Imagine a group of thugs, implicated in terrorism and racist attacks, becoming our representatives in Europe. In the days following Thursday 4 June, the date of elections to the European parliament, we could wake up to find that this is exactly what has happened.
That’s the warning from Labour MEP Glyn Ford, a long-standing
campaigner against the British National Party (BNP), Britain’s main fascist party.
Glyn, who was first elected to the European Parliament in 1984, has long played a prominent in the struggle against fascism. He is the treasurer of the Anti-Nazi League and on the national steering committee of Unite Against Fascism (UAF).
He told Socialist Worker that the BNP is pushing hard to gain the respectability that seats in the European parliament would give it.
“The BNP will declare that it is a legitimate party, and the powers that be will then give it the opportunity to debate on programmes like Question Time and Newsnight,” he said.
“There is a danger that the BNP can go way beyond what many people expect. The common wisdom is that it could win three seats. The danger is that it could pick up six to eight.”
The electoral maths can work in the Nazis’ favour according to Glyn.
Unlike the first past the post system used in British parliamentary elections – in which the candidate with the highest vote is elected – the Euro elections work by proportional representation.
Under this model a party with a relatively modest vote, around 8 percent in some areas, can win a seat. Each region of the country can elect up to 10 representatives. This gives the BNP a chance to pick up some seats – and the perks and salaries that go with them.
A recent opinion poll put the BNP at 4 percent, leading some people to downplay the prospect of a breakthrough. But Glyn rightly warns against talking down the BNP vote.
He said, “There is a possibility that the fascists can pick up a seat in every region in England apart from the north east – which is a small region with only three seats.”
He warned that opinion polls mask big regional variations. In the 2004 Euro poll, for example, the BNP polled just 1.7 percent in Scotland but 8 percent in Yorkshire & the Humber. A similar vote this time could be enough to hand it a seat in that region.
So every vote against the Nazis matters, and anyone casting a vote for other parties can help to stop the BNP.
Glyn stressed that any complacency over the polls is dangerous. He urged activists to mobilise the anti-racist vote and “get out and put your cross on the ballot paper”.
The alternative is that British Nazis will take their places alongside other fascists from across Europe to form a block in the European parliament (see » BNP’s Euro friends are thugs and bombers).
Earlier this year the BNP was shaken when its membership list was published on the internet. The list revealed that its core supporters are not drawn mainly from the working class but from the middle classes.
It is a movement of the suburbs that is trying to paint itself as the voice of the downtrodden, the poor and the unemployed.
Yet these revelations, although deeply embarrassing, did not take the wind out of the Nazis’ sails. The media came to their rescue with consistent campaigns against “scroungers” and “immigrants”.
The BNP is attempting to push two messages. The first is to its core supporters, who understand what the phrase “putting Britain first” really means.
But it is also attempting to tap into the anger over the economic crisis, factory closures and rising unemployment.
The BNP may well benefit from the disgust and disillusionment with the established parties and the expected meltdown in Labour’s vote.
“There are a number of factors that can help the Nazis,” Glyn explained.
“There is widespread view among ordinary people that the traditional political parties have abandoned them.
“The message I’m getting on the doorstep is that people are fed up with the mainstream parties, especially after all the revelations over expenses.”
So the BNP cleverly used its election launch outside parliament on Monday of last week to denounce “greedy bankers” and has attacked the mainstream parties in its TV election broadcast.
It has also tried to push the idea that “British” workers and “foreign” workers have different interests, taking up the divisive “British jobs for British workers” slogan.
As Glyn put it, “The BNP has benefited from the unknowing racism that is around, especially with the ‘British Jobs’ slogan.
“This was originally coined by Gordon Brown and, although he did not intend it to be used in this way, the fascists were able to take it up.”
This slogan, taken up by many construction workers in a series of unofficial strikes earlier this year, has become the BNP’s central election message. The party has adopted the slogan for its election literature, adding, “When we say it, we mean it.”
Glyn said, “It may be fine for those on the left to be tell people that free market capitalism doesn’t work. But the BNP has been saying exactly the same. It is saying, ‘we told you that’. And unfortunately it is picking up people who are angry about the economic crisis.”
But the Nazis do not have it all their own way. Thousands of anti-racists have been fanning out across the country over the past weeks.
The message from the doorstep is that people will turn out to vote against the BNP once they learn the real history and the scale of the Nazi threat.
The forerunner of the BNP, the National Front, used its electoral success in the 1970s to launch a fascist movement on the streets.
It was firmly opposed, and eventually marginalised by mass mobilisations. A central plank of this campaign, spearheaded at the time by the Anti Nazi League, was to expose them for what they really are.
“We can stop them, but there can be no room for complacency,” said Glyn. “Get out there, organise and campaign.”