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BNP down but not out

David Braniff-Herbert on why the political campaign to defeat British fascists must be sustained

The BNP are finished, a spent force that we can now forget all about. This is a view that has been increasingly aired since the fascist party's disastrous showing at the polls in June 2010. It is hardly surprising. The BNP was wiped off the political map in its key stronghold of Barking and Dagenham and its chances of taking control of the council in Stoke on Trent, once considered the 'jewel in the crown' of the BNP in the West Midlands, also suffered a serious set-back.

Overall the BNP lost 26 of the 28 seats it was defending in the local elections; added to which the BNP, though managing to field 338 candidates in the general election, a record number, only marginally increased its overall percentage of the vote from 2005. The disappointment and despair within the BNP was palpable. Griffin, sensing the anger of his membership with his lacklustre leadership, tried to buy time by announcing that he would step down in 2014 to make way for a new leader. This was too little too late for many members who have since become increasingly strident in their calls for Griffin to step down now. With the BNP turning in on itself in an increasingly acrimonious leadership challenge as a result of its electoral failure, it would be easy to agree with the idea that, like the National Front in 1979, the BNP fatally overreached itself and is now a busted flush.

It would be a mistake to succumb to such complacency. Part of the strategy of the Hope Not Hate (HNH) campaign in Barking and Dagenham was to polarize the debate and make the election a referendum on whether people wanted Nick Griffin and the BNP running their council and, potentially, representing them in Parliament. HNH did not operate in a vacuum but the result was the same. Local people decided the BNP weren't fit to run anything. Thus the result was a catastrophe for the BNP. It lost all 12 of its council seats and, in its key target wards, the BNP vote was slashed from 41% to 23% though this is still worryingly high. Griffin's own vote in the general election crashed to 14.6% as opposed to 16.9% polled by the BNP in 2005. Again, however, this still indicates a sizeable portion of the populace willing to vote for one of the most extreme extremists in Western Europe.

Whilst anti-fascists were victorious in Barking and Dagenham the issues that motivate BNP voters, immigration, lack of social housing etc., have not gone away. The victory against the BNP in the 2010 local elections has in effect provided some valuable breathing space in which the issues that caused many working class voters to turn to the BNP need to be addressed, a need that is particularly salient within the context of severe economic recession and massive cuts to our public services. Failure to do so would open the door for the BNP to return, and, like a game of snakes and ladders, cause us to slide back to the start.

Whilst the political threat of the BNP has receded in the short term, its defeat at the polls could see many racists abandoning the ballot box and indeed the BNP altogether, taking to the streets to vent their spleen instead. To an extent this is already happening. The emergence of the English Defence League (EDL) poses a far more ominous threat with its racist demonstrations, ostensibly held under the banner of being 'anti-Islamist', leading to violent clashes with police and counter-demonstrators which are all eerily reminiscent of the 1970s. The nature of its increasingly provocative demonstrations, particularly its announcement that it will march through Bradford over August bank holiday, the scene of serious rioting in 2001, are a cause for considerable concern.

On this basis HNH, together with local initiatives like Bradford Together, are campaigning at grassroots level to build a comprehensive community alliance that will make it clear to the EDL that they are not welcome in our cities. Despite this years victory the far right remains, alas, a clear and present danger to community cohesion.