. The Greens went from 1 per cent five years earlier to 15 per cent in 1989 – a result that would have netted them more than a dozen seats under Jack Straw’s proportional representation system introduced a decade later. Instead, the first-past-the post system gave them nothing.
In 1994, the UK Independence Party got 1 per cent of the votes and no seats. In 1999, with the convenient arrival of the cavalry in the form of proportional representation, UKIP got 7 per cent of the vote and three seats. In 2004, boosted by Robert Kilroy-Silk’s apostasy, UKIP got 16 per cent and 12 seats. In contrast the BNP got 1 per cent of the vote in 1999 and 5 per cent in 2004.
Second, we have a financial and economic crisis that is a product of an absurd casino economy born of deregulation and greed, mating with cowardice and complacency. The sub-prime mortgage fiasco was the trigger, not the cause. The smoking gun is a derivatives market totally alien from the real economy and one run in a manner that would put the average Las Vegas casino to shame.
The financial crisis has precipitated an economic collapse. Recently published figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development for the last quarter of 2008 suggest that European economies will shrink by between 6 per cent and 8 per cent this year. In Japan and Korea it will be double that. Millions will be left jobless. Yet we are spending twice as much and more on bank bailouts compared to labour market measures to protect jobs, homes and families. As a result, ordinary people are angry, afraid and vengeful.
In France in 1981, after more than a quarter of a century in power, the right was ousted by Francois Mitterrand’s Socialists. By 1983, the left was struggling without conspicuous success to cope with a sharp economic downturn. In December that year, there was a by-election in Dreux, a small industrial town to the north of Paris. With left and right discredited, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National picked up 17 per cent of the vote. It went on to get 11 per cent nationally in the following June’s European elections, winning 10 seats and establishing the party as a permanent fixture on the French political scene.
A quarter of a century on, we face an identical scenario Britain. Having been in power for more than a decade, it is difficult for Labour to escape the blame entirely for the current fiasco. True, Gordon Brown reacted faster and more effectively than other world leaders. True, it’s a global problem. Yet all politics is local and national as well as international, and voters are looking for retribution. The only politicians they are able topunish are their own.
Even if the roots of the current crisis started with Margaret Thatcher’s “big bang” in 1986, Labour shares the blame. Folk memories of Thatcher still inoculate many Labour-leaning voters from ever voting Tory, so disgruntled former Labour supporters are now saying for the first time that they will vote for the BNP.
It has all been made worse by wildcat strikes in support of “British jobs for British workers”. There is a real problem, but it’s not the one whose flames are being fanned by the likes of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Sun. The problem is not foreigners stealing our jobs or Brits stealing theirs. The problem involves unscrupulous employers using loopholes in the Posted Worker Directive to import low wages, long hours and poor health and safety conditions. The answer is not xenophobia, whether this involves the Italian media reporting demands for British workers to be sent home or vice versa. The answer lies in the strength of the labour movement to demand that the legislation be amended to correct the anomalies.
Yet the main beneficiaries so far have been the BNP. This has been compounded by the tabloid campaign of denigration against all politicians and the implosion of UKIP since 2004, losing three MEPs: Robert Kilroy-Silk to narcissism, Ashley Mote to prison and Tom Wise to alleged fraud.
The result is a febrile political environment made for a BNP breakthrough unless the campaign against it is given a priority that is currently lacking. We need to get the message across to the electors. The BNP includes men and women with criminal convictions for race hatred, racial attacks and grievous bodily harm. David Copeland – the bomber found guilty of a series of terrorist attacks against the black, Bangladeshi and gay communities in London which killed three people, including a pregnant women, and injuried 129 – is a former member of the BNP.
We need to expose the kind of people they are in the BNP and what they stand for. In fact, this has already been well documented in the South West TUC’s pamphlet Who makes up the BNP. Published at the beginning of the month, it is available from South West TUC, Bristol, firstname.lastname@example.org and should be publicised as widely as possible.
The kind of future we face from the far right is shown all too well in Claudio Lazzaro’s documentary from Italy, Nazirock (www.nazirock.it), where the fascist Forza Nuova thugs make the streets of many Italian cities and the terraces of their football clubs no-go areas for the left.
