Saturday, 18 January 2014

Whatever Happened to Stoke BNP?

Three local comrades are sat in a McDonald's. In come eight men who, before occupying their seats directly behind them, each buy a Happy Meal. So who were these oddballs? They were the eight remaining members of Stoke-on-Trent's British National Party. Yes, remember them? It was only a few short years ago that the party - along with Stoke City FC and Robbie Williams - were counted among the city's three biggest claims to fame. Over the last decade, it had picked up nine councillors. It came within a whisker of taking the elected mayoralty. They were barely off the front page of the local rag, and Nazi Nick himself dubbed Stoke "the jewel in the BNP's crown". And now it is reduced to eating brightly packaged food for the under-10s. How did this happen?

When Brons and Griffin were packed off to Brussels in 2009, I'm sure they weren't the only ones who'd thought the BNP had hit the big time. A discredited Labour government was stumbling toward a heavy election defeat, and the Tories were in the full flush of hug-a-huskyism. Then, as now, the press and broadcast media was rammed with anti-immigrant scaremongering. Yet the fascists' hopes for 2010 were thwarted. Their parliamentary candidacies went nowhere and they suffered severe reverses in the local authority contests held on the same day. They were checked because, on the whole, the general election is the one that "matters". People file to the polling booths to cast a ballot for the government of their choice, not to protest. So yes, everywhere the BNP stood their candidates recorded modest increases but on the whole, their support stuck to the parties they knew. Unfortunately for the BNP, their toe-tip advance was prelude to a total rout.

UKIP disproportionately benefit from Tory disenchantment. The BNP drank the anti-politics run off from Labour. But here there is a significant difference. UKIP is drawing on dozens of small scale splits from the Conservative Party proper - a councillor here, an association chair there. UKIP's story is part of the historic decomposition of Conservatism. The BNP on the other hand did not thrive the same way. In the main, they spoke to and temporarily won over the most backward sections of working class people. The lumpen and semi-lumpenised, those anxious about Asians Muslims, those who feared being out-competed for jobs and social housing. And, not to be underestimated, a layer of normal Labour voters for whom the BNP were the protest equivalent of the nuclear option. For their part the BNP blunted their racist edge and donned cheap suits. UKIP is sustained by an organic crisis of Toryism. The BNP a certain dropping off of the Labour vote.

This left the BNP particularly vulnerable to the political winds. With the Tories in and Labour out of power, what's the point in protesting against the opposition?* The rug was torn from underneath the BNP, politics had undergone its periodic polar reversal. Hence in the by-elections following May 2010, and at the 2011 local elections the BNP's (anti-Tory) vote returned back to Labour.

Political tectonics precipitated the BNP's fall. More often than not, when other (second order) elections are held on the same day as a general, candidates standing for the main parties do better than in "off" years. General elections push turnouts up, and those accustomed to only voting every four or five years tend to vote for their preferred party of government in secondary contests. This can sink smaller parties, and the BNP proved no different. Bloodied and smarting from hitting an electoral brick wall the BNP's rotten internals spilled out in messy leadership challenges, expulsions, splits, and scandals. The discipline of success caved like a soggy souffle as factional battles had free rein. Many fash simply gave up and the softer, gullible layer quietly "forgot" to renew their subs. Of course, being an open member of the BNP has its personal costs too. Is that a price worth paying when your party's going nowhere, when it hasn't won a single council seat or chalked up any success at all since its 2009 high point? The majority of the BNP's membership thought "no".

The BNP in Stoke built up its position by faithfully applying the "suits, not boots" strategy. It put out rasping, ranting racist fare but also posed as community champions, as the authentic voice of white working class Stokies "let down" by Labour councillors who couldn't be bothered to knock on doors even at election time. If there was a gap in council services, the BNP's activism would plug the gap. Hence former leading figure Steve "Bin Bag" Batkin regularly knocked around his ward litter picking, helping with small household repairs and offering ornithology tips. Alby and Ellie Walker, the former fascist "power couple" kept a handle on their Abbey Hulton fiefdom by substituting themselves for the City Council's meals on wheels. Them leaflets through the door might have the BNP down as goose-stepping holocaust-denying morons, but they were handy with the flatpack furniture.

