The English Defence League is a strange beast politically. I’m unconvinced that it can be seen as a classic fascist organisation and it has drawn much of its support and organisation from outside the existing far right in Britain, its origins lie in right-wing football firms motivated into political action by anti-Muslim sentiment.
I’ve generally thought it useful to compare the EDL to the previous time football firms entered the political arena in significant numbers, in opposition to Irish Republicanism in the early – mid 1990′s. During this period certain football firms mobilised large numbers to attack events of republicans and their perceived sympathisers, notably the London Bloody Sunday commeration march in 1993. Like EDL marches participants in anti-Republican gatherings were pretty sure what they were against, less sure what they were for.
Recently, this got me thinking about the curious mutual disinterest between two political groupings that, on paper, seem to have a lot in common: the EDL and loyalism.
Far right groups on the UK mainland have always viewed loyalist groups with the kind of wide eyed admiration usually associated with primary school kids meeting Premiership footballers. It was what they aspired to be; successful political groups combined with well organised militant wings to deal with opponents.
It’s worth noting that this admiration was not usually reciprocated but when it was, such as by former National Front member Johnny Adair and his Shankill C Company, British fascists responded enthusiastically. Some went much further than cheerleading from the sidelines and got actively involved in ‘The Troubles’, longstanding NF activist Terry Blackham was jailed during this period for gun-running.
Given that much of the EDL’s support is drawn from right-wing English football fans it’s not difficult to see what they have in common with loyalism. Both like marching, flags, the Queen and some EDL members even enjoy sectarianism (here’s the EDL’s token Asian member Adbul having a sing-song for instance). Chanting ‘no surrender to Al Qaeda’ is not a million miles from ‘no surrender to the IRA’ and the main EDL website is peppered with rhetoric borrowed from loyalism, the repeated use of ‘no surrender’ and the abbreviated form n.s. is a bit of a give away, and the general theme of defending Britain from a terrorist threat.
It’s interesting then that the EDL have made absolutely no effort to cultivate links with loyalist groups in Northern Ireland or on the UK mainland, even those who have previously been closely involved with the far like the British Ulster Alliance (who used to advertise in Blood & Honour magazine). They failed to send any sort of delegation to the Twelfth of July marches or the parade in Southport, a traditional summer holiday destination for British fascists.
There’s also the sister organisation of the EDL the Ulster Defence League. While the EDL has been successful at building up a profile, a sense of momentum and attracting thousands of supporters to marches it’s counterparts in Scotland and Wales have been poor relations, unable to gain any traction and heavily outnumbered by counter-demonstrators on their rare public excursions.
The UDL has not even been able to gain these lofty heights. Apart from operate a rarely updated Facebook page (it’s currently advertising a march in Dudley that took place last April) and briefly running a website it’s not clear that the UDL does anything at all.
This could be of course because they are a sensible bunch who have correctly realised that Northern Ireland has more pressing problems that being overwhelmed by non-existent scimitar-waving, sharia-imposing hordes but I suspect not. The sentiment is certainly there, here’s their mission statement illustrating standard loyalist rhetoric:
The Ulster Defence League highlights the threat to our shores from Militant Islam Extremism.The U.D.L is also highlighting the Extremism we face from republicans in our own Lands. Ulster knows only too well the realities of living with terrorism and its consequences. Our spineless Government prioritise the Human Rights of Terrorists before the basic right for Britons to live without fear in our own country…
NO SURRENDER – HANDS ACROSS THE WATER. FOR GOD AND ULSTER.
Thankfully this isn’t accompanied by any action. Why not though?
It’s not a question of an unwillingness to travel. EDL supporters have made it to Amsterdam, and plan to return there on October 30th, and popped up in New York a couple of weeks ago. A short ferry trip to Belfast is surely not too difficult to organise.
The unwillingness of loyalist organisations to play ball hasn’t much to do with it either. Most loyalist groups were uninterested in an array of British far right groups propositioning them in the 80′s and 90′s and that didn’t stop fascists from repeatedly asking them them out.
Instead, I think that the seeking international allies in the American and wider European anti-Muslim movement and ignoring the traditional preoccupations of the far right shows why it’s difficult to place the EDL in the British fascist tradition. It’s a different beast.
This may not be a satisfactory answer to the EDL ignoring loyalism. Any alternative explanations gratefully received.
