There is a strong Stoke division of the EDL, based around Stoke City supporters, and unofficial Stoke City internet message boards are full of talk about their mobilisation in the city on 23 January.
The link between certain Stoke City supporters (the “Naughty Forties”) and the fascists has existed for a number of years, and has been documented in past issues of Searchlight. The BNP deny that they are in any way linked to the EDL, but in practice the local EDL supporters are also BNP supporters. For example, Shaun Grimsley, who recently stood for the BNP at a by-election in Cannock Chase, is also a self-confessed Nazi and an EDL activist.
There have been some tensions in the local BNP recently. Alby Walker, the leader of the BNP group on the City Council, recently resigned unexpectedly. Walker was seen as a “moderate” (in BNP terms), and is likely to be succeeded as leader by hardline Nazi Michael Coleman.
NorSCARF is the North Staffordshire Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, which was originally founded in 1977 to oppose the National Front. We are an autonomous local anti-fascist campaign covering Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme and the Staffordshire Moorlands. We have links with both Searchlight and the UAF: there is no separate UAF group in the area.
NorSCARF has close links with the trade union movement through the North Staffordshire Trades Council. NorSCARF is quite unusual in encompassing all strands of anti-fascist opinion within a single organisation, and of course the kind of debates going on inside the anti-fascist movement generally have been taking place within NorSCARF.
How to relate to the disaffected working-class people attracted to the BNP and the EDL is, of course, the big question. NorSCARF are aware that to date we have been simply firefighting, and that we do need to carry on serious sustained work in the working-class estates where the BNP have made inroads.
One of the particular problems we face in Stoke-on-Trent is the fragmentation of the political scene. The City Council is made up of at least nine separate political groups, including several distinct groups of “Independents”, including some politically close to the BNP.
In this year’s May elections, the BNP are defending three seats. However, seven more are vulnerable to a BNP win (these are wards which have previously elected BNP councillors, or where the BNP has come second). In the worst scenario, the BNP could win all these seats.
Adding these ten to the six not standing for re-election this time, that would increase the size of the BNP group to 16 — the largest single group on the Council, with more councillors than the Labour Party. They would become the official opposition to the current ruling coalition of Tories and Independents.
From a personal (rather than a NorSCARF) perspective, I would add that the Labour Party are barely credible as an opposition. There is an internal war within the party locally, whereby the Blairites (mainly located in Stoke South constituency) are trying to purge the party of the old left (mainly located in Stoke Central and Stoke North), with the assistance of the party’s regional organiser.
A number of very experienced former councillors, including a former leader of the Labour Group, have been prevented from going on the party’s panel of candidates. Only eleven prospective candidates have been approved, despite the fact that there are twenty wards in the City. The Labour Party will therefore not even be able to stand a candidate in every ward.
• 23 January: assemble with NorSCARF 12.30pm, outside NORSACA, Lindsay Annexe, Cannon Place, Hanley ST1 4EP