Friday, 7 December 2007

Council Round-Up

Barking and Dagenham

At the full council meeting on 3rd October (minutes available here) BNP councillors asked six questions and did not put forward any new motions. The questions asked shed more light on the divisive and racist politics behind the carefully-constructed image of a 'democratic' BNP.

The BNP insinuated that Labour want to deliberately make the white people of Barking and Dagenham into a minority. It is not clear why the racial make-up of the borough should be a problem, though it is clear that this sort of question should not have been asked by a party which does so much to cover up its racist image. Whichever way they choose to phrase it, the fundamental goal of the BNP is an all-white Britain with no danger of race mixing.

There were complaints from BNP councillors about the chair operating double standards with regard to different political groupings. It is difficult to understand this without having attended the meeting, although one can assume that the BNP go out of there way to disrupt council proceedings as much as possible.

Of most concern is the behaviour of local BNP leader Councillor Barnbrook. He is alleged to have fabricated a claim that a council department had lost forms submitted by one of the constituents in his Goresbrook ward. This is a very serious allegation to make and if this is true Barnbrook has clearly used a dirty trick to undermine the authority of the borough.

Unfortunately, it is the nitty-gritty issues which give the BNP an opportunity to score political points. The council pays housing benefit to private landlords to provide temporary accommodation. Councillor Barnbrook stated that the council was paying hundreds of pounds a month to these landlords and asked why the council does this when it has financial 'pressures'. A Labour cabinet member replied that the council recovers this money through the governments housing benefit subsidy scheme and that the rents on such properties are higher because of management fees.

Epping Forest

Tony Frankland was officially accepted as a councillor for Loughton Alderton ward at the meeting in September. He has taken up the positions on the council committees previously held by Councillor Farr.

This month the BNP asked about the misuse of an area in a housing estate for leaving car parts and non-residential items.

The minutes of both meetings are available here.

Friday, 30 November 2007

BNP: "Islamic civilization is an oxymoron"

On its website, the BNP has published articles blaming multiculturalism for the riots in France and an article from an Indian writer who claims there is an global Islamic conspiracy trying to destroy western civilization. Since he became leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin has been trying to break down the neo-Nazi image of his party. Appearing to support a global conspiracy by a single religious group reveals that the BNP is a paranoid and racist party underneath the fa├žade. In the 17th century it was the Catholics and the Puritans. In the 1930s it was the Jews. Now it is the Muslims who are the new scapegoats. If the BNP were ever to form a government, they would drag this country into a perpetual 'crusade' against every single country with a Muslim majority.

In such a situation, it is vital for the left to support secularism against the religious bigotry of the far right. Socialists must be consistent in calling for a secular state where everyone is free to express their own views without the state supporting particular forms of behaviour. I think that the anti-clericalism of some Socialists would be misguided and that the state must give people the freedom to wrestle with theological questions for themselves. At present, the Left is hardly consistent on this issue. The Labour Government still pursues a policy of schools maintaining a 'distinctive mission and ethos', and former Prime Minister Tony Blair gave his backing to faith schools wanting to enter the state sector.

Things are not looking good on the far left either: the Stop the War Coalition held a recent conference to which it invited an apologist for the regime in Iran (see Weekly Worker). They say that the regime in Iran is not as bad as it is depicted in the western media. Even allowing for media misrepresentation, a critical eye cannot fail to appreciate the totalitarian nature of Iran's theocratic government.

The BNP has labelled the Left as apologists for Islamic terrorism - an accusation which is embarrassingly justified with regard to STWC. Perhaps STWC follows a philosophy of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend': the Iranians are 'oppressed' by 'Western Imperialism' so we should give their government our full backing. In the first instance, Socialists ought not to support those governments who explicitly oppose progressive values (e.g. gay rights, abortion rights). Secondly, it is important for us to separate a state from its people, especially in a dictatorship. The people of Iran had a reason to vote for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and most of them probably don't want to see Israel 'wiped from the map'.

I guess that most BNP voters will never read the article which appeared on that party's website. We must accept that the far right must be defeated at the ballot box and this will not be achieved by saying 'Don't Vote BNP' if voters feel so disaffected that there is no alternative. The will judge the BNP by the carefully-worded material which comes through their letterbox: the 'official' image of the BNP. They will also judge the parties of the left by the way they behave on the subject of racial and religious integration.

