May 04, 2010

Fighting the BNP from the ground up – Obama-style

Anti-racist groups have learned from success of Obama election campaign, says former mastermind of president's online strategy

The man who masterminded Barack Obama's online strategy during the US president's election campaign said today that anti-racists fighting the British National party had learned from his successful internet plan.

Joe Rospars, who was the chief digital strategist for Obama from 2007 until his inauguration, said the Hope Not Hate campaign to prevent the BNP making a breakthrough later this week was the "best example" of a British organisation applying the principles he had picked up during the US presidential elections.

"We are seeing a genuine community-based organisation with people coming together around a common purpose and – crucially – meeting each other and taking the campaign forward themselves," said Rospars.

Hope Not Hate held its second day of action in Barking and Dagenham in east London , where the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, is standing against Labour's Margaret Hodge, and the far-right party is also hoping to take control of the council. On the campaign's first day, last month, 540 people turned up to deliver more than 90,000 leaflets and today hundreds more gathered from around the capital, including comedian Eddie Izzard and singer Billy Bragg, who staged an impromptu concert.

Izzard said: "I am a Labour supporter – but the message today to those who are opposed to the BNP is to get out and vote."

The BNP had predicted it would create a "political earthquake" at this week's general and local elections, claiming it was on course to win two MPs. But its campaign has been beset by problems, with one of its senior figures arrested on suspicion of plotting to kill Griffinm and growing internal criticism of his leadership.

"This and Stoke remain the BNP's key target areas at the moment, although their campaign does not seem to be cutting through," said Daniel Hodges from Searchlight. "But it will be very tight here on polling day and every vote in both the national local elections will count."

Rospars, who is in London advising the anti-BNP campaign, said part of its success was its ability to translate its online campaign to "on-the-ground community action". "The volunteers that go out and knock on doors and deliver leaflets each weekend are not following a leadership group sitting in a fancy office somewhere; they are the campaign, the core of the organisation." He added: "What we are seeing is a lot of people who even a few weeks ago had never been involved in something like this taking an active part, doing things they would may not have thought they were capable of, and becoming leaders in their own communities."

Nick Lowles, who set up the Hope Not Hate campaign before last year's European elections, travelled to the US to work alongside the Obama campaign. "One of the main lessons we have learned is that the technology on its own does not build a political organisation on the ground."

"This time we have followed up the emails with phone calls and from there we have set up local groups around the country – sometimes just a couple of people sometimes larger – and the result has been the largest political mobilisation of the campaign."

Lowles said it was now crucial to sustain the momentum up to Thursday.

"The challenge for us now is to build on what we have achieved over the last year or so," he said.


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