Socialist Worker

Nazis boosted by Hague's race rant

Issue No. 1696

A warning from the elections

Nazis boosted by Hague's race rant

"IT'S FRIGHTENING. I'm already looking over my shoulder. But I like living here. I don't see why any narrow-minded, bigoted Nazi should drive me out." So said Janet, a black woman living in the Midlands town of Tipton. She is worried at the news that in last week's council elections the Nazi British National Party got 23.7 percent of the vote in Tipton Green ward where she lives.

This was up from 17.2 percent last year. The Nazi candidate, BNP regional organiser Steve Edwards, came third behind Labour and the Tories, knocking the Liberal Democrats into fourth place. Labour got 1,455 votes, the Tories got 880 and the BNP got 781. Around town, still hanging on lampposts, are BNP election placards with the slogan, "Vote BNP. British freedom, British identity".

The size of the Nazi vote should serve as a warning to socialists and anti-racists everywhere. The Nazis are back in their old stamping grounds, like the West Midlands, attempting to gain support on the back of people's disillusion with New Labour. Tory leader William Hague playing the race card over asylum seekers has given them a massive boost.

As Janet says, "Hague is making this worse. He's a prominent leader backing up the BNP's argument. If the politicians are saying things like that then it encourages ordinary people to think that having racist ideas is OK." Janet says the Nazis targeted the Tipton area a couple of years ago. "They started by holding a meeting in a pub. A black friend of mine walked into the pub, not knowing the Nazis were in there, and got beaten up. Then racist stuff started going up on the walls. Then there was a fight between local teenagers in Tipton Park. It was blown right out of proportion. And then graffiti saying, 'No niggers, no Pakis allowed' went up on a bridge."

The Nazis campaigned against a local mosque being built next to a church, encouraged fights between black and white kids, leafleted Tipton and carried out racist attacks. The Nazis have attempted to poison the whole atmosphere of the town. "I've lived here 16 years and then one day my children came running back from school saying they had been spat at by little kids," says Janet.

Wherever the Nazis organise, racist terror follows. Ahmed, a local Asian man, told Socialist Worker, "When I moved onto my estate I had letters through my door saying what was going to happen to me. My tyres have been slashed. I have had graffiti on my door saying, 'Pakis get out'. The council has a full dossier of all the attacks on me. They said they will move me out. But I don't see why I should move."

Ahmed is clear that national politics are impacting in Tipton, creating the conditions for the Nazis to grow. "People thought that New Labour would be different. But instead they have gone the opposite way and now some people are looking for a scapegoat. Then the BNP steps in and says it's Asians, black people and asylum seekers that are to blame."

The local Tories have also stooped to the gutter. After last Thursday's election they alleged that there had been vote rigging, and that Asian voters may have been "instructed in who to vote for". The local Labour councillor is Asian.

New Labour can't respond

THE NAZIS, cowards that the are, dare not operate inside multiracial inner-city Birmingham, where they know they would be kicked out. So instead they have picked isolated outer areas like Tipton in an attempt to get a foothold.

The ethnic minority population of Tipton Green is around 16 percent, compared to over 50 percent in Birmingham's St Paul's. The BNP has gathered support by hiding its Nazi beliefs through trying to appear respectable.

In Tipton they have pretended to be "community activists", inventing the "Tipton BNP Lend A Hand Team". As Janet says, "Most people who voted for the BNP have no idea what they really stand for." The Nazis can be stopped. They are still not that confident, only leafleting very late at night or early in the morning.

Sandwell council is Labour-dominated, with 55 councillors. But instead of local Labour politicians confronting the BNP and exposing their Nazi politics, Labour is pretending they do not exist. This is a disastrous strategy that has allowed the Nazis a clear run up to now.

BNP preys on lives torn apart

TIPTON GREEN looks from the outside like a rather pleasant, leafy suburb. But that appearance hides deep problems. It is a solidly working class area. Around six out of ten workers are classed as working in manual trades.

The decline in manufacturing has hit Tipton hard. As Jerry Langford, a local socialist, says, "All the big engineering firms that used to employ people when I was an apprentice have gone. There has been a massive erosion of quality jobs."

In Tipton Green unemployment is running at 8 percent and rising. Somewhere between a third and half of Tipton Green's jobless are long term unemployed. Sandwell borough, of which Tipton is part, is England's seventh most deprived area, the fourth worst outside London. The town centre used to be a thriving shopping area. It is now virtually empty of shops.

Yet half of all households in Tipton do not own a car, the lowest car ownership in the West Midlands. If you are unemployed or surviving on a state pension life in Tipton must be an isolated and depressing existence.

With politicians, national and local, not delivering for Tipton's working class, it is no wonder that the Nazis think they can take advantage. "Tiptons" exist across Britain. That is why socialists and anti-Nazis have to move now, not only to crush outfits like the BNP and National Front, but also to provide a left wing focus for people's anger.

Vicious attacks

MAXIE HAYLES runs the Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit. He says there is increased Nazi and racist activity throughout the West Midlands. "The attacks are growing and they are getting more vicious," says Maxie. He showed Socialist Worker 240 recent cases of reported racist incidents, ranging from serious attacks to abuse and harassment.

These include the murder attempt on the white boyfriend of black athlete Ashia Hansen, attacks on Asian shopkeepers and an arson attack on a mosque. "Hague is encouraging the racists. Jack Straw should be standing up against this. Instead he is trying to appease them. The Asylum Bill he passed is a disgrace. The West Midlands has always been known for high BNP activity. But things are on the increase and we are seeing the victims."

Maxie used to work at Rover Longbridge. He says that the effect of big job losses will be catastrophic. "Racism can grow when people are competing for jobs, when everybody is fighting over a small piece of cake."

Figures of hate

THE NAZIS stood in areas such as the Midlands, Lancashire and Kent. In many places they got a derisory vote-44 in Gillingham in Kent, for example. But in others they got an alarming level of support: These included Sandwell Tipton Green (23.7 percent), Dudley Castle and Priory (16 percent), Burnley Fulledge (21.5 percent), Oldham Hollinwood (9.7 percent), and Cheshunt North (8.6 percent). In the London elections the BNP's total vote was 47,670. Their mayoral candidate got 33,569 first preference votes (2 percent).

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Sat 13 May 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1696
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