So, how is it that the recent European elections returned two BNP candidates to "represent" the people of Yorkshire and the North-West? The most obvious explanation is quite simply that no-one wanted to vote for the mainstream parties, and it's hard to blame them - the efforts of the most dedicated BNP activists pale in comparison to the antics of corrupt MPs like Douglas Hogg or Hazel Blears when it comes to discrediting the BNP's rivals. As anarchists, we certainly don't see the widespread "apathy" (contempt would be a better way of putting it) towards the big three parties as a bad thing - a turnout of around 34% means that about 66% of the electorate have seen through the hollow promises of politicians and could potentially be won over to genuinely effective methods of grassroots organising.1 But first we need a real alternative to put forward - otherwise, as we've seen, it's all too easy for disillusioned voters to be persuaded by the "anti-establishment" image of the BNP.But if the money-grabbing clowns who represent the mainstream parties in Westminster deserve first place on the BNP's thank-you list, second place definitely goes to the hopelessly ineffective tactics of the liberal anti-fascist groups Unite Against Fascism and Hope Not Hate. Any genuinely effective anti-fascist campaign has to start by identifying the reasons why people vote BNP and challenging them, whereas UAF and HNH make no attempt to do this, instead focusing their efforts on trying to "mobilise the anti-fascist vote"2 - in other words, trying to persuade voters to come out and vote for the big parties, no matter how obviously, unacceptably crap they are. UAF's election leaflet contained no attempt to engage with potential BNP voters, and instead opted for the less demanding task of trying to persuade anti-fascist voters that they should bother voting.3
This failure to engage with potential BNP voters isn't a coincidence or simple absent-mindedness - it's a direct consequence of the basic assumption of the UAF/HNH strategy of trying to build alliances with mainstream politicians. Hope Not Hate's big achievement during the Euro elections campaign was to get Gordon Brown to pose with their campaign bus, but it's hard to imagine a strategy less likely to impress voters turning to the BNP out of disgust with Brown.4 Any serious attempt to engage with BNP supporters has to start by admitting that they're totally right to be angry with the mainstream parties (but totally wrong to scapegoat immigrants and ethnic minorities), and until UAF/HNH begin to do this they'll remain at best a well-meaning distraction, and at worst actively counter-productive. (The recent leaflet produced by Hereford Antifa and Hereford Solidarity League was a good example of an anti-fascist leaflet that managed to actually tackle the BNP's arguments head-on, rather than falling into the trap of supporting the discredited mainstream parties.5)
Here's hoping we can rebuild a genuinely effective, militant anti-fascist movement capable of taking on the racist, anti-working class BNP - and the racist, anti-working class Labour and Tory parties as well. If not, then we could all be in for a seriously bleak future.
2 - UAF election briefing, http://www.uaf.org.uk/resources/0906UAF_election_briefing.pdf back
3 - UAF election leaflet, http://www.uaf.org.uk/resources/0906UAF_euro_final_A5_web.pdf back