Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.

More info ×

Defeating the BNP in Yorkshire

Peter Lazenby reports from Calderdale, where anti-fascists have overcome a BNP intimidation campaign to organise an effective challenge to the rise of the far right

May 5, 2005
6 min read

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

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe


1