The resistible rise of the BNP

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The recent local elections saw the BNP gain ten councillors and a London Assembly member. Judith Orr puts these results in context, and argues that the fascists can, and must, be stopped once more.

One of the most shocking results last month was the election of Nazi British National Party (BNP) member Richard Barnbrook to London's assembly. This was on top of 13 seats the fascist organisation won in councils in England. It also lost three seats, so its net gain was ten, bringing a total of 57 seats.

The BNP often quotes a figure of over 100 seats, but this includes parish councils where it often stands unopposed or without its candidates identifying themselves as BNP members. In ten of its 13 seats the BNP replaced a Labour councillor, showing it can capture seats outside the inner cities where Labour's base has collapsed.

The BNP has also been given a massive boost with programmes like those featured in the BBC's White Season and the endless flow of media attacks on immigrants. In many cases, far from challenging such ideas, Labour has been seen to go along with them, most recently in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election.

The BNP won its first seats in South Yorkshire - two in Rotherham; two in Amber Valley and two in Nuneaton and Bedworth, both in the East Midlands; and one in the Three Rivers borough in the Eastern Region. It also came very near to winning a number of seats, including Amber Valley where it lost winning a third seat by just one vote. Nine of the top 20 wards it just missed were in South Yorkshire. The North East also saw some worrying results, when the BNP came within 60 votes of winning in Hartlepool, and polled over 25 percent in Newcastle.

In the 2004 European elections the BNP won 4.91 percent of the vote with 808,200 votes. On the basis of the votes gained this May, it has the potential to win seats in Yorkshire and Humberside, the North West and the Midlands in next year's Euro election.

But the disturbing headlines about the BNP's victories are just one part of the story. It's important to put these votes in perspective. The percentage of the BNP vote rose by only 0.6 percent from 2004 in the London Assembly election. Yet this was enough to push it over the critical 5 percent barrier and win a seat.

However, because of the high turnout of 45.3 percent (up by 8.3 percent from 2004) it meant it won 130,714 votes. It's worth noting that the total Conservative, BNP and UK Independence Party (UKIP) vote is almost the same as it was in 2004 - around 42 percent. UKIP's vote collapsed from 8.2 percent to 1.9 percent, with their votes being distributed to the Tories and the BNP.

But the BNP also faces problems. Nationally it is still finding it hard to break into inner city areas - but it is trying. Also its Eurofascist strategy - putting itself across as a respectable political party - is succeeding in winning it seats but also has limitations.

As is the case with all fascist parties, the BNP is pulled in two different directions. One is towards elections, and another to taking to the streets in order to break up and terrorise progressive movements and immigrant areas. This creates tensions in its own ranks. We have seen several cases of this inside the BNP, most recently in Colwyn Bay, Wales. In May three BNP town councillors resigned before even attending a council meeting. One said he did not realise the BNP was a fascist party and didn't like the fact that he was attacked by the party for helping an Asian family.

On the other hand, we have also seen a section of the party frustrated by the restraints imposed in the quest for respectability, wanting to break out of the straitjacket of elections. That is why we have seen convictions of a number of BNP members for violence. For the BNP to carry out its aim of creating a fascist state, elections will not be enough and it will have to take to the streets.

This is what all classic fascist movements have done in the past. The BNP has made several forays in recent years but has been pushed back by the anti-fascist movement. With its electoral success the pressure will grow for the BNP to capitalise on its gains and take to the streets in the near future.

All this shows the urgency of building against the fascists on many fronts in the coming months. The success of the Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) carnival was proof that there is a real mood to build opposition. The next step is building the biggest possible turnout on 21 June for the demonstration called in London by LMHR and Unite Against Fascism (UAF).

UAF will be calling a series of rallies all over the country, targeting particular places where the BNP has done well. The rallies alone will not be enough to challenge the growth of the BNP. In every city and region it will need local UAF groups involving trade unionists, students and other activists who can build roots to undercut the BNP at a local level.

Next year there will be a Northern carnival, on the same scale as this year's carnival in London. At the same time LMHR will be trying to reach out to young people and will be holding a series of concerts in Hull, Rotherham, Stoke, Barking and Dagenham. LMHR will also be creating, alongside teachers' unions, an educational pack for schools to use in developing anti-racist education.

This year's election results shows there can be no complacency surrounding the BNP. Those who say we can just ignore the BNP and it will go away are playing a dangerous game. This strategy failed in France, as the growth of the fascist National Front shows.

What is needed is a broad based movement that can undermine the BNP at both a national and local level. But that leaves open one important question: how can we build a socialist current that offers people an alternative?