Mayoral stage show

It may have passed you by – or like most sane individuals you’ve decided to spend more constructive time contemplating how paint dries on different surfaces – but this May the good burghers of London are choosing their next Mayor.

One aspect of the contest which has turned the event into a Grade A Disaster is the attraction of all the candidates towards farce. There’s an argument in a lift or a Lord mouthing off on Twitter or the like, and all in the glare of camera lenses and very few actual voters.

That British National Party nominee, Carlos Cortiglia, represents a party that has been in long-term decline. In the aftermath of Nick Griffin’s disastrous appearance on BBC Question Time, the party has seen a collapse in its membership numbers and willing candidates to stand in elections. At the 2010 General Election, Griffin himself finished third in the Barking constituency, with no other candidate coming even close to matching that result. As a consequence of the perceived lack of direction within the BNP, this year’s festival of democracy across the UK, incorporating local elections in Scotland, Wales, hundreds of councils in England and inaugural mayoral elections in Liverpool and Salford, the total number of candidates standing under that party’s label is reportedly down by 80%.

That doesn’t mean the fight against the far-right has been defeated. A clump of micro-parties and grouplets have sprung up across England and Scotland as a result of the BNP’s terminal decline. From Britannia in Glasgow to the British Freedom Party in Liverpool, there are still fights to be had against the ignorance and idiocy of racial prejudice. The BNP are bust, their message is not. Such groups as the English Defence League and their touring circus of tracksuited clowns through the provincial high streets of the country, continues to attract support amongst the on-line hoards of anti-everything types.

Granting these micro-parties credibility is a stretch of anybody’s character. The BNP has not been defeated solely by protesters and campaigners: they’ve done it to themselves, too, infighting over scraps and breadcrumbs amongst themselves like so many children left alone to their own devices. Griffin was not brought down solely by Unite Against Fascism or Hope Not Hate; the slow puncture of his career has been that way out for years.

This week we got the latest twist in the London Mayoral election – an orchestrated no-platform exercise led by the struggling Ken Livingstone. As the tweets below indicate, there has been almost universal support of the no-platform decision:

I am not so full of congratulation and praise. There is something about “no-platform” which irks and annoys. Not that I’d agree with the BNP about anything usually – I’d argue against Griffin that grass is green and water is wet if I had to – it’s just the first word that comes to mind is the same one they’ve used; ‘childish’. Are we really still convinced that the BNP is such a credible threat that we have to empty chair them at every possibility? Does this not allow the remaining rump of that party to claim ‘victimhood’ and campaign on that basis?

The words “democracy” and “freedom of speech” are not merely scrawled terms on flashcards, they are precious concepts we need to fight for and cherish. Nothing good comes from making the case for a ‘better’ or ‘more valuable’ democracy on either side of the political spectrum. Jeremy Corbyn congratulates Ken Livingstone for refusing to share a platform with the BNP as though it is a triumph for democracy: if we discount the fact that this suggests the BNP have much credibility left in the first place, it still comes across as though Corbyn and Livingstone are proud of treating their idea of democracy as being purer than any other.

“We are more democratic than you,” is not a debating point, it’s masturbation.

There’s something about the way in which the BNP is treated that suggests people have not realised that the party has little selling power left. There are other threats on the far-right which are in danger of being allowed to flourish: the EDL marches and rise of the numerous grouplets show that there’s still battles to be fought across the country. All the BNP’s remaining living members can do now is point at the other candidates and ask “Who are those who threaten democracy if we are the only ones willing to have a debate?”

As the current Coalition is proving, having any kind of relationship with political rivals is difficult. There will always be awkward compromises and falling out. The “no platform” attitude amongst the Mayoral candidates shows that there remains an attitude against this political reality, one which takes the debate to rivals rather than hiding away through a misunderstood form of ‘pride’. The democratic thing to do – indeed, the mature thing to have done – is to have allowed Carlos Cortiglia to hang himself by his own words. We all know that the BNP and the micro-parties which its destruction has created have about as much credibility as Mark Lawrenson’s Premier League predictions every week, so why risk handing them publicity by having a strop in the name of ‘democracy’?

Londoners have a choice of seven candidates, all of whom can appear on television, radio or through leaflets at any given hour of the day. There is no greater or lesser chance of Cortiglia making his message heard by ‘no platforming’ a single debate. If the other candidates believe in their own policies for the next four years, they should be willing to take that debate to the airwaves regardless of who they might be close to in a studio or near to in a lift (even if that threatens to get Boris and Ken in a tizz again).

Let’s not celebrate an unwillingness to debate with political enemies as a success for democracy. In the wider context, it makes those who stay on the stage appear more credible than those running for the door.

Britain First, elections second

Some months ago, Richard Desmond’s Daily Star splashed across its pages the super-soaraway exclusive that the tracksuited clowns of the English Defence League would be announcing their launch as a political party.

If you follow your far-right fringe parties, you’ll know that the English Defence League (EDL) are a touring party of hooligans and anti-everythings, who don’t care about issues so much as -isms, and mostly negative, prejudiced -isms at that. Every one of the provincial town marches descends into violence and arrests, including the chant of “You’re Not English Anymore” at anybody who dares question their shallow logic. Here in Preston, which hosted the assembled masses of EDL members in early summer, fireworks were thrown through the windows of takeaways.

