On Sunday 10 May around twenty anti-fascists from the Nottingham Stop the BNP campaign distributed 3,500 leaflets in Bulwell, north of the city centre. This area, which in the 1980s elected a Communist Party councillor, has been targeted by the fascist British National Party (BNP) for several months.
For the first time in a generation, the fascists have been going door-to-door in inner city Nottingham. Bulwell has some of the lowest educational achievement figures in the country, the lowest numbers moving onto higher education, poor housing and widespread poverty. Bulwell has been at the receiving end of anti-working class policies for decades and the BNP know it. Their materials – leaflets and glossy news sheets – appeal to those who’ve been failed by the Tories and New Labour, they aim to offer an alternative.
The Nottingham anti-fascists could have simply ordered “Don’t Vote BNP” leaflets from Searchlight or Unite Against Fascism, held a street stall and avoided the big political questions. We chose not to. Instead, we too went door-to-door with a leaflet challenging the political ground contested by the BNP and offering an alternative set of politics – working class politics.
Those people in Bulwell who came out of their houses to speak to the campaigners or who stopped on the street to chat were unified in their opposition to the BNP. Many wanted to talk politics, others just wanted to exchange expletives about the fascists. One resident who came out to talk confirmed that “the BNP have been leafleting regularly. I’ve never seen them but if I did I’d see them off this street.” Another said that “I know some people who’ll be voting UKIP because they don’t like Labour or the Tories or the BNP. I can’t vote for UKIP, they’re just like the Tories ... so what do you do?”
At the launch of the BNP’s Euro-election campaign, their self-styled “Battle for Britain” leader Nick Griffin proclaimed that “we are the ones who are really a threat to their rotten, internationalist, liberal system”. At a time when the pig-in-the-trough mendacity of bourgeois politicians has been unveiled in sickening detail and when millions of workers face the fast-materialising consequences of economic turmoil, the BNP’s message cannot but have some resonance.
Add to the mix the weakened trade unions and a divided, politically disorientated left and the prospects for major gains for the fascist right look all too real.
Already, the BNP has invested in new infrastructure and organisation. Videos on their website show impressive looking printing, telecommunications and distribution systems. The website also carries an advert encouraging people to apply for a “career” with the party. They appear to be speculating to accumulate in the run-up to 4 June with the expectation that the publicity and potential prestige of seats in the European Parliament will swell the membership and, perhaps more importantly, the bank account of their racist organisation.
The latest opinion polling shows the BNP attracting 4% of all likely voters nationwide. This looks like a tiny base of support but the regional picture is somewhat different. In the regions targeted by the BNP, the North West, West and East Midlands, they require only a marginal swing to secure seats in Europe. The necessary percentage could easily be provided, on a very low turnout, by voters disaffected with the major parties and those who voted UKIP last time round.
The stark reality is that, given the state of official anti-fascism, the struggle to keep the BNP out of Europe boils down to pure arithmetic. To keep them out, unprecedented numbers must turn out to the ballot box and vote.
But anti-fascism cannot be condensed down to emergency measures at election time, cannot be reduced to a plea for votes. Even one MEP will drastically boost the BNP’s ability to organise but in and of itself, a seat or seats in Europe are not the determining factor for socialists. They are a symptom rather than a cause. The steady growth in support for the BNP, even before the crisis set in, has been in part a consequence of the political and organisational collapse of the workers movement.
The two are connected and any consistent fight against the BNP must be firmly rooted in working class politics and the fight to renew our movement.
Workers can and must combine in our communities, in the unions and the workplace to forge a set of politics that will transform our movement and win political representation.
• Download the Notts Stop The BNP leaflet at www.workersliberty.org/stop-bnp