After all the hype, ominous predictions and sleepless nights for West Yorkshire Police officers with good memories the English Defence League’s self-proclaimed ‘big one’ in Bradford was a damp squib.
The EDL promised what they couldn’t deliver. They wanted a turnout of several thousand and the opportunity to provoke Bradford’s Asian population into a re-run of 2001. Estimates for numbers on the day range between 700 and 1000. Any figure falling within that range is a disappointment for them.
The turnout at Bradford seems to confirm what I’ve suspected for the last couple of months, that the EDL is losing momentum. The demo received huge publicity in the run up to the event and took place on a Bank Holiday when few people will have had work commitments.
The EDL tacitly acknowledge this, releasing a statement today containing none of the usual boasts about a huge turnout and humiliated opposition. Instead there’s an extended whinge about how neo-Nazis keep turning up to their peaceful demos and causing all the trouble.
Attendance appears to have peaked at the demo in Bolton earlier this year where 2000 turned out. Since then their ‘march and grow’ strategy has run into problems.
Since their first outing in Luton last year the EDL has relied on each demo being bigger than the last. While sister organisations in Wales and Scotland were unable to gain any traction, in a just few months the EDL went from being a serious irritant to residents of Luton to a group capable of calling a demo anywhere in England and expecting to see a thousand people turn up. Where’s it going wrong for them?
More of the same
One of their problems is the same as that encountered by the Stop the War Coalition. Not only are they running out of locations to march in but the demos all follow the same pattern. Endless, similar demonstrations eventually start to demoralise people, no matter how strongly they feel about the issues.
Add to this the fact that most EDL supporters have little previous political involvement and so are more likely to be prone to cynicism and defeatism after setbacks. A dud demo (such as the second outing at Dudley or the failure to show in Whitechapel) can have a big impact. Following the demo at Dudley the EDL leadership in the form of Tommy Robinson (otherwise known as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) released this complaint:
The mood of members seems to have been somewhat low since the Dudley demo. Ok lets look at this yes we had one bad demo we were screwed over and lied to by the Old Bill. But one bad demo is all compared to how many good ones guys?
Tough luck Tommy, you’re only as good as you’re last game remember.
The other factor which will potentially put the brakes on the EDL is the leadership themselves.
It’s best to characterise the EDL as a loose coalition between elements of the far right and football hooligans. This involves little in the way of organisation, people are mainly mobilised through existing personal contacts and Facebook. Apart from a general hostility towards Muslims there’s little ideology involved.
The EDL leadership are keen to change this and have been trying to link up with the wider anti-Islam movement in Europe and the genuinely deranged right-wing fringe in America. For example, one of their main Stateside groupies is blogger Pamela Geller, whose book they are touting on their website, who actually seriously claimed that Obama was the secret love child of Malcom X. I think the wider agenda of some of these fruitloops will go down like a pint of cold sick with most supporters of the EDL.
Where do they go from here?
Back to Luton. The next big EDL demo is scheduled for the town where it all started. I’d be surprised if this went ahead. All marches in Luton were banned for three months last year following their last mobilisation there. A static demo is more likely.
The EDL isn’t going to disappear. If the momentum doesn’t pick up again in Luton (large-scale confrontations with Asian youth in the town isn’t unlikely) they’ll gradually dwindle back to the status of irritating rather than threatening mob, albeit one with the potential to act as an immediate focal point if something major happens, a repeat of 7/7 for instance. Without the excitement of a big demo less politicised supporters will drift away.
The other possibility is that contacts with the wider anti-Islam movement progress beyond the flirting stage and a smaller, more defined organisation which has a wider range of political positions than ‘Muslim bombers off our streets’. Since they are already infatuated with Dutch politician Geert Wilders it wouldn’t be a huge leap for them to graduate into the political arena.
What isn’t going to happen is a swing to the right. Most of the organised far right has been looking on the EDL with barely concealed envy or salivating at the prospect of all those young men joining a demo with them at the helm.
Eddy Morrison (who comments online as ‘Erik Eriksson’) the current leader of the National Front is fantasising about the latter. Thankfully, apart from the BNP whose interests lie elsewhere at present, no fascist group in Britain has the organisation capacity or the competence to organise a piss up in a brewery. I have more chance of becoming England manager than the hapless muppets of the NF taking over the EDL.
