A winning formula

Paul Meszaros of Hope not Hate says that Keiron Farrow's analysis of the BNP threat is complacent and self-indulgent

August 26, 2009
5 min read

We recognise that there needs to be a debate concerning the efficacy of different approaches to undermining support for the far right if we are to refine our intervention. Unfortunately, Keiron Farrow offers little in terms of a positive way forward.

His piece casually runs together the Hope not Hate (HNH) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF) campaigns, two organisations he says have ‘broadly similar approaches’, and in doing so blatantly confuses their methods and approaches.

The first important thing to say regarding HNH is that it is a constantly evolving campaign. Because we are not stuck with any old dogma we are able to gauge what works, refine those elements that are helpful and move away from tactics that do not work. For a long period, especially during the 1990s, anti-fascism was something of a minority interest, with a few committed groups and individuals either spying on or beating the far right. This approach might be described as proportional as the BNP offered no political threat in those days, although they posed a physical threat to those they targeted.

This changed in the early years of this decade as the BNP for a number of reasons was able, under Nick Griffin’s leadership, to present itself increasingly as a political solution to the problems faced in certain communities.

Since that time we have seen a growth in the far-right vote that is without precedent. During this period the anti-fascist movement has had to learn how to deal with a party that knows how to win elections. We have also had to deal with an organisation that has moved out of its traditional strongholds and is able to gather a sizeable vote almost anywhere. The BNP vote can now longer be dismissed as a protest; rather, the BNP has become the first choice for a significant number of voters.

Certainly, 10 or 15 years ago, the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight would highlight the criminal convictions of far-right activists and candidates. However, this tactic is used far more sparingly these days as we know it has a limited appeal. Rather what we have seen is a growing realisation and understanding that anti-fascism has to address the political, social and economic issues that are giving rise to the far right.

At HNH we know that most people who vote BNP are not Nazis, and we also know that there is a whole host of issues on which they feel ignored. Even here, though, there is an ongoing debate about what these social issues are. We are told often that it revolves around job and housing insecurity. These clearly play a part, but it is also about other less tangible discontents.

We are sometimes told that the question is about identity and in particular English and working-class identities … but are we really being told, in a polite way, that the big issue is immigration? The BNP has managed to give racial ideology and, in particular, fear of immigration a growing political outlet. It is tapping into large reservoirs of racism that have for too long gone unchallenged.

For HNH, taking on the BNP is primarily about working with those communities under threat from the BNP. We have seen in some of our exemplary work, such as in Keighley, that grass-roots campaigning where local people take ownership of the fight against the BNP can be absolutely effective in defeating them. Keighley went from being a BNP ‘capital’ in 2004 to having no BNP organisation or even candidates by 2007. This was achieved by some old-fashioned proper community development work with residents on the threatened estate. Ironically, the leaders of that particular community came from the mums at the local Sure Start, which suggest to me that it is vital to defend what working-class communities have gained what has been gained over recent years, something Farrow neglects to mention. It is through this careful and patient work that the broad-based alliances necessary to defeat the BNP can be built.

There is also the point that third-party campaigning is limited in what it can achieve. For the BNP to lose an election, another party has to win. Hope not Hate is not an appendage of the Labour Party, but clearly it is often the case that Labour that needs to get more votes than the BNP for the BNP to lose!

We disagree entirely with the claim that the BNP can never fulfil its programme and that its real crime is delaying the rise of independent working-class opposition. This seems both complacent and self-indulgent. It almost seems that Farrow believes that voting Labour is a worse crime than voting BNP. What is astonishing is that our hard-left critics have not managed to make any headway over the past few years; their derisory election scores are indicative of how irrelevant they are to the working class of which they speak so much and understand so little.

Farrow is right to suggest that the battle for hearts and minds continues on the estates devoid of the far left. But if at the end of this the working people reject the hate of the BNP and vote Labour it will be called a victory.

The election of Griffin and Brons as MEPs is devastating, but we must bear in mind that there was no massive surge to the BNP. Rather, the Labour vote collapsed. It is worth remarking, however, that in Bradford, for example, where HNH is long established, the BNP vote went down while the Labour vote went up. Intelligent community-based campaigning exposes the BNP for what it is, as well as providing a defence of civil society.

Paul Meszaros, Hope Not Hate Yorkshirehq[at]hopeyorks.org.uk

See also Paul White’s response


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform