Sunday, 1 June 2008

The BNP in Stoke

Last week the Guardian ran a lengthy article on the BNP in Stoke, and the possibility that it could win the Mayoral election next year.

See: Labour’s Lost Ground May 28th

The article provoked letters from local MP’s and from Jason Hill, Secretary of the North Staffs Campaign Against Racism and Fascism.

See: Letter from Jason etc May 29th

And Letter from Paul Farrelly MP May 31st

The article and letters have also provoked a serious discussion within Norscarf, mainly from Labour Party members who recognise that the BNP’s rise is at least partly if not wholly due to the inadequacy of the labour Party in responding not only to the real needs of working class people, but also the fears and prejudices of such people that are fostered by Capitalism. Unfortunately, most of that discussion is lost when it comes to understanding what needs to be done to remedy that situation. A lot of it has centred around bureaucratic measures of internal re-organisation, scrapping the District Labour party, and placing control of elections back in the hands of the CLP’s. The problems of the Labour party and how to deal thereby with the rise of the BNP cannot be addressed by such measures. They can only be addressed by changing the politics of the Labour Party. That will require serious socialists to engage in its day to day work, to turn it outwards to the working class communities, to engage their concerns, and help organise them to deal with their problems – as indeed, the Guardian article showed the BNP are now doing.

But, the message coming from the Labour Party shows it is heading in completely the wrong direction. As I said in my blog a few weeks ago, where the Labour Party needs to be clearly demarcating itself from the Tories and Liberals it is instead looking to blur those discussions even further with a Popular Front with Liberals and Tories against the BNP.

In the same measure that Labour went backwards, in Stoke, the BNP continued to move forward, becoming now the fourth largest Party. Opposition to the BNP has often been on very skaky ground, indeed often an apolitical opposition. It has focused on the argument, for instance, that the BNP are not effective Councillors, they don't go to meetings, don't speak at meetings, don't deal with problems. In some instances that may have been true, but it was always open to the question, or comment, "Well God help us when they do then!"

In fact, in response to the BNP's gain of 3 seats from 6 to 9 (they have all three Councillors in one ward) Stoke Central MP, Mark Fisher, commented that the BNP had been 'good local candidates who've worked harder than Labour'." The local Anti-fascist group Secretary in the internal discussion criticised Mark for his use of the word "good", a point that Mark has accepted was not well chosen, but agreed that, "Of course, the point that Mark is making is perfectly valid: that the BNP have worked harder as community politicians than the Labour Party."

The reaction of the LP establishment in Stoke was pretty abysmal if not altogether surprising. Labour shares power in an unholy alliance on the Council with the Independents, Tories and Liberals. It went from 23 seats to just 16. Labour's establishment seemed more concerned about what effect this would have within their Popular Front in terms of how many Chairs of Committees they would have! At a time when the election showed that workers have failed to turn up to vote Labour as they find it increasingly difficult to discern them from the Tories, the Council's elected Labour Mayor, Mark Merdith, called for "a period of conciliation and progress on the Council, rather than political sparring and point scoring."

He said that many of the Councillors had lost their seats because they had taken difficult decisions, such as the Council's decision to close many of the City's failing schools. But what this amounts to is saying that they lost seats for the entirely deserved reason that instead of standing on the side of the workers whose Party they are, they stood instead with the Tories, and Liberals. Instead of learning the lesson of that, and realising that the LP, as the Party of the working class, should be taking hard decisions in the other direction, hard because it means standing up against the capitalist class, and against Brown's Government, all they could offer was more of the same! Outgoing Council Leader, and former MEP, Mike Tappin, commented that the decisions that cost him his seat were the right decisions for the City!!!! Tappin, is an educated man, he was County Councillor in the same ward and at the same time that I was a City Councillor, he's a college lecturer. So how come he can come up with such drivel. What is this City if it isn't the people that live in it? And the vast majority of those people are workers, the workers that the LP is supposed to represent. So no Mike, the workers of the City, and, therefore, the City itself has told you clearly these were not the right decisions! You should have been acting in support of the workers, and you didn't. That was the only thing required of you and you failed. That's why you paid the price, that's why the BNP is growing in strength.

At least that is better than some of the Norscarf members, however, who in the internal discussions have come out with a terrible Third periodist reaction of responding to the inadequacy of current Labour politics by proposing to support virtually anyone, including the Liberals and Greens, other than Labour, the BNP and UKIP!

The message it seems to me is clear. New Labour has disappeared up its own arse. Its very premise, the only reason that ordinary LP members tolerated it, was because it was winning, and after a period of so long out of office, for a Party based on electoralism, that was a powerful incentive. But not only is New Labour now not winning, but it has led Labour to the worst defeats in 40 years, as far back as the period of Harold Wilson and his attacks on the working class through In Place of Strife. There is no reason for ordinary LP members to tolerate New Labour toryism any longer, indeed if Labour is to have any chance of winning the next election by getting back its core working class support, more importantly if the BNP are to be prevented from entrenching themselves as a major alternative worker's party - in that very basic sense of being a party to which workers turn for answers to their problems - then New Labour has to be ditched, and ordinary rank and file members have to begin by turning out into the Community, have to become a Party of radical opposition, including, and especially to Labour Councils themselves where they attack workers interests, and thereby rejuvenate the Party at its grass roots level, providing the new fresh forces the Labour Movement needs to take the battle forward.

In the late 70's early 80's, I remember being in a Party that was totally corrupt, where meetings took place often just twice a year, where the only discussion was about how much money had been taken at Bingo at the local Community Centre, where it was virtually impossible for anyone to join - whether you were a Leftist or not - and seeing that Party transformed through new blood coming into the party, not because the LP had turned Left, but because a group of us went out and got stuck into community issues in workers districts, spoke to people on the doorsteps week in week out, and persuaded them to come and shake things up. In short time we had a functioning active organisation, and Labour votes soared, communities were covered in Labour posters, and community organisations like Tenants and Residents Associations were established, and so on.

The BNP seem to have learned that lesson. The Provos and other political groups also seem to have learned it, but the Left still want to do "real politics", is still more concerned about not being able to hold sterile debates at CLP meetings, and Conferences. Both the LP and the Left need to learn and learn quickly from these events. Nor is the option of the Left trying to do this kind of Community work through some kind of alternative workers party a viable option. The Left is too weak. Those of us that did it 20 years ago got burned out, and we were only able to do it, because we were able to use the lever of the LP Branch to mobilise other active - not necessarily very Left - members of the Branch to shoulder some of the burden. IF the left is not to miss the boat, it has to learn the lesson the BNP has learned, it has to make itself relevant to ordinary working people. It will not do that on its present course and politics, and even if it could it is too small to have any dramatic effect. It can only do that by getting stuck into the Labour Party and utilising its numbers to turn outwards effectively to the working class.

See Also: The Labour Party is Dead, Long Live the Labour Party

No comments: