Left needs answers

The British National Party's recent victory in Mixendon, where it captured its first council seat in Yorkshire, is certainly a cause for concern that should provide us with some food for thought. It is not the first BNP victory over the past couple of years in the deprived areas of the former industrial north. It now holds five council seats, including its stronghold in Burnley, where it holds three. In Burnley and Blackburn the BNP claims that the presence of its members on local councils has halted the dispersal of asylum-seekers to the area. While the phenomenon cannot be divorced from the dissatisfaction of the working class in general with the policies of New Labour, and the social deprivation in the areas in which they live, neither can we divorce it from the hysteria whipped up in the rightwing media against asylum-seekers. Home secretary David Blunkett claimed last week that Britain was like "a coiled spring" because of asylum-seekers. He speculated on the use of vigilante action, stating that rising tension could result in people "taking the law into their own hands". He called on the media not to intensify those "genuine fears and concerns that can easily turn to a desire to find scapegoats". Yet all the while Blunkett has been calling for tighter immigration controls. His master, Tony Blair, has even spoken of Britain withdrawing from the European convention on human rights so that it could deport asylum-seekers more easily - a suggestion first floated in The Daily Telegraph. Blunkett has compared the tabloid campaigns on asylum-seekers to the activities of Trotskyites in the Labour Party 20 years ago. They were making "absurd" demands, he said, and he had had a "bellyful" of them. They were, of course, expelled. But with asylum-seekers Blunkett adopts and follows the tabloids' agenda. How does this translate on the ground? The independent racial harassment help line, the Monitoring Group, reported more than 1,700 complaints last year. For example, earlier this month, three Iraqi asylum-seekers in Plymouth found themselves chased by 12 white men who threatened to kill them - two of them were attacked and left with head injuries. This incident is far from isolated. Another example would be the recent backlash against the dispersal of asylum-seekers to a hotel in Sittingbourne, Kent. They were not welcomed by the residents, some of whom even threatened to burn the building. The BNP canvassed the area, stating in their leaflets that the immigrants had arrived directly from the airport and had not been screened for contagious diseases. The BNP's propaganda obviously dovetails with the dominant message and struck a chord. The rightwing tabloids have fuelled this hysteria. Rebekah Wade, the new editor of The Sun, launched a "crusade" against what the paper terms "asylum madness". It stated on January 23 that 50,000 readers had signed up to its campaign demanding tougher action upon illegal immigrants. The Sun has also been demanding the deportation of the islamist cleric, Abu Hamza of Finsbury Park mosque, despite the fact he is a British citizen. The BNP held a rally outside the mosque last year, along with the National Front. Rebekah Wade's asylum "crusade" echoes her anti-paedophile campaign that she ran at the News of the World. The Sun also trumpeted that some of those arrested in the ricin campaign were "living free at the taxpayer's expense". The paper printed its own version of the 'Mr Men' cartoons, including a 'Mr Asylum-Seeker' and his friend, 'Mr Albanian Gangster'. This feature is now being investigated by the Press Complaints Commission. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail begun a series on 'Asylum Britain'. In an editorial last Tuesday, it claimed that Britain was a "haven" for "Albanian gangsters, Kosovar people-smugglers and Algerian terrorists". In a style that one could describe as being proto-fascist, it went on to attack "the ruling classes" for failing to debate the issue and "the McCarthyite tactics of the left who have sought to stifle honest debate by demonising anyone who has dared to draw attention to the crisis". On its news pages it played upon the Sittingbourne hotel issue by publishing pages of expensive country houses, including one in Surrey that had a private cinema and five swimming pools, suggesting that these would be suitable sites. The paper wants us to believe that "New arrivals will soon be asking for a copy of Country Life, along with details on how to claim benefits." On January 28, holocaust memorial day, the Daily Mail headline made a reference to "soft touch Britain". This was the same paper that supported the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1938, cheered on Moseley's black shirts as they were assaulting jews and trade unionists, and later claimed that Britain was a dump for jewish refugees escaping from the Hitler regime. Frightening indeed. Not to be outdone, The Express reproduced 20 of its front pages on the subject with the headline, "We told you so!" The BNP website pictures a Daily Express front page on asylum, under the headline, "British press helping spread the BNP message". Yes, the tabloid hysteria goes hand in hand with BNP hate-mongering. Renee Marsden