French fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen's visit to England was not the success hoped for by his BNP hosts.
The National Front's leader was chased away from Manchester, scared off from visiting Birmingham, and ended up in BNP Führer Nick Griffin's ample backyard. The reason was determined and organised resistance from Unite Against Fascism.
Le Pen's press conference in a hotel in Altrincham was held to the sound of a cacophony of protest. After a rally of more than 200 demonstrators - including Labour, Liberal and Respect members, a local clergywoman and a Holocaust survivor - discovered his location, Le Pen's plush entourage faced a lively sit-down protest to block in his chauffeur-driven car. This was then covered with rubbish to match its contents. Griffin's besuited thugs - organised by former Combat 18 yob Warren Bennett - showed their true colours as they lashed out at protesters.
Le Pen would have received an equally warm welcome in Birmingham, had he had the courage to turn up. But over 1,000 Unite supporters celebrated to music and speeches in the city centre when it became clear that his £50 per head fundraising dinner for the BNP had been ruined. The venue had relented to public pressure to cancel the event, and no one else would take him.
It was vital that Le Pen was met with such a response. This was his first visit to Britain since 1991, and was an indication that the BNP's recent electoral successes mean it is no longer viewed as the embarrassing cousin of continental Eurofascism. Griffin told the press conference of the 'nationalist' ambition to get 16 MEPs from five countries in order to create a bloc with speaking rights in the June elections. Thus the BNP's plan to get a mask of legitimacy to promote its hateful filth is part of a wider project across the EU. With the BNP believing that it can gain an MEP (most likely in the north east or north west) and a representative on the London Assembly, no further warning should be necessary for anti-fascists.
Indeed, Unite is beginning to mobilise real forces to match the resources being provided by the trade union movement. Six hundred thousand leaflets warning people not to swallow the BNP's poison were delivered to homes around the country on Unite's first day of action in April. Those taking part far exceeded the ranks of existing activists - for instance, in Leeds 140 people leafleted on the day.
When the Nazi National Front tried to march in Newcastle, 350 people gathered at 36 hours notice to chase them off the streets. Among the Unite contingent that day was Frances O'Grady, the deputy general secretary of the TUC. The BNP's 'family fun day' in Essex was also a flop when 150 anti-fascists broke up their planned cavalcade.
With every major trade union affiliated to Unite, as well as 180 Labour MPs, the potential to be tapped in the further days of action on 2 May and 6 June is huge. The NASUWT teaching union alone has ordered 250,000 leaflets to distribute. At the NUT conference 250 delegates packed into a Unite fringe meeting. CWU general secretary Billy Hayes has told branches that have not yet affiliated to Unite that they will be named and shamed. Activists should therefore approach trade union stewards and reps for support with the utmost confidence. As well as the mass leafleting, there is a series of carnivals planned for the run-up to the June elections, including two huge events in London and Manchester to feature major chart acts.
The evidence is already stacking up that a united, national campaign is the most effective weapon we can use against the Nazis. There is still much to do to ensure that they don't make their hoped-for electoral breakthrough in June. Raising the turnout will be vital in achieving this - the prerequisite for which will be confident, mass campaigning that celebrates the diversity of life in Britain.