The left will win over BNP voters if it promotes itself as the party of racial integration, not racial segregation.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Griffin wins this time around

The BNP claimed on their website today that the left's policy of 'No Platform' had been undermined following Nick Griffin's speech to members of the Oxford Union last night. The news article contains an audio clip of the speech which is probably not available anywhere else on the web.

Unite Against Fascism were also claiming victory today:

"The most powerful opposition to fascism came not from within the chamber but from the peaceful demonstration calling for Oxford Union not to become a tool for giving fascists prestigious cover, which were picked up widely in the media."

Firstly, the demonstration was not completely peaceful. A small group of anti-fascists managed to break the security cordons and enter the Union building where they staged a fifteen-minute sit-in. The debate had to be divided in two with Griffin and Irving addressing students in separate rooms. Such a mobilisation may well have been justified for a rally of marching fascists, but not for a middle-aged historian (David Irving) or the suited and booted leader of the BNP.

The UAF quotation assumes that the BNP do not already have 'prestigious cover', yet they ignore the growing support for the far right in many areas of the country where the 'no platform' policy has not trickled down. Their 'victory' will not have the same resonance in those local authorities where electors have voted for BNP candidates in local elections. In spite of last night, the BNP still has over 40 councillors in England and it is still the main opposition on one of the London boroughs. In short, UAF are deluded if they think this demonstration was anything more than a piece of political theatre.

Andrew Smith, the MP for Oxford East, sent a message of support to the protesters: "The true threat to freedom of speech comes from men such as Mr Griffin who argue for the use of ' boots and fists' as political tools." It clearly does not matter to Smith that he was an integral part of the New Labour project which has alienated the party from millions of working class people. If Mr. Smith really wants to challenge the far right, he might like to talk to the people in his own backyard who deserted him at the general election in 2005 slashing his majority from 10,344 to 963.

After Oxford, it's time for anti-fascists to rethink their strategy and to admit that 'no platform' has failed to stop the BNP from gaining nearly 50 councillors. Unfortunately this advice is probably going to fall on deaf ears amongst the UAF and the Labour Party.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Irving, Griffin and the Oxford Union

A debate on Freedom of Speech is due to take place tonight at the Oxford Union. The debating society has invited BNP chairman Nick Griffin and revisionist historian David Irving to take part in the debate. The decision has sparked uproar with one Conservative MP resigning his membership of the Oxford Union and several Labour ministers refusing to attend further Union debates unless the invitation is revoked. There will be the usual ANL/UAF protest as well as demonstrations from an array of other university groups.

It is right for anti-fascists to protest against this, but I do not think liberal politicians are in a position to counter the arguments of the BNP and those who deny the Holocaust. Three local authorities in England have more than six BNP councillors (Barking and Dagenham, Stoke, Epping Forest). We are in a situation where the BNP appears as a respectable party to ordinary voters, particularly in areas where the Labour Party were strong. It can be argued that liberal politicians have created the ideal conditions for far right parties to thrive, namely the long-term neglect of working class people and the failure to provide an alternative to the neo-liberal economic consensus which has created social dislocation and job insecurity.

Resigning from the Oxford Union or refusing to debate with fascists will not stop them from gaining votes. If the left wants to defeat the BNP before it grows any further, it must look at itself and the way it responds to current economic and social conditions.

If MPs continue with gesture politics and political point-scoring, this will simply give more weight to Nick Griffin's claims that he is a victim of repression.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Tactical Errors in Stoke-On-Trent

The BNP attempted to force the Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent City Council to issue a public apology after he said that he would not work with any of the seven BNP councillors on the local authority. At full council meeting in August, BNP councillors Neil Walker and Michael Coleman put forward a motion declaring that the mayor's comments were 'undemocratic', that they were 'against the core values of the council' and that they required a 'retraction and a public apology from him (the mayor)'.

