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The Threat of the BNP

A cloud looms over east London ahead of the GLA elections. Samuel Tarry, London Young Labour Anti-Racism Officer, Barking B10 GMB Youth Officer and Chair of Compass Youth, writing in a personal capacity, calls for a campaign against the BNP.

IT’S WELL over a year since the BNP gained twelve council seats on the borders of Essex in the east London borough of Barking and Dagenham. Often by-elections result quickly after racist BNP councillors find themselves elected, but all twelve remain in post in Barking and Dagenham. The Labour Party in Barking & Dagenham hasn’t had a chance to rally round and take them on – and that may be quite a stroke of luck.

The reality is that the BNP are in as strong a position as they were when they took those twelve seats off of Labour and are now poised to take seats at the Greater London Authority (GLA) elections. They won 4.9% of the vote last time (5% secures a seat, and 8% secures two seats).

It’s not that the BNP’s done well in office. Their councillors failed to put forward the official opposition’s alternative budget at the most important council meeting of the year (even with the help of council officers to which they are now entitled). Senior BNP members have either failed to turn up to full council meetings or turned up apparently suffering the effects of too much lemonade. The true white supremacist colours of the BNP have clearly been on show – most notably when they put a motion to the Council calling for the banning of the Local Government Black Staff group.

What keeps the BNP riding high is not what they have been doing themselves, but the fact that working class people across the borough are still absolutely furious with our Labour Government because it has not delivered for them. There’s a toxic mix of a crisis in council housing provision and misconceptions and fears around immigration. Lack of job creation and inward investment is coupled in post industrial Barking and Dagenham with the worst effects of the neoliberal market economics championed by New Labour.

None of this has been helped by the ill thought out strategy of Margaret Hodge, Labour MP in Barking, whose rhetoric in recent months can only be seen as inflammatory by the large black community in Barking. Weasel worded caveats do not justify her writing about whether it is time to jettison the policy of allocating council housing on the basis of need in order to find a way to recognise the indigenous community’s housing rights. This is a dangerous game: BNP literature has been calling for council housing to be prioritised for the "indigenous white community" for over five years. Jon Cruddas – the very nearly deputy leader and Labour MP across the border in Dagenham – takes a very different line.

Dagenham is a vibrant and strong CLP which has a fraternal relationship with local trade union branches, its local MP and the Labour council. In Barking, where because of boundary changes a great deal of the BNP support now lies, the story is grim. Allegations of corruption that have embroiled the MP have rocked the CLP. Allegations of vote rigging and pay offs were made about the AGM. After the AGM agreed the Chair’s proposal to "ignore the rule book and do things as they’ve always been done here", all CLP officer positions were taken by party members connected with the MP’s office. A formal complaint about the AGM was made by a sizeable number of key activists and local councillors, and the London Region Labour Party has now launched a formal investigation into proceedings.

With GLA elections due next May, this situation cannot be tolerated by party activists or other anti-fascists. The GMB in Barking is gearing up for action in coming months ahead of the elections; there is also a newly appointed Labour Party campaigns organiser for cast London; and there is hope, from just over the border in Essex. The Thurrock Council elections in May this year saw the BNP contest every ward in an area not dissimilar to Barking and Dagenham in terms of demography, deprivation and disillusionment with the Government’s failure to deliver.

A message of hope not hate was taken to Thurrock by Searchlight’s anti-fascist campaign. Hard working party activists from Thurrock were joined by members of Barking and Dagenham Labour Parties and London Young Labour in a serious and sustained effort to position Labour firmly on the side of local working class people. The result bucked the national trend, taking the Council from Tory-controlled to no overall control – just a handful of votes from taking the Council outright. Labour had something to celebrate on an otherwise dismaying night nationally. The campaign needs to be repeated in Barking and Dagenham if we are to keep the BNP off the GLA.

This article was published in the October 2007 issue of Labour Briefing.