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In the build up to the recent elections in Barnsley, we distributed both UAF and Hope Not Hate leaflets to a much larger section of the electorate. These were the standard-issue ‘Vote Anyone but Nazi’ literature, highlighting the Nazi backgrounds and criminal activities of the BNP’s leading members and candidates. In addition, we held two rallies in the town centre as part of our ‘Reclaim our Town for Democrats’ campaign. This was a response to the BNP having had a regular presence in the main shopping precinct for the past few years on a Saturday, with a stall distributing literature and selling their newspaper. On top of all this, we had established a regular Love Music Hate Racism event at a local club in an attempt to bring young people into the campaign, and to raise awareness.
Despite our best efforts, Barnsley has found itself labelled the fascist capital of Britain, with the BNP achieving its highest percentage of the vote here. Disregarding the factor of the collapse of the Labour vote, it became obvious that simply saying ‘don’t vote BNP/they’re Nazis’ plainly hadn’t worked – again!
There is certainly a need for new ways of taking on the BNP as they become an increasingly more serious threat to everything we have been fighting for all these years. We’ve begun this reflection in Barnsley.
First, while in the past we were just active around elections, we will be active all year round, in the market place, on the streets, on Facebook, in the local press, around football matches – really involving the people of Barnsley. We’ve set up a Barnsley FC supporters group against the BNP, and we are reclaiming the market place.
Second, we are becoming much more deeply engaged with local campaigns addressing the root causes of the many social issues and problems in Barnsley that allow the BNP to capitalise on people’s disaffection. This means defending the health service, campaigning for affordable/social housing, defending jobs. We marched through the city centre last month against job cuts. The BNP had nothing to say.
It would obviously be great if we had candidates standing in the next elections who could offer an alternative, but this is something that will no doubt be discussed in the future.
However, for those of us in localities like Barnsley where the BNP is active and visible, we cannot afford to completely ditch our existing structures, contacts and networks in order to start afresh. We need to maintain our relationship with local trade unions, regardless of what we feel about the Labour Party (I, for one, would not be actively encouraging people to vote for them). The unions provide a vital link to organised workers within the area – significantly, this is something the BNP does not like. We need to learn from what hasn’t (and what has) worked, and develop new strategies and methods, hopefully involving a wider layer of campaigners. We need to be realistic about what works, and what doesn’t. The stakes are far too high to be dogmatic.
Paul White is a trade unionist, socialist and Green Party member