Monday, 8 June 2009

Are BNP voters racist? And other important questions

So in the end, the BNP got not just one but two seats in the European parliament. They are, of course, Nazi scum, and their election is a big problem. The resources and acceptability (respectability is not really the right word) this will give them risks establishing them on the political scene in the kind of long-term way that the Front National is in France (thankfully the FN dropped half their seats, down to three, but that's still three seats in a bad year for them). What's more, their victory will surely give confident to party members, and in the areas where they are strong, lead to an increase in what's politely called 'community tension', but which is more acurately known as racism.

The most pressing question, though, is what should the left do? Mainstream politicians of all stripes were keen to stress as the results came in last night that they didn't think BNP voters were racist, just that they were expressing a protest vote. I can see why you might want to avoid labelling nearly 1 million people as racists, but I think that without confronting this head on, we risk burying our heads in the sand. BNP voters are at least somewhat racist.

I should clarify that. I'm not saying that they are irreconcilably racist (although some of them will be). I'm not saying that their racism is very well thought out (although for some of them it will be). But quite frankly, given the choice of hard right 'protest vote' parties (UKIP, English Democrats), its clear that the BNP have built a base on the basis of racism. For instance, in the Yorkshire and Humber region, where the BNP won their first seat, their vote was actually slightly down on 2004 (from 126,538 to 120,139) - it was only the collapse of the Labour vote which gave them a seat.

Of course in one sense, the vote is a protest against the mainstream, but one which is sustained rather than one-off. In the absence of any kind of left alternative, its hardly a surprise either. With communities torn asunder by 30 years of neoliberalism, and a tabloid press obsessed with immigration, the conclusions people are likely to draw once the BNP move in are depressingly obvious.

The main left responses to the threat of the BNP are both beginning to show their shortcomings. Unite Against Fascism was formed a few years ago by bringing together the Anti-Nazi League and the National Assembly Against Racism with trade union backing. The result somwhow ended up being less than the sum of its parts. Although Love Music, Hate Racism has had some success in energising youth anti-fascism, with no Nazi marches to confront on the streets there is no clear direction for those who are mobilised.

Searchlight meanwhile, with its Hope not Hate formula, has been succesful in some places and not in others. It recognised, correctly I think, that shouting 'Nazi' doesn't necessarily work. The problem is that the 'hope' part of its formula is largely illusory.

In both approaches, that weakness of any organised political left that can pose an alternative to the politics of hate is a key stumbling block. While the Labour party is in no small part to blame for this, it is not the only one. This is not to say that there has to be one left organisation that can fulfill this role, but there has to be something in every area, and ideally there would be collaboration.

Which brings me to the Green party campaign in the North West. I heard several condemnations of the 'vote Green to stop the BNP' message that the Greens were putting out, though it must be said that all were from partisans of other parties. But with only 5,000 more votes, the Greens would have denied Nick Griffin a seat. Their strategy was a correct one, and built as it was on trying to form a left, anti-racist alliance across the region, it suggests a small degree of hope for the future.

Respect took a constructive approach, backing the Green campaign, and I hope the Greens will reciprocate in the future - it would be extraordinary now if they stood against Salma Yaqoob in Birmingham Sparkbrook. Hopefully bridges can also be built with the Socialist Party and indeed any bit of the active Labour left that still exists.

When it comes to electoral politics, pragmatism and a sense of reality are even more important than normal. We need an electoral left, even if it isn't the be-all and end-all, so we better get our act together.

1 comment:

Amy Kennedy said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post. As a daughter of Manchester (and a friend of Peter Cranie), it broke my heart to see the BNP elected last night.

The News at Six featured vox pops from Salford BNP voters; one woman (in reply to "How did you vote?") said "*I'm sorry* but BNP".

When asked "why are you sorry?", she said "well, it were a protest vote" - and looked shifty.

When I read your comment "BNP voters are at least somewhat racist", I thought of her, and I felt even more depressed.

This is the hatred that previously dare not speak its name: now it has a platform.

I heard Nick Griffin on Radio 4 today :(