Stoke BNP began careening in early 2009, before the European elections. A small scale split involved the party's branch secretary, Craig Pond and his henchman Terry Cope. Pond (who by coincidence, features in this week's Weekly Worker) fell out with the local BNP because both were, how shall we say, a bit "unreconstructed". That and, bizarrely, as a fascist interested in nuts and bolts policies Pond was frustrated that the party was only interested in general propaganda. His politics were best characterised by racism and library opening times. It was a crack, but as the BNP were still on the up it didn't appear to matter. The election came and went and in preparation for 2010, the local party picked Alby Walker - its council group leader - to contest the Stoke Central seat, where six of the BNP's nine councillors had their wards. However, as Griffin and his lieutenants believed this was the BNP's best bet of getting into Parliament, he unilaterally imposed himself on Barking, which was hitherto Richard Barnbrook's (remember him?) fiefdom. Griffin's lackey in the West Midlands, Simon Darby did the same in Stoke and Alby was turfed out. And so, hours after Griffin launched the BNP's 2010 campaign in Stoke Alby announced his resignation and decision to contest Stoke Central too. While that was the real reason, Walker's "good reason" was his discovery that the BNP were a bit racist. Yes, he really did say that.

The election challenges came to nought, and the BNP lost four seats in the simultaneous council elections. It wasn't long before Ellie Walker also packed it in and made the leap from the fascist far right to the leftish (short-lived) Community Voice party. And come 2011 the national swing to Labour put paid to the remainder. Michael Coleman, Stoke BNP's "brains" since got a little bit of notoriety for saying racist things on the internet, but as an organisation they're broken. Coleman's "normal bloke" image hasn't been enough to prevent the jewel in the crown from disintegrating like a sherbet lemon. Even dear old Bin Bag has reportedly given up fascist politics and is now, apparently, a reformed character. In the two Stoke by-elections since 2011 the BNP have come nowhere, the mantle of anti-politics having passed firmly not to UKIP (as elsewhere) but the ragtag-and-bobtail City Independent group. So, while there are local dynamics pushing the BNP down these have not been decisive factors in their decline. National politics have done for them.

Could the BNP ever come back though? You should never say never in politics. If the Tories get back in in 2015 it's unlikely. Their fortunes are better served by having Labour in power. Yet the dynamics on the ground are likely to be much different. UKIP are trying to corner the anti-politics vote, and might do well under Labour too. But they cannot feed off Labour in the same way they do the Tories. It will be a bottom feeding operation, picking up disenchanted and alienated votes as the BNP did last decade. With broadly similar messages to UKIP, a now-fragmented far right, and possible electoral competition from the far left in the shape of TUSC and Left Unity with any luck they'll remain a political relic - and a warning to Labour to never neglect its core areas again.


* An understanding lost on TUSC, but not the working class voters they claim to be the vanguard of.

11 comments:

Speedy said...

The electoral system keeps all these groups out - see how they do when there's PR and people's votes count.

If that was translated to a national parliament things would look very different, but then if there was PR perhaps choices would not be so binary, ie the only people who could be bothered to set up fringe political parties and waste their time would not be racists or Euro obsessives.

If there had been PR there could have been the social democratic compact you long for even, imagine this - NO THATCHERISM.

PR is seen as a recipe for inactivity, but consensus often means the same thing - the US Founding Fathers created the logjam in US politics for this reason, a suspicion of politics.

Defenders of the current system use the BNP as an argument against PR but that would not necessarily be so. The BNP are the product of a system that essentially difenfranchises the majority from the political process and ensures an unrepresentative elite rule on in their own interests. The BNP are simply the bogeyman of a bourgeois con.

Anonymous said...

I support PR but I don't think the BNP will make any inroads. British people are generally too 'decent' to vote for yobs and brainless thugs.

Interesting that a UKIP councilor was quoted as blaming the recent floods on Cameron's gay marriage legislation. I am beginning to wonder if the Tories are planting these people to make UKIP look ridiculous. Or should I say more ridiculous!

Gary Elsby said...

The Liberals are busily calling for 'apologies' among themselves (as predicted by serious observers).
Too dumb to see it as one big plot to remove them from the stage.
The BNP in Stoke lost out to the new 5 year term nicely coinciding with TV propaganda debates thus guaranteeing a vote for one of the big three.
Not happening this time around though, if rumour serves.
The BNP are allegedly 'phoning' the entire City to find support.

