Billy Bragg “declared war” on the BNP today, and called the electoral battle for his home town of Barking a “fight for the soul of the English people”
Speaking before the premiere of his first play — the story of three generations of a white working-class family — he said he would be working to help Labour defeat the extreme Right in the east London seat.
The 52-year-old singer-songwriter, known as the Bard of Barking, has created Pressure Drop with writer Mick Gordon and On Theatre. Bragg will perform new music during the show at the Wellcome Collection in Euston Road. But between performances he will campaign in the seat where Labour MP Margaret Hodge faces a challenge from BNP leader Nick Griffin.
Bragg said the election was “critical” because of the economic situation, “but for the country that I love, for the patriotism that I feel, this fight in Barking and Dagenham is the most important fight since the war.” He said Labour had done much for the area: “They built houses, they built schools. There are improvements in education.”
But, he added, people felt powerless and ignored in the face of rapid change with significant immigration. “It's not racist to recognise that so many people coming to the borough puts incredible pressure on housing and health.
Everyone else in London benefits from multiculturalism and cheap labour but places like Barking and Dagenham suffer as a result.
“The answer isn't to round these people up and send them back. But there on our doorstep inequality has thrown up this situation that can be exploited by the fascists. It's going to be a fight for the soul of the English people.”
Meanwhile, the BNP is bidding to win Barking and Dagenham council. Bragg said: “They could do a lot of damage with a budget of £200 million. Imagine what they could do to housing and education.” He hopes Pressure Drop will raise awareness of residents' genuine worries: “The fact that people are being exploited by a man who questions the veracity of the Holocaust, in the form of Nick Griffin, doesn't mean the problems aren't worthy of being addressed. My concern is that if the BNP gets elected the borough becomes a kind of pariah.”
The play is entertainment, he said. “Entertaining is very important. But you can't change the world singing songs.” Mick Gordon began writing Pressure Drop after reading Bragg's book The Progressive Patriot. By coincidence, the Wellcome Collection was planning a season on identity and commissioned it as its first play.
* Pressure Drop runs from April 19 to May 12.
London Evening Standard