The British National Party (BNP) suffered a setback in east London last week when they came fifth in a by-election in Wanstead, Redbridge. The BNP polled just 171 votes – 4.9 percent. Only the UK Independence Party candidate got less votes.
Unite Against Fascism (UAF) members from Redbridge and the neighbouring east London borough of Waltham Forest combined forces over a three-week period to campaign against the BNP.
We helped to generate a higher than usual turnout for a by-election at 40.7 percent.
We saturated Wanstead with anti-BNP propaganda, starting with stalls on the high street handing out leaflets to expose the BNP as Nazis.
Time after time we were told to “keep up the good work” and “glad you are here”.
The only real hostility was from some older men who were very angry with Labour and seemed to want to register a protest vote.
There were also a few arguments about freedom of speech versus no platform for fascists. We mostly won people round and at least two came back to tell us they had changed their mind.
The Tories held the seat. The BNP ran a campaign attacking the Tories from the right and the BNP leaflets carried inflammatory attacks on immigration.
A BNP leaflet targeted at parents read, “Taxpayers in areas like Wanstead are being fleeced to pay for new schools in Ilford and Seven Kings, to cater for immigrants with high birth rates and large families.”
A BNP campaigner was arrested during the by-election campaign after allegedly shouting racist abuse at a black female resident in the ward.
The resident, a nurse at a nearby hospital, told the local paper that she had been trying to return a BNP leaflet when the BNP campaigner started abusing her in the street.
She said the incident had made her scared to leave her home, adding, “My husband is Irish, and black and Irish people in our parents generation suffered abuse like this, but I didn’t think this would happen to me today, in a place like Wanstead.”
Following this incident, the Labour Party candidate pulled out at the last moment from a hustings that was to have included the BNP candidate, prompting the cancellation of the hustings. Unfortunately all the other parties, including the Green Party, wanted to debate with the BNP.
We leafleted the entire ward with anti-BNP leaflets, gaining new contacts and boosting the morale of local anti-fascist campaigners.
This has brought additional energy to our work in the European elections.
The BNP are only as strong as we let them be.