I would tentatively guess that in 6 months time EDL demos will be attracting about the half the number they do now. This shouldn’t be any grounds for complacency. The rapid rise of the EDL could easily be repeated in future and, with the added bonus of brand recognition, there’s no reason why their numbers would stop at 2000.
As expected, the counter-demo to the English Defence League march in Bradford on August 28th turns ugly as Asian youths and anti-fascist protestors attack police officers trying to kettle them.
Protestors break through police lines and a masked demonstrator shoves a retreating police officer hard. The officer hits the ground heavily and is later pronounced dead in hospital.
This same demonstrator has been caught on film hitting the officer with a wooden banner by a police Forward Intelligence Team moments earlier.
A spokesperson for the protestors then releases a statement blaming undercover police for instigating the violence and attacking the officer in question and also falsely claiming that other demonstrators were hit by tear gas as they tried to resuscitate him.
Careful examination of the footage taken of the build up to the demo quickly reveals the identity of the masked demonstrator.
What do you think the police and the Crown Prosecution Service would have done in this case?
Can you imagine any outcome other than the swift arrest, prosecution and conviction of the demonstrator for murder or manslaughter?
That’s enough of the thought experiment, it’s pretty obvious what I’m getting at. It wasn’t a police officer who was killed, it was just a bloke on his way back from work and apparently no-one was responsible for his death.
The eyes of the world will be looking on with incredulity as yet again a police officer is not facing any criminal charges after what is one of the most clear-cut and graphic examples of police violence that has led to death.
Some people may have been surprised by this outcome but presumably not anyone familiar with the history of such cases in this country. No police officer has ever been convicted of manslaughter committed whilst on duty. However, this case does stand out because the offence committed is so blatant and, if the police had their way, there would have been no investigation of the incident at all.
This outcome is a signal to the police that they can do anything they want while in uniform (unless they harm animals) and there will no consequences.
What’s equally depressing is the lack of response to this anticipated outcome other than resignation.
Ian Bone reports a dismal turnout of 30 people at a demonstration outside Scotland Yard following the announcement that no charges will be brought. There’s a picket of the Department of Public Prosecutions planned for Friday as well.
Beyond poorly attended, easily-ignored demos involving the victims family plus the usual suspects what else will a campaign against them involve? An open letter to The Guardian perhaps (perhaps Tony Benn could sign it?) that’s a certainty, what else?
Paul Stott has some excellent suggestions for a different kind of campaign:
Ian Tomlinson was a Millwall fan – and was wearing a t shirt of the club’s greatest ever play – Neil Harris when was killed. He died trying to leave his place of work to watch the England versus Ukraine match on TV. I have little interest in the usual miscarriage of justice campaign, based on angry letters to the Guardian and small, ever decreasing numbers of the usual suspects protesting about the police’s actions. Such a campaign will lose.
I would like to see a campaign for justice for Ian Tomlinson run by his family and supported staunchly by Millwall supporters, and by England supporters. Lets make it clear to police officers who attend the New Den or Wembley that Ian has not been forgotten, and that they are not welcome in the area because of their past actions. Only when an officer is in court charged with killing Ian should that campaign end.
Is that possible?
Ian Tomlinson’s family aren’t giving up. Details for the Campaigning Fighting Fund can be found here.
For the last decade, working out what’s going on internally in the BNP has been pretty simple. A low level of friction has been generated by the ongoing conflict between two well-defined groups. On the one side, the people in charge were a core group of members who had been prominent fascists for decades but had been convinced of a strategy based on getting involved in community politics and putting serious work into standing in elections.
Opposed to them were a coalition of the dwindling band of hardliners nostalgic for the days of John Tyndall, people who think Griffin and co have their hand in the till and individuals who are quite obviously working for Searchlight.¹
This time it’s not so simple and so the following is a rough guide to the confusing events of the last few months that will attempt to do justice to the rich tapestry of mayhem going on inside the BNP at present.
The short answer to what’s going on is that Nick Griffin has announced he’s finally standing down as BNP leader in 2013 and that veteran fascist Eddy Butler is attempting to oust him before then.
Eddy Butler has long been on the modernising wing of the far right and was one of several prominent individuals who realised that his vision of the future involved more than the occasional ritual of a city centre demo to antagonise the local Asian population and the reds. His political CV stretches back to the late 1970′s and he has been a key player in most of the major events on the far right during the last 30 odd years.
