Left gives BNP clear run

Alongside the mayoral contest in Hackney, elections also took place in Bedford, Mansfield, and Stoke-on-Trent on October 17. Continuing the pattern established in London, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, New Labour's so-called 'project in mayoral local democracy' produced results that certainly will not be to the Blairites' liking. In Bedford, Frank Branston a local newspaper owner running on a 'Better Bedford' ticket, received just over double the amount of votes of the Liberal Democrat runner-up, with 35% of the poll. Labour's Apu Bagchi could only manage to come fourth, behind the Lib Dems and the Tories, at just under 15% of the vote. The Greens came near the bottom, mustering 2.65%. Mansfield saw former newsagent Tony Eddington win the mayor's position in a close contest with Lorna Carter (Labour), who lost by just 588 votes. Far from capturing the imagination of the electorate, only 17.9% of Mansfield's eligible voters bothered to turn out. The strong showing for the British National Party in Stoke attracted most of the headlines the following day. Steve Batkin peddled typical BNP fare, aiming to cash in on a widespread antipathy toward Stoke's small but concentrated population of asylum-seekers. But this alone cannot explain the BNP's 18.7% share of first-preference votes. In line with its 'respectable' turn, Batkin has embraced community activism that appears to be generating some of the BNP's local support. Also Batkin's populist commitment to turn down most of the £70,000 mayor's salary and accept only the average wage of a skilled worker would certainly have been well received in parts of Stoke's impoverished boroughs. Hence the argument that the local Socialist Party was talking up the BNP's chances for its own sectarian ends has unfortunately proved to be groundless (see Letters Weekly Worker October 17). In fact after first preferences were counted Batkin was less than three percent behind eventual winner Mike Wolfe, who narrowly defeated Labour by just over 300 votes on the count of second preferences. Wolfe has been portrayed on the BBC and in The Guardian as a "gay rights activist" and his appearance at the October 6 rally organised by the North Staffs Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (Norscarf) might have suggested that he is someone who could possibly be supported by socialists. Unfortunately this was never put to the test, since Wolfe was not confronted with a list of immediate working class demands. However, writing in The Guardian, Peter Hetherington notes that Wolfe "says, ironically, he is a strong supporter of New Labour and Tony Blair" (October 19). Clearly he could not be supported any more than his Blairite opponent, George Stevenson, the Labour MP for Stoke South. Norscarf itself in its the Stoke-on-Trent Citizen leaflet could only call on the working class to "use your vote, but not for violence and hate". So what lessons can communists draw from these latest contests? Certainly, like all elections, they provide an opportunity to get our message across and should where possible be utilised by the Socialist Alliance and Scottish Socialist Party. It was therefore unfortunate that the SA was unable to stand its own candidate apart from in Hackney. Where Labour or independent left candidates claim working class support, they should be challenged to prove this by endorsing a raft of demands in favour of our class. In such circumstances we should offer to stand down and actively campaign for Labour candidates in particular. Phil Hamilton