Our VoiceNews & Politics

British Anti-fascists Prepare Mass Campaign

Guest Blogger • Jan 26, 2009

By Nick Lowles

The next five months will see the largest ever anti-fascist campaign in British history. Dozens of local anti-fascists groups are being set up, thousands of people mobilised and five million pieces of literature delivered. This is all being organised under the banner of HOPE not hate and our target is to prevent the fascist British National Party (BNP) from winning seats in the forthcoming European Elections.

The HOPE not hate campaign was launched in 2005 following a recognition that existing anti-fascist strategies were becoming ineffectual. Research showed that people wanted to support something positive rather than backing a negative campaign and this was especially the case amongst women, who were more likely to oppose the BNP than men. Just as many women tended to dislike the BNP because of its thuggish image and the divisions it spread within communities, so they were put off by aggressive and macho anti-fascist slogans.

There was also a clear recognition that simplistic anti-nazi slogans were no longer adequate. As the BNP moderated its public image, increasing numbers of people no longer identified the far right party with fascism and, for many others, World War II was just a distant memory played out in old films and the history books. While it is still our aim to link the BNP to its fascists roots we realised that we could no longer rely on the slogans and tactics that proved so effective in the 1970s. We recognised that the BNP was tapping into real or perceived grievances which we had to address if we were to hope to win over voters, particularly those in many of the most deprived communities.

Since its inception the HOPE not hate campaign has developed into Britain’s main anti-fascist organisation. There are dozens of local HOPE not hate groups, many producing regular local bulletins, and thousands of supporters. Nationally, we have the backing of all the trade unions and even the Daily Mirror, Britain’s second biggest selling newspaper. The link with the Daily Mirror has taken the campaign on to a new level. It has given us respectability and through special 8-page anti-BNP supplements and regular articles in the newspaper, allowed us to reach millions of people.

Alongside local bulletins and leaflets we produce regular tabloid newspapers, often customised for each key local area. This allows us to address local issues of concern. In Barking and Dagenham, in East London, we have used the tabloid to address housing; in Keighley, in West Yorkshire, our tabloid took on the BNP myths of child sex grooming by Asian men.

However, we have also deployed more advanced campaigning techniques, including telephone canvassing and direct mail. One of our most successful tools is the local endorser leaflets, particularly in the run up to crucial council elections. Through our local groups we identify key people in the community, who are respected often for the positive work they do in a local area, and get an anti-BNP endorsement or help them produce a letter which is then hand-delivered to local houses.

As anti-fascists we are fighting a defensive battle in an increasingly difficult climate, most of which is out of our control. However, we like to think that we have made a difference. One intensive campaign in Sandwell, in the West Midlands, has seen the BNP vote halved in two years – from an average of 33% to just 17.5%. Similar successes have been witnessed in Bradford and Kirklees (both Yorkshire) and Oldham, on the edge of Manchester.

With Britain entering a deep and very painful recession we recognise that our job will get even harder. As unemployment doubles and people look beyond mainstream parties for answers, the racist pandering of the BNP will become even more attractive. We not only have redoubled our efforts to remind people of the true politics of the BNP but we also need to explain why they don’t have the answers to the economic crisis.

Britain has not witnessed the far right gains made across much of Europe but the European Elections could change all that. Against the backdrop of a collapsing economy and the political weakness of the British left, the BNP will be hoping that success in these elections will give them the profile and respectability to fill the vacuum that clearly exists amongst working class people in Britain. The HOPE not hate campaign will be our biggest yet but the stakes are very high.

Nick Lowles is the editor of Searchlight Magazine.

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