The longer tale starts before the General Election, when Butler was sacked allegedly because he raised issues of financial mismanagement. Butler has previous with this sort of stuff, he was part of the Freedom Party which split from the BNP in the year 2000 over similar issues.
Fun and games
This was one of a number of strange things that happened inside the BNP around that time to cheer up anti-fascists.
Butler wasn’t the only one sacked from his position. Mark Collett, ironically publicity director for the party at the time, got his name in the papers again after being removed for his position for apparently threatening to kill Nick Griffin and having dodgy expenses claims (something the people over at Lancaster Unity have been going on about for years).
Emma Colgate, then staff manager in the party, was also given the boot for unknown reasons. Colgate is a controversial figure in the party after she voted to install a minority Labour administation in Thurrock when the general line of the BNP is that Labour are Muslim-loving Marxists intent on flooding the country with benefit-claiming, job-stealing migrants. Collett is close to Colgate and was welcome at her election count in Thurrock, despite apparently wanting to kill her boss.
Interestingly, unlike most people unceremoniously booted from the party Collett and Colgate have kept their months firmly shut.
The opposite example is Simon Bennett. He really provided the icing on the cake by suspending the main BNP website days before the General Election and replacing it with a rant about money he was owed.
Simon Bennett is either a transparent grass or has totally lost his marbles. His posts on various far right forums where he tries to explain his actions and simultaneously threatening his critics like an extra from a crap Guy Ritchie movie may point to the latter. He’s also promising explosive revelations that will end Griffin’s political career (readers with good memories may remember Sharon Ebanks offering similar tantalising and non-existent information). He is a bit part in the rest of the ongoing saga.
Rum, sodomy and the fash
The initial response to Butler’s challenge from the BNP leadership was an anonymous blog entitled ‘Eddy Butler Exposed’ which accused him of lying, being a drunk, gay, using black prostitutes and hinted that he was a long-term Searchlight agent who had helped stall progress in the old National Front by switching his influential Tower Hamlets branch to the BNP in the late 1980′s. This caused long-term disruption in the movement until saviour Nick Griffin rescued things in the late 1990′s. The other evidence for the prosecution is that Butler’s well paid job in the Corporation of the City of London has been curiously overlooked by the BNP’s opponents.
This begs the question: what saviour Nick Griffin was doing in the earlier period? (Clue: making unintentionally hilarious videos about how he is an eco-pagan who wants to work with Muslims. Seriously)
The other problem with this line of argument is that it could be equally applied to the man repeatedly praised on the attack blog: Clive Jefferson. More on him in a minute.
Disappointingly, the blog has now been suspended. This is no gesture of goodwill. Griffin and co eventually realised that the lurid allegations were making them look like the bad guys.
Butler’s campaign has been gaining momentum and this has unnerved the BNP leadership. The decision of Nick Cass, former Yorkshire organiser, to run alongside Butler as his deputy prompted Simon Darby to resign as Deputy Leader after he suddenly, conveniently remembered it was only a temporary measure put in place during Griffin’s trial in 2006 that lasted, er, four years.
Other prominent figures in the BNP now backing Butler include Richard Edmonds, a former hardliner and ally of John Tyndall, and Michael Barnbrook, a delusional man who genuinely believes that he is responsible for kickstarting the parliamentary expenses scandal, who alludes to the blog ‘Eddy Butler Exposed’ as a reason why he’s backing the man.
Trouble in the East End
Michael Barnbrook was a parliamentary candidate in East London and since Butler has been active in the area for decades it’s not surprising he has support there.
What’s more surprising is the recent fate of another Barnbrook, Richard (no relation) the BNP’s only representative on the Greater London Assembly who has been sacked as Barking & Dagenham Organiser and hinted at more revelations to come.
Richard Barnbrook has been recovering from a failed attempt to be re-elected to Barking & Dagenham in the Goresbrook by-election. Eddy Butler was supposed to be his election agent but was sidelined by Clive Jefferson. Barnbrook’s discontent may be connected to this.
Eddy Butler doesn’t like Clive Jefferson and accuses him of covertly filming him, stealing his job and changing the rules of the leadership contest to stop him entering.
Trouble up north
Clive Jefferson is a local boy made good. He lives near where I used and I wouldn’t want to begrudge a local lad who has found success in the big wide world, far from it, but his rapid promotion does look a bit suspect.
