A Lesson from Up North

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In response to Jim Wolfreys' article (June SR) there was one area where the BNP expected to make 'multiple gains' in this year's local elections and that was Sunderland.

It stood in all 25 of the seats that were up for election. One tenth of all its candidates were in this one town.

It's easy to see why the city was a target for the Nazis. Since the closure of the mines and the shipyards, there have been few new full-time jobs. Meanwhile, Labour has been in power for decades, without ever delivering the changes that local people want.

Yet despite these advantages, and despite winning up to 28 percent of the vote in last year's elections, the BNP couldn't get any of its candidates through. Why not? The first obstacle was a solid anti-racist campaign. Key wards were leafleted with anti-fascist papers and flyers. Several key shop stewards from the mines and the yards took part in the campaign.

A number of local celebrities spoke out against the BNP, including the former athlete Steve Cram and Sunderland FC Chairman Bob Murray. When BNP leader Nick Griffin attempted to speak in Sunderland on 23 April, the building was surrounded by a hostile crowd of 60 anti-fascists. As a result Griffin had to be sneaked in through a back door.

The second obstacle was the weakness of local fascist organisation. At the same meeting where Griffin spoke, the BNP was able to turn out just 30 or so people from all over the north east. This number included football hooligans and a few members of the public, but not even all its own candidates. The BNP vote was worryingly high - but the far right's organisation remains thin.

The key question facing the left, after the successes we had in organising against the war, is now this: can the new generation of activists stop the BNP?

Dave Renton