Lee Waker, Labour councillor for Dagenham Village Ward and a CWU activist, spoke to Solidarity about fighting the BNP in Barking & Dagenham, where BNP leader Nick Griffin will stand in the General Election.
The responsibility for the growth of the BNP in Barking and Dagenham lies with the Labour government and its policies.
The BNP has grown on the back of issues of housing, job opportunities and job security. We must confront and combat their growth but we have to look at the underlying reasons. Many young people look to the BNP out of disgust at the three main parties. The BNP come across as if they’re something new and saying something different. It’s not that young people in this area are firmly racist; there is a strand of racism here which has always been there, but that’s not the fundamental reason.
Young people are probably more tolerant than the older people but they’re at the sharp end of the attacks. Barking and Dagenham is the NEET [young people Not in Education, Employment or Training] capital of England; getting a house and a job is a big issue, as jobs are scarce and low paid. There’s been no major council housing builds in 30 years, and the majority of council stock has been sold off.
The problem with mainstream anti-fascism is that it’s based solely around pointing out how bad the BNP are. People in campaigns like Searchlight and UAF are well-intentioned, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s a kind of middle-class moralising that doesn’t offer any positive alternatives to people’s problems.
We try and offer a socialist alternative through the Labour Party and as public representatives. The councillors in Barking and Dagenham are very much “old Labour” and still believe in publicly owned services. We run a campaign for more social housing in the borough which is quite successful. We had a good lobby of parliament in October. It looks like we’re going to get a few hundred new builds, but of course that only scratches the surface.
This is an ex-industrial area and the docks and car plants have all gone. A culture of trade unionism has gone too. It’s similar to the situation in the north where the BNP has grown in ex-mining areas. Economic conditions are driving fascism, and many people in Barking don’t see the Labour Party as an alternative, especially with the likes of Margaret Hodge [Barking’s Labour MP], who’s supported every right-wing move the government has made.
It’s difficult to know whether the BNP have a real chance of winning a parliamentary seat. They are serious about it, and have a better chance than ever before. However, some voters may be less inclined to vote BNP in a general election than other elections. What the Labour Party does can affect things;
Margaret Hodge’s comments at the last election were particularly unhelpful. It comes across to the public that Hodge and people like her have given up on the people of Barking, and they’ve opened the door to the BNP through the oxygen of publicity. The dangers of fascist parties gaining a foothold are clear and there is a risk that in the meantime attacks on ethnic minorities or trade union activists will go up.
I know some people on the left think that socialists shouldn’t have anything to do with the Labour Party, but it’s the only show in town here. The far-left doesn’t have a presence, so we have to work in the Labour Party and argue for socialism there. But we need to offer something different to the policies of the government and the other parties. I was elected to the council because I said I’d be a representative for working people in the area and I have fought tooth-and-nail for their interests.
In May 2006, I know there were lots of people in this ward that would have voted for the BNP, but they didn’t. We gave them an alternative based on representation and fighting for their interests and we were the only ward in Barking and Dagenham to stop a BNP candidate becoming a councillor. In May 2010 we aim to return three councillors by making sure we put our electorate first.
• New anti-fascist campaign: www.workersliberty.org/node/13580