From a lowly branch organiser who didn’t even contest a by-election held on the estate where he lives in 2008, he was promoted to North-West organiser in 2009 and then replaced Butler as National Elections Officer in 2010. He is now regularly praised as a genius elections guru despite having never won an election.
This career success hasn’t passed unobserved. Over on the far right forum Vanguard News Network veteran Scouse fascist Joey Owens has a mega-thread where he accuses virtually everyone he’s ever met of either working for Searchlight, being a grass or a policy spy but in particular Clive Jefferson and Jim Dowson. Owens has been quick to spot wrong ‘uns in the past (notably Sadie ‘Shady’ Graham), has he finally lost it?
There are rumours that Clive Jefferson (who I’m sure had a perfectly legitimate reason to change is surname from Aitken) has a serious criminal past and the overlooking of this is suspicious in the same way that it’s unusual Eddy Butler’s employment is never mentioned. Usually people like Searchlight will happily publicise convictions of BNP members for relatively minor offences, why has Jefferson gone unnoticed? He has also been in the thick of it during earlier internal troubles was accused of breaking and entering to relieve Sadie Graham’s allies of computers and documents.
That’s a reasonable summary of events so far. Stay tuned for more details though, I suspect this one is going to run and run as with the exception of Voice of Freedom editor Martin Wingfield and Yorkshire MEP Andrew Brons, virtually every senior member of the BNP is embroiled in this mess.
Long may this continue.
1. Anyone who doesn’t think Searchlight recruit members of the far right to inform on their activities and generally undermine them should ask Ray Hill, Andy Carmichael, Matthew Collins, Darren Wells or Andy Sykes exactly what they were up to.
It’s now been over a week since the shootings in Cumbria. The funerals of Derrick Bird’s victims have begun and the media trucks are leaving.
I’ve lived here over 20 years and could never have believed before last week that we’d be etched into the nation’s collective memory along with places like Dunblane and Hungerford.
I intended to write a piece on the shootings earlier but as the details of Bird’s rampage gave emerged I’ve been stunned. He choose most of his victims at random and plenty of people I know were in and around Whitehaven that day.
The horror of a local taxi driver well known and generally liked calmly heading out one day to shoot people he’d never met with a shotgun is more than you can relate with words.
The cliche about a close community is true. If anyone locally didn’t know any of the victims or Bird himself directly then they know someone who did.
The only bright spot has been people who should know better, the local MP Jamie Reed for one, appearing in various media outlets claiming that it’s a shock because we have ‘exceptionally low’ crime rates here. Ahem, whatever you say Jamie.
Beyond speculation about the tightening up of Britain’s tough gun laws I haven’t seen any discussion about what the consequences for policing and the law will be. The obvious starting point for such a discussion is how the police have reacted to traumatic events like this in recent years: by asking for more powers.
Immediately after the massacre the UK’s most widely read policing blog Inspector Gadget, and one of the most-read blogs in the country in general, issued this blunt statement:
My unshakeable view is that if local response crews had been armed and allowed to use their weapons, Bird could have been engaged and contained or stopped immediately.
I support the immediate routine arming of all UK mainland police officers at all times.
Then more or less reiterated it a few days later.
Obviously this is only the blog of a single copper but say what you like about the police, they are not the sort of people to miss an opportunity like this.
Sometime in the last decade or so senior police officers realised that with both Labour and the Tories nervous about appearing ‘soft on crime’ they could present their demands for a continuous extension of police power like a spoilt 6 year olds Christmas wish list. This reached it’s nadir with the disgraceful spectacle of Labour pushing through 42 day detention laws which the police hadn’t even asked for!
Now the Association of Chief Police Officers is conducting an external review into the shootings specifically looking at police firearms response and police firearms tactics. Following revelations like this I would be astounded if the review didn’t contain recommendations to extend the provision of firearms in the police.
In many ways the arguments for the regular or more widespread arming of police coincide with common sense. The conclusion can be stated bluntly and powerfully: if the police had guns then many of the people murdered would still be walking around.
It’s precisely that argument deployed in this piece in The Times:
Armed, fully-trained officers could have shot Bird and saved the lives of the nine people he went on to kill in Egremont, Seascale, Wilton and elsewhere.
It’s a compelling, emotive argument. Arguments for the wholesale extension of police powers often are whether it’s stopping terrorists to save lives or catching online paedophiles to save children from abuse. Expect seeing a lot more of it.
