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Elections to the National Assembly for Wales are due to take place on Thursday May 5th and the far-right British National Party will be seeking once again to gain a foothold in mainstream Welsh politics, as they have already done in English local councils and in the European Parliament. The party will attempt to exploit public anxieties in regards to the economic crisis caused by the failure of capitalism and the Coalition's cuts and privatisation agenda, to irrationally blame scapegoats such as asylum-seekers, migrants and Muslims for our problems.
The BNP's efforts to present a more respectable face in the search for electoral credibility have begun to pay off in Wales in recent years; the party aims to capitalise on the decline of industrial areas, as well as growing disenchantment with corrupt mainstream political parties. Whilst the BNP did not put up candidates in Wales in the 1997 elections, only one stood in 2001 and two in 2005, last year they stood nineteen candidates - averaging 1,215 votes per seat. This is not enough to win a seat in Parliament or in the National Assembly, but the Assembly has 20 regional 'top-up' seats, which aggregates votes over a large area and increases the chances of the BNP winning a seat.
At the previous Assembly elections in 2007, the BNP won 9,986 votes in the North Wales region, (5.1%) putting it within 2,580 votes (0.6%) of winning a seat. A fascist voice in Cardiff Bay would be a massively divisive blow to our multicultural society. There is an urgent need for everyone who is concerned about this threat, to join anti-fascist campaigns such as Hope Not Hate & Unite Against Fascism all-out to expose the rotten BNP for what they are, and stop them in our Assembly.
It is amazing that within three years of the end of the Second World War a fascist stood in London's East End although he was soundly defeated. But for a quarter of a century after the war a long economic boom, rising living standards and little unemployment gave no ground for any far-right revival.
The return of economic crises and higher unemployment in the 1970s encouraged several fascist splinter groups to unite to form the now notorious National Front; their racism was mainly aimed at immigrants from the West Indies and their children, but they also terrorised gay & lesbian people, the disabled & Jews. Some of these immigrants were ex-servicemen who stayed in Britain after the war - others had been encouraged to come and settle by ministers such as Enoch Powell in order to fill jobs in the 1950s. The NF had some initial success with 17,500 members at its peak but were defeated by the growth of a huge anti-fascist movement able to attract over 100,000 people to Rock against Racism gigs and counter-demonstrations organised by the Anti Nazi League, the precursor of today's UAF. The ANL exposed the violence of the NF skinheads and the Nazi past of the NF leadership; eventually due to public internal rifts & strong opposition, they were effectively disbanded.
One of the splinter groups that emerged out of the NF was the British National Party, founded in 1982 by John Tyndall, a well-known anti-semite and Holocaust denier. It made little headway until 1993 when a leading BNP member Derek Beacon won a council seat on the Isle Of Dogs in London's East End. This was the same year young student Stephen Lawrence was brutally murdered by cowardly racists in south-east London, the third such murder following the establishment of the BNP head office in the area.
A united campaign swept Beacon out of office in 1994 - the BNP continued to stagnate during the remainder of the decade. The party's next success was in May 2002, winning three council seats, and in May 2003 a further thirteen; Griffin claims that it was due to his taking over the BNP, but there is much more to it than this arrogant overblown claim. Griffin and other BNP leaders had realised that they could not escape from the extremist ghetto as long as their Nazi image persisted. He learned from the success of Front National in France to present a respectable image by distancing his party from the boot boys and Nazi paraphernalia. Cosmetic changes in policy were made - for example forced repatriation of non-whites were replaced by so-called 'voluntary' repatriation. Not that this means Griffin had changed his views from when he was a young NF organiser, of course. After all it was only in 1998 that he was convicted of inciting racial hatred and received a two-year suspended sentence for publishing anti-semitic & Holocaust denial literature.
In 1998 the media began whipping up anti-immigrant hysteria about asylum seekers being given luxury accommodation at public expense, and Britain being 'flooded' by migrants. This was of course all nonsense - in reality asylum seekers were not permitted to work & claimed minimal benefits. This racist media campaign won some 100,000 votes in the 1999 Euro elections regardless. Another set of events were to benefit the BNP even more. In January 2001 the Oldham Chronicle reported police claims that there had been a significant rise in race attacks on white men by Asians. The beating of a white pensioner was highlighted as a racist attack, although his son profusely denied that it was a race issue.False claims were made that white areas received less government money than Asian areas. As the racial tensions were whipped up, the BNP and NF began attempting marches - one of which was to spark the Oldham riots as Asian youths defended their communities.
In the June general election Griffin had 16% of the vote in Oldham - the highest ever for a fascist party. In the 2002 May council elections this series of events enabled the BNP to win three seats in Burnley and over a fifth of the vote in nineteen other council seats. Over the next few years the BNP continued to pick up councillors in England, at one point reaching over 50. In Barking, east London, and in Stoke they reached double figures and had hopes of taking control; but the icing on the cake was winning two seats in the 2009 European Parliament elections, which coincided with the expenses scandal which disgraced all three mainstream parties. Griffin won in North West England and Andrew Brons, the one-time chair of the defunct NF, in Yorkshire and Humberside. Both scraped in on a low poll but nevertheless it gave them a great boost. It allowed sections of the media including the BBC to treat them as mainstream politicians. It also brought considerable financial prosperity in terms of salaries and expenses. Unfortunately for them though, it also brought them to their peak.
They did not stay long at the top. Wild claims were made that Griffin would win the Barking seat at the general election, that the BNP would take over Barking and Stoke councils. They put up a record 339 candidates spending £170,000 on deposits, nearly all of which were subsequently lost The election results were a disaster; there had been a brilliant campaign by anti-fascists to oppose them wherever they went, which contributed to this downfall. Thousands of Hope Not Hate and Unite Against Fascism attended the constituency every week. Griffin was humiliated in Barking and they lost every councillor up for election. At the same time he squandered tens of thousands of pounds more fighting the Equality and Human Rights Commission desperately attempting to maintain what amounted to a virulent 'whites-only' policy.
Unsurprisingly, much of the membership was upset - calls were made for Griffin's resignation but he only promised to step down in 2013. In theory the BNP constitution allows a challenge to the leader this year but fascists are hardly big on democracy. Ordinary BNP members do not automatically have a vote in internal elections - you have to become an activist then pass certain tests. Then if you want to stand, hundreds of signatures are needed from voting members. Not surprisingly, none of those who tried to stand against Griffin succeeded and all have now either been expelled or left. A series of BNP councillors have resigned recently in protest at Griffin's poor leadership.
So is it over for the British National Party? It could be - but let's make sure. In the last elections in Wales, they were able to enter paper candidates who did not work in the constituency but still pick up an average 1,215 votes per candidate. The BNP cannot possibly win any seats using this method, but if they stand on the regional list - which adds seven or eight constituencies together and uses a proportional representation system - they can come a lot closer; that is how the MEP seats were won in 2009.
Let's not allow the Assembly elections to give the BNP and their English/Welsh Defence League street thug allies a lifeline. We need to ensure that voters know what they really stand for and discuss this with anyone who is tempted to vote BNP in protest. Please use your vote to keep the fascists out of Wales; the future of democracy is in your hands.