The political party which the EDL is most closely associated with is not Nick Griffin’s British National Party (BNP), a group they regard as being traitors and state plans, but rather the less well known Britain First Party (BFP). This microsect has obscure beginnings – if you search the Register of Political Parties for all entities including the word “First”, you won’t find them. There’s “BPP – Putting Britons First”, and “British Jobs First”, and even “England First Party”. You’ll even find that the BNP have registered “Because We Care” as an official ballot paper alternative to having “BRITISH NATIONAL PARTY” next to a candidate’s name, though maybe that’s by the by.

Links between BFP and EDL are not easy to find. Links exist, though, and are hinted at across every line of a three-page email sent to supporters – and, as it happens, the email proves very useful for fans of the development of the anti-everything nutjob brigades in what is surely the “post Griffin age”.

The email ends with requests for money and funding; it begins with denouncing electoral politics with all the fervour of a libertarian on heat. “Virtually the only difference between a campaigning organisation and a formal political party,” it says, “is that the latter places all emphasis on fighting media-rigged ‘elections’ (most of which end in embarrassing failure), whilst our movement will focus on campaigning in all its forms to highlight the many injustices suffered by our people.”

It could not be clearer what jibes are being thrust here. Griffin’s BNP has been an electoral flan-in-a-cupboard for years, collapsing in former heartland areas such as Barking & Dagenham, and failing to make a breakthrough in any recent general election. At local level elections, the BNP barely register at all, hurtling into obscurity. No candidate for the BNP, not least Griffin himself, made any serious dent in the electoral chances of the far-right at the 2010 election.

The next paragraph sticks the boot into Griffin once more – “…[N]ationalists need to move away from pretending we are going to romp home to power in this country, and that our leaders will soon be in Downing Street”.

They go on to say “This failed approach channels our energy, willpower and determination into an ineffectual ‘dead end’ that usually ends in failure and disappointment…”

In a surge of hyperbole, it continues, “If you want to get native cultural parades reinstated, if you want to hold corrupt politicians to account, if you want to campaign against the encroachment of Islam into your neighbourhood, if you want to form community groups and take charge in your patch, and if you want to be part of a professional baggage-free organisation that will grow to great size and depth {sic}, then Britain First is for you.”

Putting to one side the definition of “native cultural parades” – morris dancing? flogging suspected witches? – this paragraph should ensure any links between them and the EDL are formally agreed as clearly existing. This “non manifesto manifesto” approach typifies the new approach by the far-right; they are politics for those sick of politicians. They will approach anyone who has shown, or has the propensity to show, exhaustion with the establishment model. Students? London rioters? Long-term unemployed? The vulnerable who believe that non-politician politicians offer the only true chance for change?

Despite what we, on the left and centre-left of politics hope and believe, the far-right remain a real, true, and stubborn force. The EDL marches are well attended, though just as high numbers oppose and often in-fighting does most of the good work for us. Their threat remains very high – we cannot dismiss their marches as mere side-show comedy acts. Where there is a threat, there must be a counterstrike.

Though the BNP are collapsing into themselves, what comes from them must be kept under scrutiny too – what is Andrew Brons BNP doing with the newly registered Freedom Democrats? How strong is the English Democrats Party, and what links do they have with the BNP? How serious an electoral threat is the far-right, and is there a strong enough opposition from within the mainstream parties and the traditionally election averse harder Left?

Nationalism across Britain has always suffered from its own malaise – its message confused, its audience violent and often criminal, its policies bizarre, self-defeating, ridiculous. It is to Britain’s credit that no national parliament has elected a member of the far-right, and that opinion polls consistently wallop their grouplets with derisory totals of support.

That does not mean we should remain complacent. The BFP email is confident, assured, and professional. It is also laced with danger. No ballot box for us, no establishment games, only direct action and street-by-street reconnections. It’s the recipe for success which mainstream parties count as their strongest asset. If the BFP are serious – they aim to stand candidates in Westminster by-elections to take advantage of the free Royal Mail mailshot available to all candidates – there is a period which opens today, right now, during which they could be persuading the disenfranchised or apathetic that only BFP candidates can offer an alternative to the same-old politicians.

The BNP is fading. Let us try and extinguish the next flickering lights of fascism. On the streets, at the ballot box, and in the here-and-now forever.

BNP in Preston

Harold Parker, the very well regarded Labour councillor for Fishwick ward, has resigned due to ill health. It is very likely the resulting by-election will be held on October 1st.

Preston LibDems have selected Luke Bosman, who I trust will be a fantastic candidate, especially as the Preston Labour party continue to amaze with their lack of action and plunging support.

However one shadow over this by-election, in a ward where Labour taking voters for granted shows wherever you turn, is the threat of the far-right. The maverick England First Party are one threat, the British National Party another. Sources tell me the BNP have relaunched in Preston only last month pre-empting a new attack on the city. This is a sad development.

Clearly anything which can be done must to ensure the end of the BNP threat in Preston. Fishwick is the kind of ward where their slogans can often seem attractive against the “mainstream”, but any close inspection of their policies soon shows their real colours. The ugly prejudice of the BNP runs against everything which makes Preston the exiting and vibrant place it is. A recent Love Music Hate Racism event attracted hundreds of people to a night of dancing and uniting against the empty ignorance of the British National Party and their tired rhetoric.

Nick Griffin has barely been on the news since his shameful victory in the European Elections. I say “victory”, but it was only with 8% of the vote, a laughable score from a joke party.

For the next month all resources should be spent on showing the best policies for the people in a troubled ward. The BNP can only talk in negatives and attacks. Their presence in Preston is an irritation but can be removed.