I am writing this open letter to you because I need your help. With the European election only a few weeks away it is absolutely vital that we all do what we can to stop the BNP from winning seats in the European Parliament. A significant BNP victory would herald the era of four-party politics and the BNP, with its leaders who peddle race hate, division and fear, would become a lasting national threat, and one that will play out in the ballot box and in our communities.
But they need not win. This election is being contested under proportional representation and so every vote counts. It is also a turnout election so we need everyone who opposes the BNP’s politics of hate to vote and convince others around them to vote.
This month Searchlight is launching its “Donate an hour” initiative. We are asking all our readers and supporters to give us a minimum of one hour to help us stop the BNP. Towards the end of this letter I will give you five ways you can help stop the BNP.
We are facing the biggest political challenge to date but if everyone who opposes the BNP’s message of hate does something then we can stop them.
The BNP threat
The threat from the British National Party in the forthcoming European election is very real. With just a small increase in the share of the vote the party secured at the last European election in 2004, the BNP could win three or more seats. Let there be no misunderstanding, a substantial breakthrough in the European election would change the British political landscape for years to come.
And it would change for the worse.
Each MEP is entitled to around £250,000 a year for staff and office support. Rather than benefiting voters in the region, the BNP would employ organisers to push its racist agenda in local and national elections.
That’s exactly what it has done in London, where its representative on the London Assembly employs two people, the party’s deputy leader, Simon Darby, who lives in Wales, and its Essex organiser Emma Colgate, who lives in Thurrock.
More importantly, a significant BNP breakthrough would fundamentally change the BNP’s fortunes and our ability to stop them. They would achieve a respectability and credibility that they can now only dream of. They would become regular fixtures on news programmes and we would no longer be able to pressurise the authorities to stop their activities.
As MEPs, they would be able to intervene on any issue and in any community they wish. We only have to look back to Oldham a few years ago to see how this can play out on the streets, winding up communities and pitting neighbour against neighbour. Increased tensions, fears and violence will likely follow.
Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP, needs to increase his 2004 vote in the North West from 6.4% to just 8.5%. Simon Darby only has to increase the BNP’s 7.5% vote in 2004 to 10.5% to take a seat in the West Midlands. And Andrew Brons requires his share of the vote to grow from 8% to 10.5% to take a seat in Yorkshire and The Humber.
The BNP even pose a threat in the East Midlands and London. They need to double their 6.5% vote in the East Midlands but with 26% of the electorate having voted for the UK Independence Party in 2004, which is now a mere shadow of its former self, this is not unfeasible. The BNP might only have polled 5.3% in London in last year’s London Assembly election but this could easily rise to the necessary 8.5% if inner London, which came out strongly for Ken Livingstone and Labour 12 months ago, remains at home this time.
Turnout will be a major factor.
Few people appear interested in the European election. A poll taken towards the end of last year found only 3% even knew that there was an election this year at all. Most people who are interested probably dislike the EU all the same.
In 2004 the BNP was prevented from winning through a high turnout, caused largely by all-out elections in the Metropolitan authorities in the North and West Midlands on the same day, and a huge vote for the UKIP. Neither of these factors are likely to benefit us this time. With no local elections in the urban areas of the North West, Yorkshire and The Humber and the West Midlands, turnout is likely to plummet.
In 1999, when the European elections was held without other elections at the same time, turnout nationally was just 23%. It was even worse in the North West, where the biggest BNP risk is. Twelve of the 20 local authorities with the lowest turnout were in Greater Manchester and Merseyside, with just 13% of people voting in Liverpool.
If there is anything like a repeat of this turnout then we have little hope of stopping the BNP. One trade unionist in Burnley put it very succinctly at a recent meeting. If only one million of the five million registered voters in the North West bother to vote then Nick Griffin will only need 90,000 votes to get elected. And they will certainly get this.
If two million people bother to vote, achieving a 40% turnout, then the BNP will need 180,000 votes. Suddenly it becomes more difficult for them. If there is a 50% turnout then the BNP will need 225,000, which surely is beyond their reach.
Turnout is absolutely crucial. In a short election campaign we will try to depress the BNP vote but that is far more difficult, and time consuming, than turning out our anti-BNP vote. And this has to be our crucial task. A turnout of less than 30% and it will be virtually impossible to stop the BNP from winning seats.
It is against this backdrop that the HOPE not hate campaign is being organised. It will be our biggest and most sophisticated campaign to date. During May we are organising days of action and mass leafleting all across the country. So far we have activities organised in over 70 local authority areas, with more to be confirmed. Some will be small events, with just a handful of people, but others will mobilise hundreds. There is now a competition between Manchester and Liverpool for who can put more people on the street on 16 May. Wigan has set itself a target of delivering 50,000 newspapers and Barking and Dagenham is aiming for more than 250 people to take part in its day of action.
However, we also recognise that we alone cannot defeat the BNP. The HOPE not hate campaign is working with a number of partners who have their own networks, among them trade unions and faith groups. If the trade unions can increase polling day turnout among their 750,000 members in the North West they can really influence the outcome. If these trade unionists can persuade their partners to vote, that will push up the turnout even further.
We are working with all the main trade unions, often customising specific literature with messages that are pertinent to their members.
Faith groups will be crucial. They have a credibility and authority in many of the communities where local politicians have disengaged. In Greater Manchester alone, the Anglican Church has over 500 full-time employees and a similar number of part-time workers, and the church as a whole has the largest community outreach project in the country. Give these people the arguments and tools to take the message to their congregations and we are really beginning to motor.
The Jewish community is already organising. In parts of north London turnout among Jewish voters in 2008 was almost 80%, largely mobilised based on the desire to defeat the BNP. A similar campaign in Manchester and Leeds is being organised and will obviously boost our vote.
The stakes have never been higher. I’m presuming that you, as a reader of Searchlight, share my opposition to the BNP and its politics of hate. But now I must ask you to do a little bit more. If we are to defeat the BNP then we must all play a role, and we must do it now.
We have to say to ourselves, and our friends: If not me, who? If not now, when?
This is why I am asking you to donate a minimum one hour to fight the BNP. That’s my ask to you and I hope it will be your ask to your friends and family.
Many of you could probably donate far more than an hour to the campaign, but even if it is only one hour it can make a difference.
One hour is enough time to deliver 150-200 leaflets or newspapers. It is enough time to address a union branch meeting or send an email to all your friends and family explaining why you are voting in this election and to urge them to do the same.
If we all gave just one hour then we can do an enormous amount. If every Searchlight reader delivered at least 150-200 leaflets then over a million could be distributed. This could be doubled if we all found one other person to do it as well. This would be multiplied several times over if the 22,000 on our growing HOPE not hate email list also committed an hour.
And if everyone donated just two hours during May then really anything is possible.
We are building something very special this year at the HOPE not hate campaign. We are combining traditional anti-fascist campaigning with community organising. We are using new technology to bring in tens of thousands of new activists into the campaign in a way that the political parties cannot. We are doing all this because the threat is so real.
I hope you will give me the hour and in the process play your part in the HOPE not hate campaign. Please don’t wake up on 5 June thinking there was one more thing you could have done.
Yours in solidarity
Please get involved by visiting Hope not hate