Saturday, February 21, 2009

Labour urged to take action to stop the BNP winning Euro seats... hello, is there anybody out there?

According to today's Independent, 'senior Labour figures' are said to have told Gordon Brown that the BNP are likely to win two seats in June's European elections. Oh dear, are we to see another attempt by Labour to hype the threat from the BNP so as to drive voters back to the shelter of the Labour Party?

It is true that the BNP have has a series of good by-election results, and this week's result in Swanley, where the Labour vote collapsed to allow the BNP to win, has highlighted what they are capable of in a small, highly targeted one-off campaign. What we haven't seen is any evidence that they have the capacity to fight anything larger against meaningful, engaged opposition.

It takes a lot of money to fight a Region-wide election. You need a pretty big bankroll even to put out an election address across the entire North West, for example, and given the media's tendancy to focus on the political big beasts, and their general lack of interest in European elections anyway, the ability to raise awareness in their policies might be limited.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that they are not a threat. Their message is easy to articulate and requires a response which is more multi-layered. However, they tend to do best where local democracy is fairly moribund, where one party is dominant to the exclusion of others, and where the black and minority ethnic community is comparatively small.

From the perspective of the major parties, the best form of defence is attack. Not an attack on the BNP, per se, but an attack on the sense of alienation from politics and the authorities. Voters who feel isolated from the decisions that impact on their day to day lives are more likely to vote for someone who comes along and says, "We know how you feel, we agree that your local politicians don't care about you, vote for us for something different.". It only needs to work once.

The challenge to Labour, the Conservatives and ourselves is to find ways of giving people a sense of personal involvement and a stake in what happens to their communities, their counties, their country. Technology potentially helps us to do that, but without an honesty of intent, it will take more than better PR to convince those who have given up on voting, or who vote for fringe, extremist parties of the left or right, to engage in the more complex debates that stem from genuine large-scale participation in our democracy.

Duncan Borrowman has noted the importance on running candidates everywhere - we failed to run one in Swanley for reasons unknown - and he is absolutely right to do so. If you don't give voters a choice, you risk having them vote for an option they're not so keen on as a means of expressing their disapproval of other parties. That sounds a bit negative, but there are plenty of voters who will vote on that basis. Some of them will vote for us.

Unfortunately, Labour just don't get that. They argue that the BNP are vile racists and that we, the established parties, must work together to stop them. There is a core of BNP support that is overtly racist, it is true, and there are others whose view of the world is guided by fear of difference. However, many of those now voting for them have been conditioned to do so by the stream of inaccurate reports from the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, implying that immigrants get priority for housing, that all new jobs are being taken by foreigners, and that if only we could achieve Gordon Brown's 'nirvana' of 'British jobs for British workers' and throw off the yoke of Brussels, we would all live happily ever after.

No, in order to defeat the BNP, we have to win the argument, making our case, campaigning in the community and addressing the day to day issues that affect it. Politicians talking in glib terms and implying easy solutions don't help that. Promising the Earth and delivering little visible change doesn't help either. And emphasising the threat from the BNP without addressing the root causes behind their support certainly won't help...


crewegwyn said...

Spot on ... spot on ... spot on

Chris Close said...

On the Northeast version of the Politics show, a few weeks ago, a local Labour MP confirmed he had refused to be on the same platform as the BNP rep.

Since Labour are largely responsible for the growth of BNP voters in the North East and the North West due to their perceived desertion of the working classes and their now being seen as the party for Big Business, then this refusal has further alienated poorer working and middle class voters.

For good or bad(I think bad) this has sent people over to the BNP because they feel the BNP are more in touch with them.

I think also the new corruption amongst MEPs will fuel that anti maistream politics feelings that is going around.

Though I do not want to see it, I feel there is a strong chance of one or more MEPs being elected for the BNP and it is entirely the fault of New Labour's lining their pocket and ignoring their baseline Voters.

Mainstream politicians seem not to be aware of how their seemingly corrupt antics are playing with the people who elect them.

Well they are angry, and feel disenfranchised and the BNP have responded in a way which has made ordinary people feel listened to in a way the main parties have collectively failed to respond.

History is cyclical and society is moving towards protectionism and insularity.

Rookh Kshatriya said...

Well, friend, maybe the BNP are rising in popularity because their policies are what the people really want? Opinion polls demonstrate that most British people are essentially fascist on issues like immigration and law and order; it is only natural that a fascist party will be their preferred choice.

Liberal consensus politics is dead. We live in a different age, now; note how the BNP now reach people with their website, not the stilted BBC. The old paternalism is dead and who can best adapt to the new social realities will triumph.

Mark Valladares said...

Rookh Kshatriya,

Interesting name, interesting perspective, although given your expressed views on women, I shouldn't be surprised by your stance that the liberal consensus is dead.

As a liberal, of a Indo-European stripe, I remain to be convinced that a liberal consensus was ever alive. A paternalist 'we know best' attitude from the two big parties, yes, probably.

There is no doubt that where local politics is vibrant and inclusive, parties like the BNP do badly. That fact convinces me that there is no underlying core vote for a fascist political party in this country. At least, not yet. If the body politic fails to respond to public opinion - and you'll note that I don't say kowtow - then perhaps a fascist party will become part of mainstream public opinion.

That said, it didn't happen in the 1930's, and it probably won't happen now. The fact that the BNP have failed to articulate a positive programme is an obvious barrier and, combining that with the British desire for freedom, makes anything other than protest vote status unlikely at this time.

Oh yes, one last thing. The BNP website is not successfully reaching out to people. It has a sizeable readership but until you know who is reading it, you can't make the claim. The information on which your claim is based was, to put it mildly, flawed. Others have explained why, so I won't repeat the exercise, but such a lazily researched claim was rather easy to counter. Besides, if your enemies is checking your website for material to use in their anti-BNP campaigning, that's hardly reaching out successfully.

Anonymous said...

The more that the three major parties continue to spout off about the BNP, the more publicity they are giving them. The latest scandal involving MP's outrageous expense claims will put hundreds of thousands, if not millions of voters off - voters that the LIb-Dems, Tories and Labour need. I can see a big jump in votes for the UKIP and the BNP. The BNP in particular, will see anything from 1-7 MEPs going to Europe.

Labour, the Tories and the Lib-Dems will have no-one to blame but themselves as they watch the rise of the BNP at home and in Europe.

Rookh Kshatriya said...

Two MEPs. What have you got to say now?

Mark Valladares said...


I'm puzzled. Puzzled by your obsession, but equally puzzled by what you expect as a response.

The success of the BNP is a sign of the failure of mainstream politicians to make their case or, in some places, any case at all. I have already made that point, and stand by it.