In his response to the motion, the Mayor said that BNP policies would take the council backwards and that he had never been discourteous to BNP group members. He referred to some of the BNP's political beliefs and said that a vote for the BNP was a vote for negativity. Councillors from the other parties shared the same views and said that there was a need for the council to say 'no' to racism, fascism and extremist behaviour. They added that these were not concerns against individual councillors, just the BNP as a whole.[1]

Unfortunately this is yet another example of a failed tactic, namely to quarantine the BNP in order to discredit their policies and make their members powerless. Stoke City councillors appear to believe that they are still living in the 1970s and 1980s when far right groups held street marches and expounded openly neo-Nazi beliefs (e.g. John Tyndall: "Mein Kampf is my Bible"). Under the leadership of Nick Griffin, the BNP has made itself appear respectable to the electorate: the boots and braces are out; the smart suits have come in. The BNP stopped holding street marches in 1994. We are in a different political climate where the BNP behaves just like any other party: they deliver leaflets, canvass voters in their own homes and organize fundraising events. Whatever the underlying beliefs of the far right party, working class people appear to be voting for the BNP in ever increasing numbers. This is because they are dissatisfied with the policies of those political parties who traditionally represent them. The BNP have become a respectable but dangerous alternative for disenfranchised white working class voters.

From a different angle, it could be argued that refusing to work with elected members because of their political views offends the electors who voted for them. If working class people voted for the BNP, then they did so in good faith. They decided that the BNP candidate for their ward was the person best suited to representing them in the council chamber. They expressed a democratic wish in a perfectly legal way. If the BNP candidate is elected and the other councillors refuse to work with him, is this not a slap in the face for the people who voted for that party? The BNP councillors do not just belong to a political party: they are individuals who have chosen to give up some of their time for the community. There have been some well-publicised examples of BNP misdemeanours but this is not the image they like to give on the doorstep.

There is also a deeper political reason for the rise of the BNP in working class areas like the Potteries. Since 1994, the Labour Party has been moving away from its traditional Socialist beliefs and has won over large sections of the middle class which arguably brought it to power in 1997. At the same time, the old Communist Party disintegrated into rival sects along with Trotskyist groups and a political void developed on the Left. There is now a large section of the population which has become fed up with New Labour's rejection of social solidarity and collectivism as a means of achieving social change. In the eyes of many working class people, the Labour Party has replaced Socialism with a form of Thatcherism which includes a superficially social democratic gloss. Who is going to vote for a party which enthusiastically follows a neo-Liberal agenda of privatization and de-regulation? Who would want to stick their neck out for a party which believes there is nothing wrong with company directors earning 100 times more than their employees? Who is going to support a party which introduces initiative after initiative for increasing the 'individual economic aspirations' of working class people without understanding the environment they live in or their traditions of solidarity and community? Who is filling the void? With the notable exception of the Independent Working Class Asssociation in Oxford, the far left seems to be shuffling around making the same political mistakes as it always has been, largely because of its middle class and academic membership base.

The increasing success of the BNP is as much a result of decreasing turnout in local elections as it is about increasing votes for the far right. To put it simply: Labour voters are staying at home on polling day. There may be Labour voters moving over to the BNP in protest, but a more common reaction would be to stay at home. It must be borne in mind that the turnout for the three wards in Stoke where the BNP were successful in May this year was around 30.1% - meaning approximately 69.9% of residents in each ward did not bother to vote.[2]

The Left must learn some very harsh lessons in order to defeat the BNP effectively or we will find ourselves in much murkier waters than we are now.
[1] Summary of the business in section 32 of the council minutes on 2nd August 2007 taken from the Democratic Services section of Stoke-On-Trent City Council website.
[2] Averages calculated using
results published on the aforementioned website.

Friday, 31 August 2007

Promoting segregation is not the way to tackle the BNP

In my previous post, I mentioned that BNP councillors had asked questions during the Barking and Dagenham borough full council meeting. Two of these questions concerned issues related to perceived 'preferential treatment' of ethnic minorities within the borough.

BNP Councillor Bailey asked how much the council spent on translation and interpreting costs for 'foreigners' during the financial year 2006/07. Labour leader Councillor Fairbrass responded saying that £64,600 was spent on translation and interpreting costs but this included braille and sign language for the blind and deaf respectively. He stated categorically that the council rejected the notion that translation costs were a waste of money and that they were bad for race relations. He pointed to a recent report from the Commission on Integration and Cohesion which confirms the importance of translating official documents for local authority residents.

I thoroughly disagree with the Labour Party policy on this because I think they are actively promoting segregation. Racialising municipal policies plays right into the hands of the far right. I think that councils should do more to integrate ethnic minorities and immigrants living in their areas for whom English is not the mother language. For as long as ethnic minorities are encouraged to live in ghettos then there can be no cultural integration of the kind which creates social solidarity. Furthermore, learning English would help ethnic minority communities to obtain jobs where effective communication is a requirement.

Also, I feel very strongly that Labour Party policies should seek to unite working class communities rather than dividing them along ethnic lines. For a working class area with a restricted housing stock and a high demand for council accommodation, £64,600 is money which could be directed into housing as well as social services and education. Socialists should use money to improve the lives of all residents in a working class area and not offer it to specific identity groups. If we want to create social cohesion, we should integrate all community groups to make them open to all residents and not just one section of it.

BNP Councillor S. Doncaster asked how many single race groups B&D council funds and how much this costs the taxpayer. Councillor Fairbrass replied saying that the council had identified eight ethnic minority groups and that they had spent £89,500 on them. Combined with the figure for translation work, this is a total of £154,100 ethnic minority-specific projects. The Labour leader argued that this expenditure was justified as most of the money is given to the council in the form of a grant and that each resident only pays 8.12p for these services. For me it is not a question of the money but the principle: a Socialist council committed to working class unity should not be segregating that community along ethnic or racial lines.

Unfortunately the Left has not managed to throw off the influence of identity politics which influenced public policy during the 1970s and 1980s. 'Multiculturalism', 'edginess' and 'diversity' have become buzzwords for metropolitan academics, public sector professionals and policy makers who often lack the necessary life experience to understand the effects their ideas have on working class people. It is time for the left to promote racial and cultural integration along socio-economic lines. If the left fails to do this, then the far right will seize the opportunity for their own ends.

Barking and Dagenham Borough Council Meeting, 25th July 2007

The minutes of this meeting have finally been uploaded to the borough council website for public viewing.

British National Party members put forward two motions and asked four questions.

Councillor Barnbrook and Councillor Bailey put forward a motion (again) demanding that the St. George's Flag and the Union Flag should be flown from all council buildings. The motion was rejected by the majority Labour council and as such the council will only display flags on days recommended by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. They agreed to fly the St. George Cross on St. George's Day. This is a positive step forward: there is no reason why Socialists should feel ashamed of belonging to one of the main ethnic groups which form the United Kingdom.

The second motion (proposed once again by Councillor Barnbrook) demanded an immediate census of the borough similar to those in surrounding areas. The motion was amended by the Labour majority and passed as follows:

"Agreed, that this Council recognises the inadequacy of the existing approach to assessing the population changes within the borough and the consequent negative impact on funding to the area. The Council welcomes the work being undertaken by London Councils to address this issue, and notes the success of the London Council’s campaign in getting the Office for National statistics (ONS) to review the way census data is adjusted to reflect more rapid population changes. Also the Council notes that this work is recognised by government and will be used to inform grant settlements. The work of the ONS already starts to recognise that the population is underestimated by the census data, but not by the amount that we believe to be the case based on more local information. Lastly, the Council agrees to continue to support this campaign as the most effective means of getting proper recognition for the impact of population changes in the borough."

If the BNP really cared about the white working class in Barking and Dagenham, they would ask sensible questions about the shocking state of the roads in the borough (like other non-BNP councillors) and what can be done to improve the existing housing stock and to build more homes. Instead of this, they use issues like housing as a means to push forward their racist agenda (see minutes for previous council meetings about the 'Africans for Essex' controversy).

Interestingly, more BNP councillors are beginning to ask questions in full council meetings. Since the BNP became the official opposition in 2006, Richard Barnbrook has been asking the majority of questions. I have been proved wrong: I never used to think they had minds of their own. I thought Richard Barnbrook had string tied to his hands which were linked to the arms of all the other BNP councillors so that whenever he raised his hand to vote, all the others followed suit. If Cllr. Barnbrook is not careful, his councillors might actually start thinking for themselves!