With 563,000 votes the BNP has conclusively surpassed its predecessor the National Front but the Labour-oriented left are politically incapable of recognising this, let alone responding to it.
In all the mainstream analysis of the recent elections, there has been one consistent, ever-present, thread: unanimous delight and relief at the ‘failure’ of the BNP. The Guardian asked, in what reads awfully like a planted Searchlight propaganda piece, “is this the end for Nick Griffin’s party?” (link). Weyman Bennett of Unite Against Fascism declared that ”The BNP’s vote has been paltry. This just shows that the party’s increased exposure has exposed them for what they are. The BNP fielded more candidates than ever and yet the party has gone backwards.”
What are the reasons for such triumphalism? Because, unlike the Greens, the BNP failed to gain a Parliamentary seat (”The party was thrashed in its two key parliamentary constituencies of Barking and Stoke Central”); and their failure to not only win control of Barking and Dagenham council, but also to retain any of the 12 councillors elected there in 2006 who were standing for re-election (which the Guardian referred to, completely straight-faced, as “the miracle of Barking”). Of the 28 BNP councillors who stood for re-election on 6 May, 26 were defeated.
So on the face of it one might think it a good day for the good guys, with the fascists vanquished at every turn. However, in the mainstream coverage there was at least one Cassandra who dared to rain on the parade. Commenting on the euphoria surrounding the Green breakthrough in Brighton, Julian Baggini wrote: “If you find this result exciting, then you should find the performance of UKIP and the BNP even more frightening. The stark facts are these. Nationally, the Green Party’s share of the vote actually went down 0.1% to 1%. In terms of vote share, the BNP (1.9%) and UKIP (3.1%) both did better than the Greens. Nearly twice as many voted BNP as did Green, while three times more people backed UKIP. The BNP almost tripled its support compared to 2005, while UKIP received around half as many votes again as last time.” (link)
The small fact of the BNP tripling its total vote to 563,000 from 192,000 in 2005, which in turn quadrupled from 47,000 in 2001, evidently doesn’t trouble the Guardian, Searchlight or Unite Against Fascism: in their eyes, the BNP’s loss of a few councillors and the failure to win a Parliamentary seat this time round seems to be sufficient to offset these gains.
Even the “miracle of Barking” can be explained somewhat easily: huge amounts of resources poured in by Labour and its allies to counter the most imminent threat, coupled with the council elections taking place on the same day as the general election making it easier for Labour to get its vote out. The BNP still doubled its total vote in Barking and Dagenham to almost 31,000 from 15,700 last time.
Nationally speaking, the BNP tripled its number of candidates and tripled its vote: vote per candidate marginally rose from 1647 in 2005 to 1663 this time round, meaning they were able to triple their national reach without any drop-off in average return. Before the election, Griffin declared that “This is the last election the British National Party fights as a large small party – we are now a small LARGE party”, and they accomplished this mission.
This is significant: it is the transition the National Front tried to make in 1979, and failed (they pulled in 191,000 votes from 303 candidates). The BNP have succeeded: not only are they no longer a small party, they are still a growing party with momentum behind them. And it is UKIP, rather than Hope Not Hate or Unite Against Fascism, that is their biggest obstacle.
In fact, it is from Nick Griffin himself that the best, most objective analysis of the BNP’s electoral performance has come. In two pieces on the BNP website, Griffin states that where they went head-to-head with UKIP, the BNP won out by 178-123; against the Greens it was 134-23. The BNP saved a record number of deposits and the 6,620 votes Griffin won in Barking was “the highest number ever cast for a BNP (or in fact for any British nationalist party) candidate in a general election”.
Furthermore, he notes that their reverse in Barking and Dagenham was “not some terrible indictment of our councillors or leadership, but simply the result of a paradigm shift in the quality of Labour’s election-winning machine. Four years ago, the British National Party, Respect and the Christian People’s Alliance between us dealt a series of shattering blows to Labour, particularly in Barking & Dagenham, Stoke, Tower Hamlets and Newham. Rather than losing heart and wasting time blaming each other, Labour took this as a wakeup call and set about improving their election machine… It didn’t just knock us out in Barking & Dagenham and take 10 of Respect’s 11 seats in Tower Hamlets, but it also eliminated all opposition on Newham council, wiping out Respect and turning a confident Christian People’s Alliance challenge into the loss of all three of their existing seats. Despite Blair, despite Brown, the strong local challenges of three radical alternative parties have been crushed, leaving the whole of East London, from the edge of the City right out to the horsey fields of Essex, a Labour one-party state”.
Specifically, Griffin is referring to Labour’s use of Blue State Digital, the American internet strategy consultancy that played a key role in the Obama election campaign (link). Certainly, the IWCA has often wondered in recent years how Labour has managed to produce the ‘L-vote’ seemingly out of nowhere.
It scarcely needs to be said that the left, including the IWCA, would kill for the kind of results that the BNP are getting, and which are being dismissed as a failure by the likes of the Guardian and Searchlight. The front page of Hope Not Hate’s website currently reads: “Barking and Dagenham: Labour 51 BNP 0″. Is this what anti-fascism is for? To get Labour, meaning the likes of Margaret Hodge, re-elected (for a glimpse of Ms Hodge’s character, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2003/nov/19/childrensservices.childrensministry)? To keep the centre-ground safe for neo-liberalism?
“Labour 51 BNP 0″ completely ignores the fact that it is Labour’s betrayal of the working class that has driven the growth of the BNP. The Guardian, Searchlight, Hope Not Hate and the Labour party itself cannot face this simple truth, and they can do very little about it except deploy their resources where the need is most urgent. This time they have succeeded in covering the biggest holes in the dyke, but the sea-level outside keeps on rising, as it has been doing for years and will continue to do, until it is either too late or the root causes of the BNP’s ascent are addressed. Labour and its middle-class left allies are politically incapable of prosecuting this task.