The performance in Barking of the anti-fascist play A Day at the Racists provoked a debate on why the BNP has won votes and how to stop it.
After the play the audience talked with a panel including its author Anders Lustgarten.
He explained, “Labour and the political system as a whole bear responsibility for the rise of the BNP by abandoning the working class.”
“There are legitimate grievances but they have been warped and misrepresented.”
“One-eyed Rick”, the BNP leader in the play, is suspiciously similar to Nick Griffin who is standing against Labour minister Margaret Hodge in Barking. This is the BNP's main target area in the coming election.
The play's main character, Pete Case, is a former car factory shop steward, who feels immigrants are getting to the head of the queue for council housing and undercutting the wages of British workers.
The fact that an Asian woman in the audience said she found herself agreeing with some of the things he says shows how the endless lies about migrants have even been accepted by people who are not white.
She accepted that the BNP are just fooling people and said, “We need another political party for the average working class person to find a voice”.
A local Labour councillor asked the panel what message they hoped to send about how to challenge the fascists. He felt unable to offer his own view as he was “part of the system”.
Sukran Sahin, a journalist on the Barking and Dagenham Post, said, “The play reflected what residents say when they phone the paper. They talk about the state of housing. But further down the line some start to mention immigration.”
In her view many new BNP voters are not outright racists, but, “The real conditions have not been dealt with by the main parties.”
In the play Case’s son and his daughters’ teacher, a black woman, start a campaign to stop the school becoming an academy.
A woman told the discussion, “When there’s a real campaign, it brings people together. The working class isn’t just white, but black and white, it’s a common struggle.”
Another woman recalled growing up black in Somers Town, London, in the 1970s when the National Front was the main fascist group. “They had a shop, and at eight or nine years old we had to run the gauntlet of racist abuse each time we went past. The BNP want to return us to those days.”
She added that one day the press reports huge bonuses being paid to bankers and the next it says there’s not enough money for schools and hospitals, “yet the media never link these things up”.
Lustgarten concluded by saying that he felt the biggest threat wasn’t the BNP but the danger that a right wing populist figure would emerge. He gave the example of Geert Wilders, who has used Islamophobia to become a major political force in the Netherlands.
Unfortunately this underestimates the specific threat the BNP represents.
If a Wilders-style figure did emerge it could serve to deepen the climate the BNP thrives on. The BNP has seized on the scapegoating of asylum seekers, Muslims and new migrants from eastern Europe by mainstream parties.
But the BNP is a Nazi party. Its aim is to push the mainstream further to the right while building a hard fascist cadre capable ultimately of smashing all democracy.
Socialist Worker reviewed an earlier performance of the play. Go to