Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun