Monday, April 19, 2010
Immigration and the BNP posted by Richard Seymour
"In fact the more immigration an area has experienced, the lower its support for the far right. It seems that direct contact with migrants dissuades people from supporting the BNP. For example, of the 10 local authorities where the BNP gained most support in the 2009 European elections, nine had lower than average immigration".
This much is, or should be, common sense. Racist ideas about black people, immigrants, Muslims, etc. tend to be diminished by exposure to the targets of racism. And the IPPR argues from this that the government shouldn't try to sieze the BNP's territory on immigration. This is welcome. But there's an invalid inference, which is that the real cause of the BNP's success is "social exclusion", isolation and dejection among voters. This implies that BNP voters aren't primarily driven by racism, a canard that has led some to suggest that we shouldn't focus on fighting racism but instead on addressing only the bread and butter issues that supposedly drive the inchoate anger that leads people to vote for the fascists. The trouble is that the evidence shows that BNP voters are far more racist than the rest of the population, and that racism - not necessarily the hard racism of the BNP, but certainly a general hostility to Muslims and immigrants - is a big motivating factor for them. (My upcoming ISJ article deals with some of this). There are, to be sure, economic issues which might be more fruitfully dealt with in terms other than those of "social exclusion".
This is how I would put it: the specific ecology in which the BNP has thrived in the last decade has been in formerly strong manufacturing centres with big organised labour forces and strong local Labour Parties. As New Labour has allowed manufacturing to go under, it has hacked at the roots of its base. It has allowed unemployment to soar in these areas on the spurious pretext that a service economy will make up for the loss of, eg, car production - a strange phenomenon in a country with soaring road traffic due to suburbanisation and decrepit public transport. Tellingly, one area of manufacturing that the government has protected is aerospace and defence, which is one of the few manufacturing strengths of the UK economy. At any rate, the destruction of unionised labour forces has both deprived local councils of tax receipts, contributing to the generally poor services they offer, and deprived local Labour parties of potential members, door-knockers and fund-raisers. It is in these areas that former Labour voters have been boycotting elections for over a decade.
Even in 1997, as New Labour won its 'landslide' on a (then) record low turnout, the party's support among core working class voters was down by 5% on 1992, which was partially made up for by an increase of 4% in middle class support. In 2001, a further 2.8m Labour voters refused to cast a vote, and the turnout collapsed to an historic nadir of 59%. Approximately another million refused to back Labour in 2005, even as the turnout increased. The votes lost were in former heartland seats, de-industrialised wastelands where job insecurity and low wages now reigned. New Labour's electoral coalition has continually shrank, hollowing out from the core, but the fact that it was its mountainous majorities in core areas that were declining allowed for a certain amount of complacency. The rotten first-past-the-post electoral system gave them an alibi for keeping to the right - an alibi that, I would wager, is about to collapse. But it is largely because of these Labour abstentions that the BNP, benefiting from the climate of racism cultivated by the government and the media, has been able to make gains.
Strategically, then, one obvious response is to mobilise the anti-fascist vote in the short-term, and combat the broader climate of racism in the medium-term. Long-term, we have to be about rebuilding the Left in those areas, getting workers in the new industries organised, and (re)constructing a radical left-wing electoral challenge to New Labour.