This is a response to Ed Mustill’s guest post written yesterday.
In the 2009 elections the BNP gained two MEPs, gaining near a million votes. Whilst they undoubtedly benefited from the the ‘perfect storm’ of the expenses scandal and the recession, this had been coming. The BNP’s strategy of playing down their core ideology, begun when Nick Griffin wrestled control of the party from John Tyndall, combined with pandering to racism by the mainstream politicians has brought them unprecedented electoral gains and they are now undoubtedly the most electorally successful fascist party in British history.
Griffin’s strategy is made clear in this quote from 1999:
Instead of presenting the party as a revolutionary alternative to the system, we must present the electorate with an image of moderate reasonableness… Of course we must teach the truth to the hardcore. But when it comes to influencing the public, forget about racial differences, genetics, Zionism, historical revisionism and so on.
That’s why stories like this terrify them. In the run up to the elections the BNP forbade local branches from having their own websites, and a quick glance at Merseyside BNP, now hastily renamed Merseyside Nationalists, will show you why. This is why it is key to Unite Against Fascism’s (UAF) strategy to expose the BNP as a fascist organisation. It’s therefore a shame that Ed Mustill’s guest post so denigrates this, reducing it to a caricature with accusations of ‘Bulldozing your way into a community and shouting ‘Nazi scum off or streets’’. During the election I, and hundreds of others, distributed thousands of leaflets that did not merely call on people to ‘not vote Nazi’, but explained in detail the loathsome politics of the BNP, attempting to expose them as the fascists they are. This is important work, as it undermines a core part of the BNP strategy, namely to hide their fascist roots beneath a respectable veneer.
Ed appears to agree that the BNP must be confronted where they organise, citing approvingly a recent example in Derby. It is therefore odd that he is so critical of another two recent important examples, those of Birmingham and Codnor. I wasn’t at Birmingham, but it appears to have been a significant defeat for the English Defence League, and the only criticisms of UAF I have seen are from those who want to paint the young Muslim men as as bad as the fascists. I was, however at Codnor, where thousands of demonstrators were able to severely inconvenience the Red White and Blue Festival, an important part of the BNP’s calendar, used to harden up and recruit new members. The blockades Ed mentions were an important part of this, and would have been impossible had UAF not worked for weeks in the build up to it to organise groups from across the country to attend. My blockade contained activists from across the country and included a number of Trade Union banners. Of course many of us will not return to Codnor, neither will most of the Fascists, that is the nature of a national mobilisation, but it was important to challenge the festival, and in my experience there was very little hostility from the locals, who understood why we were there.
So what about No Platform? For me, at least, this is neither a tactic nor a principle, it is a strategy. It is a strategy aimed at isolating and delegitimising the BNP. Within this strategy there are a number of tactical decisions to be made. Of course anti-fascists shouldn’t refuse to sit in parliament with Fascists, and there is real debate about rare circumstances in which it may be appropriate to ensure they are challenged in the media. But these decisions should be understood as part of a wider strategy of denying them a platform wherever possible, as a crucial part of defeating them.
Ed seems to link UAF’s use of No Platform to its attempt to build the broadest possible movement against the BNP, and claims this has something to do with UAF’s lack of Trade Union orientation. I confess to be dumbfounded, both by how these things are connected, and some of the charges themselves. Across the country UAF has not just union affiliations, but significant engagement from Trade Unionists, on my coach to Codnor their were delegations from Unison, Unite and the PCS. UAF’s position is clear that
[Our] movement must unite the trade unions with the Black, Asian, Muslim, Jewish and other minority ethnic communities alongside all other opponents of fascism, including political parties, religious groups, the lesbian and gay communities and sections of the media.
Nothing here entails refusing to criticise mainstream politicians and their policies, or calling for a vote for anyone specific.
I suspect Ed believes that an important part of beating the BNP, as well as a valuable aim in itself, is the creation of an electoral force of the left that can take on the issues such as jobs and housing that have been abandoned. I share that aim, but it is only a part of how we beat the BNP, and it is dangerous to think we can subsume anti-fascist strategy to it. Local Labour groups have a role to play, as do sections of the unions still wedded to the Labour Party. We also shouldn’t assume that those voters moving to the BNP are ones that could be easily won to a left wing position, as this recent YouGov poll shows.
If the BNP are to be defeated we need a multi-faceted strategy. Jobs and Homes not Racism is a fine slogan, but not when counterposed to exposing the BNP for what they are, and building a broad movement against them.
For UAF’s statement on the European elections and the way forward click here.
For a more detailed exposition of the strategy I’m defending, click here.