So how have we reached the stage where the racist British National Party are the main party of opposition in Burnley and seeing their vote rise across the north of England.
I don’t live in Burnley anymore but was born in the town and have spent most of my life in the area. My family and friends are still in the Burnley area and I return regularly. I was in the town when the race riots occurred that first brought the problems there to national attention. The local election results are depressingly predictable – when I was back home a month ago everyone was convinced there would be a BNP breakthrough.
Burnley has serious economic and social problems – unemployment, low pay, poor housing, crime and plenty of anti-social behaviour and it has a pretty poorly run council. But so do plenty of other towns and they don’t vote in eight BNP councillors – yet.
There has been so much spouted over the past few years about the reasons for the rise of the BNP in these areas. The consensus now appears to be that voting for the BNP is a ‘protest against the neglect of the mainstream parties’ – and there is some truth in this. It certainly helps the BNP that the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are in such a poor state of repair in the town that they didn’t even stand candidates in some wards.
We also hear the BNP ‘protest vote’ is result of New Labour abandoning their traditional working class support base. I don’t buy this one. I don’t believe people who think Blair has moved Labour too far from Clause Four socialism are going to vote fascist as a protest. Come on, if it is the fault of a shift to the centre from Labour then why did the Socialist Alliance get such derisory results? Yes, Labour has let down these communities – that might explain the damagingly low turn outs but not the motives of the BNP voters.
This view also assumes that it is the white working class ‘natural Labour voter’ who are the exclusive supporters of the BNP, but there is plenty of evidence to show that is not the case. A large chunk of the BNP vote in Burnley comes from the relatively affluent semi-villages on the outskirts of the town. These areas, like Cliviger and Worsthorne have almost no Asian residents and much less of the social problems that afflict the centre of town. The BNP voters resent ‘their money’ being spent in the Asian ghettos (and yes they are ghettos). There are plenty of ex-Tory voters backing the BNP (there was always a racist vote for the Tories as Thatcher knew very well) but it is by no means only the disillusioned white working class opting for the BNP.
No, sorry to break it to you, but there is a harsh truth that people are going to have to face up to – the BNP vote is a racist vote, pure and simple. The BNP know that and they have devised their strategy around addressing the concerns of racists and making an appeal to them. Mainstream politicians insist on saying that not all BNP voters are racists. Perhaps, but the vast majority of them are.
The people who vote for the BNP do so for reasons of race and little else – because they believe the BNP will “sort out the Pakis” or “stick up for us” or because they have had enough of the “Paki lovers” on the council. The BNP’s ‘respectable turn’ in replacing bomber jackets with badly fitting suits hasn’t changed the message it has just made it easier for people to vote BNP.
The BNP know that many people think Asians get preferential treatment from the council, they believe there is discrimination against whites, they blame Pakistanis for the problems in the town and in short they don’t like Asians and would quite like it if they were no longer part of the town. These voters have not been brainwashed by the BNP – they have merely now found a party that echoes their views and is now capable of organising itself effectively. For the first time there is an uncomplicated simple way for people to politically express their racism.
Believe me people don’t vote BNP because of their policy on the NHS, education or the Euro – it’s about race, full stop, end of story.
This isn’t something that has just arrived in towns like Burnley – such views have been there for a long time. I grew up with people who hate Asians, thankfully a minority, but certainly not a tiny one.
The purely political problem is that the BNP have been helped by the declining turnout which exaggerates the support for extremists – after all 60 per cent of people in Burnley didn’t bother to vote and hopefully most of them aren’t racists.
The BNP get the vote out because they excite their supporters. They are not getting a tactical protest vote – there is real enthusiasm among BNP voters and little in the way of active opposition to them. Indeed it is claimed that in some parts of Burnley, the BNP were the only party to bother with leafleting and canvassing – racists are passionate about their politics.
Containing the BNP means the mainstream parties have to get their vote out in the future. They need to win the enthusiasm of their supporters and it is about time the Labour Party started to work out why people stay at home.
But surely we would like to do more than contain the BNP? Surely we would like to defeat them and drive them back to the political fringe.
Well that means addressing racism head-on – not an easy task and not one that the left has been particularly good at dealing with so far. It is a big challenge and one that needs to be examined with some fresh thinking but the first basic step is accepting that BNP voters are racists.
Denial will get us nowhere.