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What the BNP's growing popularity tells us
18th April, 2006

by Sunny Hundal

There's an old Indian saying that asks people to be grateful for the bad things that happen so they can appreciate the good times.

Keeping with that spirit, in one sense I'm thankful the BNP are around to cause trouble. They always keep others on their toes.

I regard the news that up to a quarter of voters would consider the BNP as interesting. Cue the Labour party lining up to condemn its racist policies expound on the benefits of diversity. Cue various ethnic minority organisations calling for "the black vote" to "beat the BNP". Despite good intentions such responses are as useful as a cooler in the Antarctica.

There is a serious problem in dealing with the BNP. It's not that they are a huge, even the Green Party easily win more votes, but rather that following years of successfully countering the rise of fascism, we have become too complacent about tackling their arguments head on. The assumption that marginalising the BNP will do is not good enough any more.

Let's take Margaret Hodge's pitiful outburst on Sunday. Among other things, she said: "They can't get a home for their children, they see black and ethnic minority communities moving in and they are angry."

I thought that was amusing. Last year the BNP started circulating leaflets in Margaret Hodge's area with spurious claims that Africans were being paid 50,000 to move into the area. Sitting on a huge majority at the time, Labour did very little to counter these claims and was accused of ignoring working-class concerns by its own constituents.

A few months later when the BNP failed to get anywhere in a local by-election, Hodge said: "It is a great result. The people of Barking have resoundingly rejected the BNP's message of hatred and division." Now she has clearly changed her tune.

I refuse to demonise white working-class people who vote for the BNP because I'm more interested in knowing why they did so. But Margaret Hodge's claims are symptomatic of a larger malaise within Labour to avoid going down this route.

The BNP have done better in local elections than national elections because they target key constituencies with a mixture of falsified propaganda and outright lies. As yet there has been very little effort to combat this across the country in a coordinated manner.

Instead we get ministers who have been ignoring their traditional base for years turning around to blame immigrants for their problems.

The far right has been using that old chestnut for decades, even before Asians or Afro-Caribbeans started arriving in significant numbers. Rather than pandering to such racism in an attempt to take the BNP vote, Labour should instead be making a strong, clear case for immigration.

But being either intellectually incapable or too electorally scared of doing so, as was the case just before the last General Election, its members are reduced to patronising their voters by pandering to prejudices.

First published on the Guardian website here.

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