Nick Griffin can say what he likes about the BNP’s new image, but actions speak louder then words. Who is the BNP travelling with? Jean-Marie Le Pen recently stated that the Nazi occupation of France was essentially benign – apparently forgetting the 77,000 Jews who went to the concentration camps, with less then 10 per cent surviving. In April 2004, Le Pen came to Britain to speak alongside Griffin at a fundraising dinner for the BNP.
Forza Nuova’s leader, Roberto Fiore, is now an MEP, after Alessandra Mussolini – Il Duce’s granddaughter – went to work with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing government in Rome. For many years, Fiore was skulking in London to avoid arrest for his role in the Bologna bombing which killed 85 people in August 1980. Although he was cleared of direct involvement in the atrocity, he was convicted of subversive association and jailed for nine years. This was reduced to five-and-a-half years on appeal and he returned to active politics in April 1999. While in Britain, Fiore and Griffin worked together with extremists from the Terza Posizione (Third Position) organisation.
So, on June 8 2009, don’t say you weren’t warned.
Glyn Ford is Labour MEP for South West England and Gibraltar, national Treasurer for the Anti-Nazi League and a member of Unite Against Fascism’s steering committee,
Tribune Comment: We must stop a BNP breakthrough
The British National Party is insidiously seeping into the body politic of Britain. Although its achievements in terms of getting elected are limited, and its performance in office risible, the racist party with its roots in fascism is becoming a household name, for all the wrong reasons.
A smattering of councillors and a cunning strategy to disguise its true nature have allowed the BNP a veneer of respectability that has resulted in its leading figures being interviewed as credible, legitimate politicians speaking on, for example, the economy on prestigious BBC current affairs programmes.
Now the European elections to be fought under the d’Hondt system of proportional representation offer the BNP the chance of the biggest breakthrough in British elections. It is a classic example of where PR can hand disproportionate representation to small, extremist parties. But it is not the system that needs to be fought, but the racists and the political and economic conditions which give succour to their sinister cause.
A broad alliance of the British Left, media and anti-fascist campaigns such as Unite Against Fascism, the indefatigable Searchlight, and notably the trade unions, has done much to contain the growth of support for the BNP. In many places where it had its recent breakthroughs – such as Bradford, Sandwell, Oldham and Kirklees – the party hardly exists on the ground anymore. But in many others, Barking and Dagenham being the most prominent, they are a present and gathering force.
As Glyn Ford starkly outlines on pages 10-11, and as MPs such as Jon Cruddas justly and relentlessly warn us, the political and economic climate is playing to the BNP’s advantage The party needs only a slight improvement on its 2004 vote to break onto the European stage. Every electorally successful member of the European Parliament would give it up to £250,000 a year in salaries, office costs and other resources.
In the north west, where its leader Nick Griffin is standing, Searchlight calculates that the BNP needs just an additional 2 per cent of the vote on its 2004 6.4 per cent to be virtually guaranteed a seat. Only a slight increase is required in the West Midlands and in Yorkshire and the Humber.
The threat is real, but remains dangerously underestimated throughout the country in spite of the efforts of campaigners. It is exacerbated by the traditionally low interest and turnout in European elections, by the collapsing support for the UK Independence Party and by the widespread lack of knowledge of what the BNP really stands for and what it does not. In his book Fatherland, author Robert Harris painted a nightmare picture of a defeated Britain under Nazi rule after the Second World War.
It is worth every canvasser confronted by a potential BNP supporter pointing out that at the very least the BNP does not stand in the great British tradition of tolerance, equality and compassion.
And at the worst, what it does stand for: an apartheid-style rule under which all those not born in Britain would suffer persecution and eventual expulsion from the country, where whites would be given first preference in housing, education and jobs. Where mixed-race relationships would be outlawed and where the answer to what would be a vastly escalating crime rate would be to allow every household to have a gun.
The abandonment of the white, working class traditional Labour voter by “new” Labour has regrettably turned into support for what the voters in Barking and Dagenham see as a redressing of the balance of opportunity. But it cannot be denied that the Labour Party and the Government were in denial for too long about the threat from the BNP.
Recent local elections have been a wake-up call and the movement has mobilised. But it needs more people to stand up and be counted, to take these European elections seriously and to stop the BNP in its tracks at this critical point in British political history. They must be denied this breakthrough and it can be done.