It’s mistaken though and, with regards to the shooting in Cumbria, relies on the notion that West Cumbria is a backwater (not an unfair point to make) miles from specialist armed units. Coppers equipped with batons and handcuffs were powerless to stop a gunman on the rampage.
The problem with this line of argument is that armed officers were on the scene very quickly. Almost all the shootings took place a short distance from Sellafield, a large nuclear reprocessing facility, and Bird’s route took him right past the site.
Like all Britain’s nuclear facility Sellafield is guarded by the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, one of the few branches of the police force who are routinely armed. A large number of armed, trained officers were stationed right in the middle of where the shootings took place and 42 of the 100 or so officers pursuing Bird were armed. He evaded them because, as a taxi driver by trade, he knew and used the dozens of little back roads to get around.
If 42 police officers with guns couldn’t stop Derrick Bird could 100? 200? Maybe we should think about seriously increasing the number of police, if we had 500 armed coppers on the streets of Whitehaven 24/7 Derrick Bird wouldn’t have had a chance.
I’m being glib but the horror of what has happened shouldn’t mean we acquiesce to the relentless accumulation of powers by the police. Fortunately, these sort of events are extremely rare.
For possibly the first time ever I agree with what David Cameron, speaking after the shootings he said:
“You can’t legislate to stop a switch flicking in someone’s head and this sort of dreadful action taking place.”
I hope he extends this line of argument when faced with demands to give every copper in the country a gun.
Not only did the party fail to advance in their electoral ‘strongholds’ of East London and Stoke, where they threatened to take control of local councils, they lost virtually every council seat they were defending.
This includes all 12 in Barking & Dagenham, the ‘jewel in the crown’ according to Nick Griffin.
Despite standing candidates in a record number of parliamentary seats they didn’t come anywhere near to winning a seat anywhere in the country and lost thousands of pounds in deposits.
It’s a fantastic result and people have been celebrating accordingly. According to the Daily Mirror far right politics have been wiped out in Barking & Dagenham, UAF see it as a humiliation prompted by a wave of popular revulsion against the Nazis while this morning’s Guardian raised the question of whether this was the end of the party altogether in an article where academic Matthew Goodwin predicts they will shortly implode.
Add to this yet another bout of spectacular infighting and you could be forgiven for thinking the party’s over.
Memories of what happened to Britain’s last relatively successful fascist party encourage this line of argument. In the 1979 General Election the National Front stood a record number of candidates, overstretched themselves and in 303 seats they only chalked up 191,000 votes. Demoralisation and vicious infighting finished off the party as a functioning political organisation not long afterwards.
Unfortunately, I think the comparison’s a misleading one. For one, it was in 2005 that the BNP polled 192,000 votes. This time they polled 563,743. It’s been a week since the elections and it’s time to stop celebrating and take a sober look at the results (though anyone involved in the campaign in East London has earned the right to feel smug for months to come).
The first obvious point is that anyone with a reasonable degree of familiarity with the British far right will know that the BNP is always having bitter internal squabbles. The recent fracas between former webmaster Simon Bennett who appears to have conveniently lost the plot a few days before the General Election, suspending the website and launching into a rant about the party’s leadership (superb timing Simon), is merely the latest in the ongoing ‘fascists who think Nick Griffin is a slimy con-man’ saga that has been a regular feature of far right politics for some 25 years.
It’s worth remembering that while some of these feuds have hilarious and serious short term consequences, such as the release of their membership list for instance, the impact on support for the BNP has been marginal.
As I remarked recently:
For as long as I’ve been an active anti-fascist (which, in fairness, is not a huge amount of time!) stories about internal troubles in the BNP that could provoke its collapse and the apparently precarious position of Griffin as chairman have been written or circulated by anti-fascists indulging in a bit of wishful thinking every few months….
Griffin will remain BNP leader in the foreseeable future and it’s a safe bet that this will be accompanied by plenty of articles detailing how the party is on the verge of collapse.
Complacent anti-fascists convinced that the BNP are in danger of imploding, and bank on that accordingly, are backing a loser.
The most transparent piece of wishful thinking currently circulating as analysis is this piece from There’s Nothing British About the BNP announcing that the party has split in two so they’re taking a holiday. Job done eh?
