THE RESULT gave added urgency to debates at this week's TUC on building a mass campaign to beat back the Nazi BNP. The result in Grays is especially worrying, as the town is little different to dozens across the country.
Grays is the main town in the area covered by Thurrock council. The council includes Tilbury, home to London's main docks, the giant Lakeside shopping centre in West Thurrock, and the Dartford bridge and tunnel across the Thames. Grays is just beyond the end of London's tube system, and is on one of the main commuter roads and train lines into the capital.
The area is traditionally solidly Labour. The two local MPs are Labour, as are 35 of the 49 local councillors. The BNP won the by-election in Gray's Riverside ward, which was sparked by the death of one of the three sitting Labour councillors. The turnout was low at 22 percent. But this is higher than the last time the ward went to the polls in May last year.
The main reason the BNP won was because Labour's vote fell. The Labour candidate got 374 votes, while the Tory came second with 382 votes. The BNP polled 552 votes. Labour's three candidates all got more than 1,500 votes in the 1997 council election.
Carl Morris is one of Riverside ward's Labour councillors. He told Socialist Worker, 'Most local people are in shock after the result. The BNP are a racist and extremist party. In the election they had only one issue, asylum and immigration. They were going up to people saying things like 'If you want an asylum seeker for a neighbour then don't vote for us'.'
In Carl's view asylum is 'not easy for the government'. But he adds, 'I do think that by using the language of the racists at times and talking about 'bogus' they don't help things. It means challenging the myths that the country is being flooded with asylum seekers. Papers like the Sun and the Mail just feed stereotypes and racism. From our observations the BNP got a higher proportion of its support from the more affluent areas of the ward. But the BNP got in because traditional Labour voters stayed at home, and some may have been even conned to vote for them. There is a sense that people are disillusioned with the government. The government is generally unpopular over issues like foundation hospitals. Also people didn't necessarily support the action in Iraq. We need to learn from the kind of campaigns elsewhere that have knocked back the BNP. We need to work with the community. The vast majority, over 90 percent of people in the ward, didn't vote for the BNP. We have to mobilise that majority. We will have to work to expose the BNP and get them out. The next elections are in June next year, but we can't wait for that. We have to deal with the bread and butter issues affecting people's lives. The trade unions have a role to play in that. I know the TUC has produced some good material. We have to look at how we use that in this area.'