Tuesday 9 June 2009

How Can 900,000 Vote BNP?

So asked my friend Daniel Hoffmann-Gill on Sunday night's election post. Another commentator, 'PakPunk' puts the question this way: "Try explaining why a million brits voted for BNP with the clear understanding that it is bunch of racist thugs." Similarly Twitter was alive with people rightfully condemning the BNP when the results in Yorkshire and Humber and the North West were announced, and expressing disbelief that so many people could be racist and/or be prepared to vote for racists.

Morality is basic to socialist politics. But moralism is no basis for socialist analysis. The reasons why people vote for the BNP are complex and multi-faceted. In this respect
this piece of excellent research commissioned for Channel Four is a good way in. Among the points about BNP voters' attitudes to race and immigration (which, unsurprisingly are more negative than the national average), there is a large minority for whom such concerns are secondary. But these concerns are not new. They have been part of the British political landscape for a long time, predating even the significant influx of Afro-Caribbean and Asian workers after the war.

But when you couple this with the relative lack of security they feel and their relatively low socio-economic status, scandalous media coverage of race and immigration, and the (correct) belief Labour and the other mainstream parties have abandoned working class aspirations, it's small wonder people are prepared to vote for a party that appears to speak to these concerns - whether they have the mark of Cain or not.

And here in lies the difficulty for mainstream anti-fascism.
Searchlight's Hope Not Hate campaign was the largest and most sophisticated operation it had ever launched. Whatever criticisms one has of this strategy, the scale of the mobilisation will have had an effect. One cannot say with any precision how many would-be BNP voters were put off, but the numbers must be significant. However despite its efforts and those of Unite Against Fascism/LMHR there are substantial numbers for whom their approach - which almost exclusively plays up Holocaust denial, their Nazi sympathies and general unpleasantness - will have zero effect. Some rethinking has to be done to take this reality into account - paying more attention to their piss poor records in office and being more intelligent about no platform is a good place to begin.

But as a political party they need to be defeated politically - a task that demands the left gets its act together and starts pulling together in the same direction: to refounding independent working class political representation.


bifurcata bifurcaria said...

You have expressed some of my concerns RE: UAF.

Whilst it is admirable that so many people are standing up to fascism - that so many people still care - I feel a deep sense of unease about their tactics.

It is very pleasing to see Nick Griffin get egged and so on, but I have the feeling that these tactics (those of UAF) are playing right into their hands.

Fascists thrive on fear, on forcing people to take sides. They thrive on factionalism, and reaction.

This is the whole crux of what bothers me: when I see the UAF bloke on Newsnight continually mentioning how mean and horrible they are, it only seems reactionary.
I wholeheartedly agree that they must be defeated politically. It is exactly what I have been thinking myself.

bifurcata bifurcaria said...

Whilst I am commenting, let me also say that whilst I agree completely that fascism must be fought politically, to working in WC communities and helping to (re)build a revolutionary WC consciousness, I have to admit I also feel a sense of unease about the left political parties running in this election.

I hate to put anything this bluntly, and I may regret posting it, but pretty much all of them strike me as reactionary.

I would like to say that left parties should give up on electoral politics because electoral politics simply does not work for them. But I acknowledge that this is a naive position to take, as there needs to be some representation in the polls for the left, even if it means defeat after defeat. Just to turn up.

But the real work will be done on the streets, and I know how much work you have done in that regard!

Fatal Paradox said...

Agree with all this - as I write this I am listening to Nick Griffin on the RadioNZ World Watch sounding positively pleased after protesters disrupted his BNP press conference.

A urgent re-think of tactics by the left on this issue is clearly needed!

Phil said...

I'm really ambivalent about the attack on Griffin - it was a deeply satisfying sight, and I do feel the anti-fascist movement would have been letting itself down if something like that hadn't been tried. At the same time, tactically it was a horrendous own goal - it harmed UAF much more than it did the BNP. And no, the "Nazi scum" slogan doesn't have much purchase on why people actually vote for the buggers - nor does saying "not in my name" get us very far once the guy's actually been elected. Which leaves... um. Chto delat, that's the question.

Phil said...

I share this ambivalence about the yesterday's action against Griffin. In one sense it was absolutely right to demonstrate that wherever he and Brons rear their ugly heads they will face anti-fascist opposition. But on the other we have to be aware of how it plays to "normal" people outside left and anti-fascist political circles - we have to deal with the fact the BNP has won a mandate and will be doing its damndest to consolidate it and make further gains.

Charlie Marks said...