There’s no doubt some antifascists deserve a holiday after the election though. In the run up to the election there was a massive mobilisation in Barking & Dagenham by Hope not Hate, UAF activists and the Labour Party. According to Nick Lowles almost 1000 people participated in their campaign delivering an incredible 250,000 leaflets in the borough. I wouldn’t be surprised if the total amount of anti-BNP literature distributed in the area topped half a million.
The Hope not Hate and UAF strategy of mobilising an anti-BNP majority, which generally means the Labour vote, at the polls seems to paid off. The Labour vote increased and BNP representation vanished. What’s there to worry about?
Firstly, this was a mobilisation in response to a specific threat (the BNP taking control of a council) and I’m not convinced this level of activity is sustainable or can be replicated. Would there be the same amount of resources to mount a simultaneous operation like that in, say, Stoke, Barnsley, Rotherham, Nuneaton and Thurrock in a few years time? I suspect not.
It’s also worth noting that the BNP vote in Barking & Dagenham did not collapse in any meaningful way. If we compare the 2006 results with the 2010 results it’s evident that at best it dropped slightly in numerical terms but mostly remained stable. That’s worrying. Glyn Rhys puts it better than I can to describe why:
What does this now mean in terms of those who, after all the leafleting, after all the door knocking, after all the arguments that the BNP are a fascist party, still voted for the BNP in Barking & Dagenham. Are we to now believe that these voters are all fascists?
There is a very real risk that by not providing any alternative and by continually marginalising those who will not tolerate the likes of Hodge, we actually push those who would vote BNP as a protest into actually identifying with the BNP and starting to think fascism is an answer.
Hopefully, Griffin won’t realise this and will stick to his promise to abandon East London because of demographic changes.
It’s wasn’t only the BNP who posted results in the local elections ranging from disappointing to humiliating. Respect lost almost all their local councillors as did the Socialist Party while the Greens polled votes that, in any other year, would have won them a number of new council seats across the country. Instead, they lost nine seats.
Is this a wave of popular revulsion against minority parties?
In fact, what happened in the council seats the BNP were defending was part of a broader trend in the local elections, a huge swing towards Labour that swamped all the minor parties.
In the General Election, the BNP vote held up better than most other minor parties such as the Greens. In a tight election in which the vote for minor parties was squeezed the BNP stood roughly three times as many candidates 2005 and got roughly three times the vote. Although gratifyingly the BNP has lost a large amount of in deposits in around 200 parliamentary seats the BNP vote was around 4%. A slight increase in the BNP vote brings them into the territory where they can stand in a large number of seats and save their deposit across large swathes of the country.
This election is a setback for the BNP. By wiping out many of the gains they’ve made it’s reset the clock for the party. However, the same factors that have been generating their support will continue to operate and it would take another huge swing to Labour in a few years time to eradicate their progress.
The BNP were defeated by a Labour recovery and the first past the post electoral system. Since the new coalition government has signalled willingness to countenanace some kind of electoral reform I wouldn’t count on either of these remaining a feature of the political landscape in the near future and if we ditch first past the post then the task of mobilising an ‘anti-BNP majority’ becomes near impossible. Working out an alternative to this strategy will soon be crucially important.
Update: The IWCA analysis of the BNP’s General Election performance is spot on.
Have you heard the one about Nick Griffin, former Lib Dem MP Alex Carlile and a conviction for incitement to racial hatred?
If not, you will before the General Election’s out. Over and over again.
The recently launched anti-fascist media organisation Expose the BNP is aiming to lay bare the real intentions of the BNP and halt the normalisation process in the media whereby the BNP are treated as an ordinary political party.
The campaign argues that media workers have a special role to play in challenging the representatives of the far right when they are granted column inches or air time.
In some ways I sympathise with this argument, journalists are often poorly briefed on the BNP and there have been a few instances in recent months where the BNP and the far right in general have had an easy ride.
The two obvious examples that come to mind are the fiasco with Mark Collett being interviewed as the ordinary man in the street on Radio 1 and Channel 4′s ‘Young, Angry and White’ where the youth organiser of the National Front was presented as some misguided, troubled young man.
However, I have serious reservations about the underlying assumptions of this campaign. A failure to understand the way the BNP is gaining support and the impact this has on the process of normalisation and overestimating the ability of the media to influence BNP support will limit it’s effectiveness.
Firstly and most importantly, I think the campaign has got things the wrong way round. Favourable press coverage is a consequence of the growing normalisation of the BNP not a major contributing factor.
