Many people across the country will have been horrified by the advances made by the fascist British National Party (BNP) in the May local elections.
The Nazis grabbed a seat on the London assembly, along with a net gain of ten council seats across England.
Many of these gains were in new areas, such as two seats in Rotherham, two in Nuneaton & Bedworth and two in Amber Valley in Derbyshire.
In some areas of the country the BNP lost seats it was defending, such as in Epping Forest. But in other areas the fascists consolidated existing gains.
These gains for the Nazis come in a climate of racism whipped up by politicians and newspaper pundits. Scare stories about immigrants or Muslims are now almost a daily occurrence.
The BBC’s recent “White Season” claimed white people were being oppressed by the “politically correct” middle classes.
And countless articles have used the 40th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech to claim that “Powell was right” – a favourite slogan of fascists and racists in the 1970s.
These same media pundits also claim that the rise in BNP votes comes from this resentful and alienated “white working class” abandoning Labour for the fascists.
It follows from this analysis that Labour must respond by “addressing legitimate concerns” – a code for making concessions to the racists over issues such as immigration and multiculturalism.
But does the BNP vote really come from a “white working class” betrayed by Labour? Analysing the figures from the elections suggests a far more complex picture.
In London the fascist vote in the assembly elections rose to 5.3 percent this year from 4.7 percent four years ago – enough to take them over the 5 percent required to gain an assembly seat.
The bulk of these votes came from outer London suburbs such as Havering, Redbridge, Bexley, Bromley and Barking & Dagenham.
Many of these areas are Tory voting, suggesting that the BNP vote is more embedded in middle class neighbourhoods than working class ones.
In terms of percentages, the total Conservative, BNP and UK Independence Party (UKIP) vote at this year’s assembly elections was 42 percent, virtually unchanged from 2004.
This suggests that the rise in the London BNP vote has to be set in the context of a more general redistribution of the right wing vote – and in particular, the collapse of UKIP, which dropped from 8.2 percent to 1.9 percent.
Most of the UKIP vote from 2004 went back to the Tories. But it looks as though a section moved even further to the right and into the hands of the fascists. This would be enough to put Boris Johnson into mayor’s office – and a Nazi onto the London assembly.
But this middle class fascist vote is not the whole story. During the elections the BNP campaigned outside polling stations in the inner London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham. They have not been seen in these areas for many years.
This suggests that while the foundations of the Nazi vote are among middle class racists and bigots, they are beginning to build into working class areas and pick up votes from sections of the working class.
This analysis conforms with the classical pattern of fascist parties across Europe, which root themselves among small business owners and the lower middle class, but seek to appeal to workers in times of crisis by posing as “anti-establishment”.
We can also see this pattern in Rotherham. The two wards that returned BNP councillors were Brinsworth & Catcliffe and the pit village of Maltby.
Both are rundown working class areas where the traditional Labour vote has been shattered, allowing the BNP to creep in on the back of racist campaigns against asylum seekers and the nearby Asian community.
Both have also suffered from social problems that the Labour council has not addressed. Catcliffe was badly hit by flooding last summer, and local anti-fascist activists believe this helped fuel a backlash against Labour that boosted the BNP.
The other common factor in areas where the Nazis gain some traction is the weakness of the left. Places like Stoke-on-Trent and Barking & Dagenham are marked by a divided or absent left, with little effective campaigning against the fascists.
This has allowed the BNP to steadily grow in the area, defying the usual pattern of the fascists breaking into a particular area, building an electoral base, but then getting driven out of the council chamber come the next set of elections.
The lessons for the left are clear. We need united campaigns against the fascists that draw together the trade union movement, Labour Party activists and those on the radical left into a broad alliance.
The widespread shock at BNP advances in the 1 May elections should be used to galvanise existing campaigns such as Unite Against Fascism. The national demonstration in London against the BNP on 21 June will be a focal point for anger at the Nazis.
Love Music Hate Racism, which organised the 100,000-strong carnival in east London last month, will also play an important role in rallying more young people to the anti-fascist cause.
Artists are now planning a massive carnival in the north of England against the BNP for next year.
But we also need to ensure that anti-BNP campaigns are run on a principled basis. We must reject any pandering to nationalist or racist sentiment, and they should oppose the BNP politically by explicitly labelling them as fascists.
And while the radical left must unite with Labour activists against the BNP, it must also maintain its independence and campaign hard on the social issues that New Labour no longer delivers on.
That is the only way of stemming the despair that ultimately feeds the Nazis.