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Activists fight the BNP out of the North East

Nooshin Shabani reports on anti-BNP campaigning in the region

August 5, 2007
7 min read

The BNP’s ideologies are mirroring what the mainstream media continues to portray. They induce moral panic through negative coverage – Islamic bombers and illegal immigrants taking our ‘jobs’ and ‘homes’, failing to mention that people from ethnic minorities in Britain are twice as likely to be poor as their white counterparts.

This year’s local elections seen 750 BNP candidates fielded across UK, 96 of these in the North-East. Although they have managed to raise their profile and increase their level of support, they still have yet to win a single seat in the North-East.

Claire Williams, UNISON, explains, “Since 2004 they have been targeting the North-East and, although their electoral success is minimal, it’s still important that we carry out the anti race work that we are doing.”

By using prejudices that are already widespread in society, the BNP targets working class areas like the North-East which feel abandoned by New Labour. Much of their literature highlights immigration issues and the threat of Islam, as they try to create tensions within communities.

This kind of political racism stems from how fascism first came into the UK. Organised British fascism was prevalent around World War One when organisations such as the British Brother League blamed Jewish immigrants for the overcrowding and poor conditions that British workers were exposed to. The first active fascists were the British Fascists, originally founded in 1923; they continued into the thirties and instigated the rise in organisations such as the British Union of Fascists (BUF) up until World War Two.

It was certainly not ‘cool’ to be a fascist during Hitler’s rise to power. This put BUF members in a predicament as some put patriotism before ideology, which caused membership to decrease and eventually the BUF to close down in 1940. There were suspicions that the BUF and the Nazi party were linked as Hitler himself attended BUF member Sir Oswald Mosley’s second marriage. The anti fascist movement in Britain was reborn after the Second World War with renewed fascist ideologies targeting Jews. The National Front was founded in 1967 and rose into the 1970s as membership in the UK grew to 17,000. Ex National Front members then formed the BNP in 1982.

An Asian Sunderland student who wishes to remain anonymous is victimised in his own community, as he lives only a few doors away from active BNP members. He explains, “I have lived in Sunderland all my life and everyday I pass their house and see BNP posters across the windows. My family have their own restaurant and work hard but yet my mother’s car which is parked outside our house is always being vandalised by racists. It’s not as bad as it used to be a few years back but it’s a problem which needs addressed in the Sunderland area, where the BNP are active in their campaigning.”

Since 2001 the BNP have rebranded their image, posing as a respectable party. Although they have failed to capture any seats in the North-East, we need to question why they are confident enough to field so many candidates in the region.

Dan Breen of ANTIFA states, “The reason their support is growing is largely down to Labour’s failure to address working class concerns. The BNP have been clever in capitalising on local issues that mainstream politicians have overlooked.”

Claire Williams, UNISON adds, “Unfortunately people are feeling disillusioned by some of the mainstream political parties. Clearly the North-East is tradiotionally a Labour stronghold and some of the disaffection with New Labour is starting to play out locally.”

The BNP vote in local elections has increased from 3,022 in 2000 to 238,389 in 2006, but organisations are fighting against the BNP in the North-East and have been successful in preventing them from becoming more powerful.

Anti BNP activists are in a bit of a catch 22 situation as the more media coverage the BNP get, the more they are perceived as a legitimate party. In the run up to last year’s elections the BNP received a lot of airtime. The coverage in the media only helps to legitimise the illusion that the BNP is an ordinary political party.

However, this year BBC Wales forced the BNP to change their party election broadcast as they were accused of stirring up racial hatred. The short broadcast featured the mother of a teenage girl who claims her daughter was drugged and raped by Asian men in Keighley, West Yorkshire. An edited version of the broadcast was shown but with much of its script blanked out. BBC1 and BBC2 continued to air a completely different BNP film.

They are still very much reliant on racism for their support, but the BNP now focuses on culture and religion rather than just race itself. Tony Blair’s war in Iraq has caused further public mistrust towards politicians and has prompted them to see political issues beyond the black and white resulting in racist supporters targetting more than just the black and Asian races.

Polish Sunderland Student, Party Kasprzak, 23, talks about his experiences living as a student in Sunderland. “Inside University I feel OK as it’s very mixed unlike my workplace, where colleges continually mock my accent and make life harder for me. Sunderland has a sense of localism which makes me feel ostracised, I am not treated as an individual I am put aside and seen as the ‘Polish’.”

Because the BNP have generally attracted votes from Labour voting communities, it helps them claim that they are not a right wing party, but are a party for the ordinary people. The BNP have been active in the Chilton area in the North-East, and Tyne and Wear Anti Fascist Association (TWAFA) have continued the fight against them.

Mike Hartman of TWAFA says what their organisation is doing to fight the BNP: “Tens of thousands of anti BNP leaflets have been distributed in the areas where they are standing. They expose the truth about the BNP, revealing details such as extremist connections past and present, and the huge catalogue of criminality and violence within the party.”

He adds: “The coalitions present an alternative view of society, not by pretending that we don’t face problems or challenges, but by making it clear that we can deal with these problems by working together.”

The TUC and the North-East Unites Against the BNP coalition have united and will continue to expose the BNP not just through leafleting but also by aiming to engage youth, putting on Club Nights and street performances by local bands in the region’s city centres.

The North has a strong community of anti-fascists who are fighting the BNP in the elections and will continue to do so. “This work is about involving the working class and people in developing a movement to defend the rights of all, both people here in the North-East and in intervening in the political process here to stand alternative candidates at election time,” explains Madeleine Nettleship.

The Hope not Hate campaign which ran in the runup to the elections played a key role in the success of fighting the BNP out of the North-East. Anti fascist magazine Searchlight united with trade unions, local political parties and community groups to expose the BNP for what they are, racist. A series of activities will take place throughout the country to demonstrate clearly that Hope can triumph over Hate.

The North-East anti fascist movement has proved itself to be successful in the results of this year’s local elections. The BNP had just one councillor re-elected in Burnley and yet again gained not one seat in the North-East. In the Chilton area where the BNP campaigning had been strong anti fascist organisations targeted the wards before the BNP did.

In Sunderland, which the BNP had high hopes for, not only did they fail to win a seat but there was a decline of 2,000 votes compared to last years local election. The BNP is already setting out its aims for next year’s local elections. Anti fascist organisations have fought them out of the North-East and will continue to do so in next year’s elections.

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