For understandable reasons fascist groups in Britain have generally got a pretty bad press since the outbreak of the Second World War. The BNP is no exception to this and hostile press coverage towards them has become a regular feature at election times.
Nevertheless, many fascist groups have used the press to win recruits and spread their ideas, either through the shock value of the ideas they espouse or taking advantage of journalists’ naivety about what they really represented. Combat 18 quickly learnt the value of the former approach in the 1990′s while the nice, moderate patriots of the National Democrats (who weren’t the old NF, honest) tried the latter at roughly the same time.
In this fascinating personal account of life in the National Front and the New National Front (the forerunner of the BNP) a former organiser describes how he combined both methods to generate large amounts of publicty for a march in the West Midlands that, in reality, they didn’t have the numbers to pull off.
Some far right groups still try this approach, with varying levels of success. The best example of it in recent years in the English Defence League’s amazing capacity to publicity when their marches involved a dozen blokes hiding behind police near a mosque in Harrow.
The BNP, however, do not rely on the media to build support and win recruits. For some years, the party has been following the ‘ladder strategy’ of taking power. This is not to say what the media prints plays no part in this but it’s not a very important part.
First outlined by National Front activist Steve Brady in the 1980′s (whatever happened to him?) the strategy envisages taking power step by step, gaining representation on a lower rung of the power ladder before moving up to the one above it.
This is what has been happening over the last decade. The BNP won its first county councillor last year in Burnley, where the party first made a breakthrough in 2002, and representation in the European Parliament after a decade of standing in local elections all across Yorkshire and the North-West.
This is the process of normalisation at work as the BNP become a familiar part of the electoral process for millions of ordinary voters through grassroots political work. They have achieved this in the face of the approach favoured by ‘Expose the BNP’. Formerly hostile press coverage is changing because people unfortunately increasingly regard the BNP as a legitimate part of the political process.
Without wanting to labour the point, it’s not because of overly favourable coverage from The Sentinel or the Barking and Dagenham Recorder that Stoke or parts of East London have become electoral strongholds for the BNP.
I think the best illustation of this argument is this article about the work of BNP councillors in South Oxhey (where the BNP had county councillor elected after first having representatives elected to Three Rivers district council):
TWO councillors from the far right British National Party (BNP) were entertained by a newly-formed community rugby club in South Oxhey yesterday.
The South Oxhey Rugby Club Exiles invited county councillor Deidre Gates, and Three Rivers district councillor Seamus Dunne, to share their post match drinks, and a game pie cooked in their honour at The Dick Whittington pub in Prestwick Road.
Mat Sharpe, who got the club off the ground at the start of the season in September, said: “If it had not been for the help given by these councillors, our club could not exist…
“South Oxhey is an area of high deprivation, and although there are five football clubs there isn’t much else for people to do for physical exercise.”
Anticipating criticism for accepting the BNP’s help – refused by the South Oxhey Community Choir – he said: “I am not interested in politics, but I know this club is a good thing for the community and I need help from wherever I can get it.
I’d be interested in seeing what supporters ‘Expose the BNP’ think would have been an appropriate response to this or what can be done about it. A rapid press release drawing attention to the convictions of a councillor in Burnley for football related violence? A link to the Youtube video of Nick Griffin spouting offensive bile on the Cook Report in 1997?
The second problem with the strategy of Expose the BNP is a shorter and more glaring one: what they are offering is nothing new.
We’ve been here before. The run up to last year’s European elections saw a huge campaign in the press and negative stories about the BNP making a regular appearance, particularly in papers like the Manchester Evening News. As Searchlight’s Nick Lowles notes anti-BNP stories were placed in the national press on a daily basis in the run up to the poll.
Whatever reason people attribute to Griffin and Brons election to the European Parliament, favourable press coverage was not among them.
The BNP have come to anticipate such campaigns and plan to undermine their impact. The BNP’s European election campaign last year which attempted to invoke the Battle of Britain, with the use of Spitfires, posthumously recruiting Churchill and plagiarising his speeches, was designed to wrong-foot opponents pinning the Nazi label on the party. Anti-fascists walked right into it because they didn’t have an alternative strategy beyond exclaiming that this was totally illegitimate because they were Nazis.
The motivations of the people behind ‘Expose the BNP’ are admirable, the results may be disappointing.