Mixenden is a Council estate on the outskirts of the industrial town of Halifax in the heart of the Pennines in West Yorkshire.
Like similar estates across Britain it has suffered years of neglect. In Mixenden’s case the neglect stems partly from the hung Calderdale District Council. It is years since Labour held sway in a district which should naturally be under its control.
Mixenden was the first Yorkshire Council ward to elect a British National Party (BNP) Councillor. That was three years ago. Today there are three BNP Councillors in Calderdale. It would be more but for the efforts of Calderdale Unity Against Racism and Fascism, and Calderdale Communities Against Racism – two organisations with political differences, but working for the same ends: the defeat of the BNP.
Both groups work closely with Searchlight, the organisation with an unequalled record of effective activity against the extreme and neo-Nazi right.
The local campaigners task is made no easier by Michael Howard’s decision to make asylum and immigration a major election issue, and Blair’s response which appears heavily influenced by the appalling coverage of the issue by the tabloid press, notably the Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star and The Sun.
Janet Oosterhuysen is a member of the steering committee of Calderdale Unity. ‘My own feeling is that the main parties have legitimised the BNP stance in quite an abhorrent way,’ she says.
‘It makes it very difficult to argue against because what were very right-wing ideas are now becoming more acceptable.’
She believes there is no real immigration problem ‘but because of the focus on immigration people begin to believe there is one. The number of asylum seekers in Calderdale is tiny, less than one-fifth of one per cent of the population. The BNP campaigns on the basis that there is a big local population of asylum seekers. Our leaflets tell people it’s a lie – we give them the true figures. Then along come Blair and Howard with statements suggesting asylum is an enormous problem needing tough measures, which give credibility to the BNP’s lies. It doesn’t help.’
In addition to the problems caused by the aggressive statements on asylum and immigration from Labour and Tory leaders, the Government’s actual treatment of asylum seekers is also causing growing concerns in West Yorkshire. In neighbouring Leeds, asylum seekers are being thrown onto the streets, quite literally. Once an asylum seeker has been refused permission to stay he or she is given two weeks to leave freely. After that they face enforced removal, but it can be weeks before this takes place. In the meantime the person’s benefits have been stopped, so the landlords, private or housing association, who are housing the asylum seeker receive no rent. They send in the bailiffs and the victim is homeless and penniless.
Evicted asylum seekers are turning to local churches for shelter. Witnessing the effects of Government policies on asylum seekers, leaders of the Anglican Church in Leeds organised an emergency debate of their Synod. It called for more humane treatment of asylum seekers by the Government.
‘Recent legislation has made it increasingly difficult for those seeking asylum to access appropriate legal services leading to poor decisions being made,’ said the Rev Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons, Urban Officer of the Church in Leeds. ‘As the General Election draws nearer it is vital that these vulnerable people are not used as a political football.’
The anti-BNP campaigners, meanwhile, are getting on with the job of combating the BNP in the wards and constituencies where the fascists are strongest, and threats and intimidation are constant.
Calderdale Labour Councillor Linda Riordan is Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary candidate in Halifax. ‘Campaigning in my ward, where we managed to defeat the BNP, quite often we will be followed round by BNP members shouting abuse at us and being told they will get us next time, so you’re not dealing with your normal political parties,’ she said. ‘The main concerns residents are telling us they have is immigration – which in Calderdale is surprising to say the least – and crime, and again our crime figures are falling.’
Janet Oosterhuysen said: ‘In the wards where the BNP is most active, few people feel openly able to give anti-racist ideas any support. All know that there are BNP supporters in their neighbourhood who intimidate them on a daily basis and would do worse if it was known that they were against them. Two middle aged women leafleters for the Labour Party were followed around by a shouting mob in one ward.’ On another occasion, 20 anti-racism leafleters were confronted by 50 thugs (led by Calderdale BNP Councillor Adrian Marsden) who said they would prevent the anti-racists from delivering a single leaflet. Police observed from nearby, and did nothing.
The campaigners are undeterred. They have organised mass days of action in which anti-fascist groups from surrounding districts join forces and swamp areas where the BNP is strong. In one past effort in Calderdale 120 people turned out, delivering 18,000 copies of Searchlight’s tabloid newspaper in a single day. The operation was planned with precision, with a central headquarters sending out teams of never less than a dozen leafleters who were moved in by mini-bus and moved out minutes after the drop was completed. Half a dozen teams would be in operation at any one time. Another team staffed a kitchen. An Asian caterer donated food. Similar days of action are to be held across Yorkshire – and in every constituency where the BNP hopes to expand its support.
The BNP is standing candidates in over 100 constituencies nationwide. It has little, if any, hope of winning a seat, but that is not its declared intention. It is laying foundations for its next big electoral assault, the local elections in 2006.
BNP leader Nick Griffin is standing in nearby Keighley, which has a significant Asian community. The BNP there has made allegations that young Asian men have recruited young white girls for prostitution. It’s an issue which is being investigated, but for the BNP it’s just a golden opportunity to drive a wedge into the community and spread its racism.
Griffin gave a media conference on the Keighley issue before the local elections last year using a pub in Calderdale, ironically named The Friendly, for the event. Journalists were given a preview of an election video made by the BNP in Keighley, with interviews with ‘ordinary’ local people, expressing their concerns. The ordinary people were well-known to anti-fascist campaigners: they were experienced BNP activists and officers. Keighley is partly in the Bradford district. Four BNP candidates were elected to Bradford District Council in local elections last year, giving Griffin the foothold he wanted.
The anti-BNP campaigners face a tough battle. They need all the help they can get. For information on your nearest group, find their website by searching for stopthebnp.com
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
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'
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