BNP gains from left default

Continuing where it left off in last year's council elections, when it won three council seats in Burnley, Lancashire, the far-right British National Party enjoyed further success on May 1. It not only took five more seats in Burnley, but added two seats in Sandwell, West Midlands, one in nearby Dudley, one in Calderdale (Halifax), one in Stoke-on-Trent and one in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. The initial terrain of this far-right success has often been economically depressed, white working class areas in the north and parts of the Midlands, located near to significant migrant communities. Such sections of the white working class have perceived themselves as being forced by the New Labour/Tory neoliberal agenda to compete for the meagre resources the local capitalist state is prepared to concede. Against a backdrop of incendiary press and government propaganda against asylum-seekers, and particularly the so-called 'war against terrorism', the BNP sees its opportunity to pose as the defender of 'indigenous' poorer communities in the face of their evident abandonment by Labour - the party that used to at least pretend to represent the interests of workers as a class - while inciting such sectors to see migrants, instead of the bosses, as their enemies. Now it appears that the fascists are also making progress in middle class areas, often adjacent to the site of their original inroads, as the capture of a number of such seats in Burnley attests, as well as in affluent Broxbourne. This poisonous racist/fascist influence urgently needs to be taken on and defeated, since it not only poses an ominous threat to the security of migrants: it also cripples the ability of workers, of whatever ethnic origin, to fight for a better life. The growth of a fascist organisation such as the BNP - though still very small and engaged in a strategy of seeking respectability - strengthens the extra-state forces of reaction that in some future social crisis could be used to drown the labour movement in blood and uproot all democratic and working class gains. However, the fact that the fascists, using their new 'respectable' strategy, have taken root in a number of northern and Midland towns and are on the road to becoming a real national force, is mainly the fault of the left itself. The left, after all, in theory at least, holds most of the aces in this period. For instance, given the huge anti-war mobilisations, which shook the government to its foundations and whose aftershocks continue to be felt, as these elections demonstrate, why is it that a left that can take the lead in mobilising two million people on the streets of London can win no more than one council seat in the whole of England and Wales? Why is it that the BNP, which was nowhere in this movement, can nevertheless outpoll the left many times over when it comes to an election? Political incoherence, sectarian fragmentation and lack of self-belief in its capacity to unite in a single party are the fundamental reasons. The Socialist Alliance played virtually no role in the anti-war movement - its conference was cancelled, so that the Socialist Workers Party could get on with the really important business of selling Socialist Worker to the anti-war masses and handing out SWP membership cards like confetti. If the SA had taken a leading role in the anti-war movement, if it had been identified as being the main left force organising anti-war activity, this would have reinforced the election campaign and could have meant that instead of the Lib Dems, scandalously, being the beneficiary of anti-war protest votes, the SA could have so benefited. But, while, thanks to the SWP, Charles Kennedy was given a free platform on the massive February 15 demo, the SA was effectively no-platformed by being denied any identifiable speaker. Instead of counterposing a credible socialist campaign to the demoralisation that leads working people to turn to the BNP, from the SWP we get "¦ the turgid, effectively counterproductive propaganda of the Anti-Nazi League: 'Don't vote Nazi,' they plead with the BNP's potential voters. In the more traditional working class areas, in the absence of a credible socialist campaign, this simply means 'Vote Labour'. But of course it is bitter disillusionment with Labour that leads such people to consider voting BNP in the first place. Worse, in those seats targeted by the BNP that are traditional Tory territory, the propagation of this slogan can only mean one thing: vote Conservative. For the left to campaign on such a craven, capitulationist basis is to hand the BNP victory on a plate. We socialists, who are supposed to offer a genuinely revolutionary, radical alternative to capitalism and all its works, are identified with the New Labour and Tory establishment. Such a strategy amounts to cutting our own throats. Kit Robinson