Monday 16 November 2009

Our 'One Stop After East Ham' Problem

Quite how Nick Griffin intends to represent the electorate of the North West in Brussels if he succeeds in winning a Commons seat in Barking next year is hard to imagine. But Griffin's election is less difficult to believe, even if the fascists must double their vote to win. As a resident in the neighbouring East Ham constituency, I hate to say it but their decision to stand in the parliamentary seat next door is tactically astute.

The BNP's idiotic Richard Barnbrooke came third in Barking at the last general election with close to 17% of the vote, compared with only 9.3% in Dagenham against Jon Cruddas, whose constituency covers the other half of the borough where the BNP have 12 councillors. Moreover, Cruddas is a centre-left MP, someone that many anti-fascists would feel rather more comfortable supporting than Barking's current incumbent. How exactly does anyone planning on actively opposing Griffin in the approach to next year's election manage to swallow down the disgust and loathing they must feel to campaign, for all intents and purposes, for a victory for Labour minister Margaret Hodge?

Here is a loyal Blairite MP who voted for the invasion of Iraq, student top-up fees, foundation hospitals, ID cards, anti-terror laws - pretty much all the issues that the left and most liberals oppose.

Here is an MP who is claimed to have privately described Tony Blair policies over Iraq as his "big mistake in foreign affairs" and criticised his "moral imperialism" but yet has voted consistently against an investigation into the Iraq war.

Here is an MP who claimed expenses for "PR support", provided by her former press officer, even though MPs are barred from claiming expenses for "self-promotion or PR" for individuals or political parties.

Here is an MP who handed the BNP a massive propaganda victory on the eve of local council elections in 2006 by suggesting that racist working-class voters in her constituency had legitimate concerns about immigration because "the political class as a whole has been frightened of engaging in the very difficult issues of race" - and who stoked the flames further in 2007 by arguing for a 'sons and daughters' policy in social housing and blamed new migrants for failing to fit in. Even Cruddas declared his colleague's comments were "not only wrong, they are also inflammatory".

Already, debate has begun about whether minor parties like the Greens should stand down in favour of Hodge in an 'anyone but Griffin' campaign. However, as I have argued at some length before now, anti-fascism that focuses solely on elections and trying to keep out the BNP has seen diminishing returns for enormous amounts of effort (as we have witnessed in voting for the London Assembly and most recently in the Euro elections). At the same time, the government's willingness to play the 'Britishness' card and its renewed attempts to court racist voters by encourage residents to air grievances without being accused of racism, whilst beating the drum for its increasingly harsh stance on immigration, has simply surrendered even more ground to the right.

The centre ground has shifted, the centre-right's efforts to undermine BNP support by co-opting it has failed and where is the left? Nowhere: it has largely abandoned attempts to organise locally in support of working class communities having a say over the decisions that affect them or influencing the running of society, in favour either of focusing solely on elections or soul-destroying sectarianism.

Which leaves us back in the same hole. If Hodge beats Griffin, will anti-racism really be the victor? Will black people in Barking be any safer? Will white racists stop blaming their immigrant neighbours for every injustice they feel they have suffered? Will the BNP implode? Of course not. Hodge will proclaim it as validation for the nonsense she has spouted over the last three years. Mainstream parties will see it as evidence that attacking migrants steals votes from the far-right. And as long as anti-fascism has such a lack of memory that it thinks nothing of importance happens between elections, we'll be back here again in a few years time, agonising about what to do and whether to begrudgingly support another obnoxious anti working class candidate who is most likely to deny the BNP its brief moment of glory.

The practical alternatives are long-term - a realistic political alternative to the BNP, a willingness to see Labour as part of the problem rather than part of the solution and campaigning focused on grass-roots issues. But we don't really do long-term in this country. Which is why we keep losing.

I'm tired of it. Our unwillingness to radically change our tactics means we have no-one to blame but ourselves if Griffin wins victory in Barking in 2010.

1 Comment:

the rooftop jaxx said...

There's going to be a massive protest vote against the scum that 'New Labour' have demonstrated themselves to be.

Hopefully it won't all go to the fascists.

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