Egging Griffin was counterproductive. The BNP's whole strategy now is to mask fascism with participation in electoral politics and rhetorical support for democratic procedures.

Their current weakness is over the issue of their "whites-only" membership policy, which very few people find acceptable and seems a little out of place in a supposedly "demcratic" organisation.

However, since the saying "there's no such thing as bad publicity" has an element of truth with regard the BNP, I think the best antifascist organising will be to give people an alternative worth voting for.

bifurcata bifurcaria said...

There was the hint of a smile on Nick Griffins face as he got escorted away through that crowd.

FloTom said...

I live in a working class area. I was born here and grew up here. My grandparents parents freinds and family have always voted Labour.

We didnt this time. Some of us voted UKIP and some of us voted English Democrats.

I will explain three of the many reasons we did so.

Firstly amongst these is the betrayal of the government over its promise to give us our referendum on the Lisbon Constitution. I know its a treaty blah blah bollocks blah. We see through the lie. Why the connection between British NTIONALIST Party and NO Lisbon referendum does not connect in Gordon Browns mind astounds me. They think we should stand by and do nothing whilst they sell our country into Federal European Superstate bondage.

Secondly when we were growing up Labour was part of the community. There were two Labour Clubs and the councillors were our parents freinds. Now the Labour clubs have gone and I personally havent seen a Labour Councillor or MP in at least 10 years. The first I heard from them in all that time was when I recieved a leaflet off them this time which revoltingly looked like it could have come off the BNP.

Thridly for years we have been told there no white working class like me my family and freinds. Apparently we are all working class now no matter how much wealth and priveledge some have because they have a job. There was a time when the white working class were described in glowing terms like "salt of the earth" now we are despised by Labour Torys and the media alike.

ModernityBlog said...

agreed with the analysis:

"lack of security they feel and their relatively low socio-economic status, scandalous media coverage of race and immigration, and the (correct) belief Labour and the other mainstream parties have abandoned working class aspirations, "

the problem is it is a BIG leap to then say or imply (and I am not saying that you are, Phil BC, but many do) "ahh what we need is a .....New ....Workers....Party..."

that might be a long term aim, but it is completely unrealistic given 1) the state of the British Left 2) the historical baggage of the British Left 3) recent organizational history (SA, UAF/Searchlight, StwC, etc ) 4) piss poor leaders 5) chronic sectarianism 6) an inability to re-think lessons of the past

I think the British Left should start small, building up trade unionism along with local and community groups for the inevitable onslaught which will come from any new Tory govt. and make a point of revitalizing local anti-fascist group, bottom up as it were.

A top down approach is NOT going to work and it just gets people's backs up.

Boffy said...

I think that its important to face some facts. I hear the refrain frequently that "The British people are not racist." The fact is in large part they really are, and not surprisingly given Britain's history.

Everywhere I go I hear ordinary working class people who hold racist views, not just opposition to immigration, but outright hostility to non-white people. The recent immigration of Poles and Eastern Europeans has simply added another facet to that.

The reality is that in the past working class people voted Labour in their droves, whilst STILL holding these racist views, and saw no contradiction in it. I even know from the past LP members who were TU militants, who stayed out for the full Miners Strike, who held such racist views.

The rise in support for the BNP does not signify a rise in racist sentiment, it simply reflects a decline oin workers support for Labour, moving to a Party that happens to be providing short-term solutions for workers, that just happen to align with those long held and entrenched racist views.

Its not just a matter of conffronting the BNP, but confronting those entrenched racist views held by probably a majority of workers to one degree or another. The outbreak of nationalist sentiment is just another aspect of that in relation to "British Jobs 4 british Workers".

Those ideas cannot be challenged in the working class by accommodating to Nationalism. But nor can they be challenged by simply relying on propaganda. Workers need practical solutions to their problems in the workplace and in their communities. That is what the left has to focus on providing - simply calling for a "Workers Government", imploring workers to be more militant, or else simply calling on the existing state to provide solutions will not work.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I still don't get it.

Phil said...

Mod and Arthur, I agree with you both. While hardcore racism is the preserve of a tiny minority, outside metropolitan media, academic and political circles casual low-level racism and prejudice is rife. It is being eroded in some ways, and strengthened in others by the bourgeois multiculturalism that pours out of the media. Tackling it requires consistent work, which is all bound up with building a working class political voice. In other words, the hard option!

Daniel, take a look at FloTom's comments above. Though he's no BNP supporter the grievances he perceives are behind many of the votes the BNP receives.