I can't see how Labour will lose in Stoke-on-Trent.
One parachute, one sacked 'gay basher' and one who now couldn't give a fuck.
The Labour Council?
A sure fire winning strategy of shutting care homes, day centres and bogs (Meredith goes nuts!)
An elected Mayor's strategy of removing public services in favour of privatisation (common purpose) and backed up by a Labour Council (many of whom are now known to vote for the worst possible outcome(fuck you, in other words).
Labour can't lose and the BNP can't come back.
This is Stoke-on Trent and even the CEO wants out (came third in the interview).

Anonymous said...

When it comes to UKIP you forget Newcastle. They have been taking Labour votes for almost 10 yrs. its got that bad the Labour Council leader has run off to what he think is a safe seat. But UKIP may get him in Chesterton this time to...

Gary Elsby said...

I forgot to say, that on the National stage, it would be amiss of viewers to only observe the sexual perversions of top Liberals played out in the sex hungry media without wondering who will star for Labour.

There is a sexual deviant stalking the corridors of Labour, be it a woman or a man but it would be silly to think that all God nutters and perverts belong to any other party than the Tories.

The Tories are god fearing immigrant fearing true Brits whose own sexual perverts are requiring nothing other than compensation for slander.

So who is it whom will represent Labour in the tabloid stakes immediately prior to the General Election?

Anonymous said...

Spot on analysis. I bet Griffin is peraying for a Labour win. It is an oddity of British politics that fascist groups do well under Labour governments. I think it's an indication of the largely working class nature of British fascism. It has never made the big inroads into the middle and upper classes unlike its continental cousins. Those groups have remained wedded to brands of toryism.

Phil said...

That's not true re: the Blackshirts - in the BUF's heyday it did have a substantial middle class following.

Gary Elsby said...

The upper classes funded Hitler and many Hitlerists held top positions within Labour and Tories.
In turn, true Fascists(ism) funded the Upper class BUF and only zero proof of second rate fascists (German/Racist Nazis)saved the British upper classes from the hangman's noose.
Hence the early release from prison and a tag of 'deluded idealsist'.

One turn of one card was all in between of the idealist and the Leadership of the Labour Party.
(insert Conservative Party if pathological).

Anonymous said...

@Phil

The BUF did attract some short lived aristocratic support in it's early years but this was curtailed after Olympia in 1934 and with Rothermere withdrawing his support - After that the Party switched to courting the Working Classes in the East End. Indeed, solidly working class Bethnal Green could be said to be the only place where it had, what could be considered to be, anything approaching mass support. It was one of the major reasons why full-on anti-Semitism became more visible in the BUF after 1935. In order to court thos population.

Of course, fascists recruit from all social classes and certainly British fascism's leadership have been middle class (look at teh class backgrounds of Tyndall, Griffin etc.) - However, their mass support base in the UK has usually been white WC suburban and urban areas that border localities with high BME populations. The BNP's success ten years ago was mainly down to their ability to sniff out, identify and exploit these areas. Cadre like Eddy Butler were masters at it.

Gary Elsby said...

Not quite true actually.
The BUF was mainly funded by Mussolini (true fascism, ie, non- racist).
The BUF was littered with Jews and the personal bodyguard of Moseley was Jewish.
To court Hitler's favour and be the spokesman in GB, the BUF routed all Jews from the party.
This link of German finance has never been proven as all records went missing (aristocrats and big businessmen would have hanged).

Labour's darling of the NHS, Bevan, was reigned in by the Unions.
Archibald Ramsay a loon Tory was considered so dangerous, that Hitler had to commit suicide, Germany totally vanquished, Japan annihilated by nuclear explosions and every Japanese soldier signing up to an unconditional surrender and occupied by America before he was considered safe for release.
The one thing that saved most British Nazis from the noose was the failure to find 'the accounts' and the battle for Britain being over.
Records show that many farmers painted their barn roofs red and haystacks aligned into giant pointers and all directing the Luftwaffe to London.
Stoke South was the Nazi stronghold with many cut throat knife fights taking place.

Anonymous said...

The demise of Stoke BNP can be attributed to the facts that
1) They did nothing for Stoke
2) All the "brains" in Stoke BNP left due to the total obduracy of Coleman , at best a self-centered idiot .
3) Weak leadership from the likes of the BNP councillors allowed too many people to follow their own agendas , not those of the party .

Stuart Moore