Sunday, May 05, 2002

If voting changed anything, they'd abolish it

That was the title of Ken Livingstone's autobiography before he became London Mayor. He thought he was making a clever-clever point, but it seems that he may have been on to something. In Bradford and Birmingham they are thinking of shelving plans for directly elected mayors because they may offer the British National Party a "platform", and in the Independent there are reports that the government will sue any BNP councillors who vote on racially charged issues. Excuse me, weren't the deluded burghers of Burnley voting for them to be racially charged?

The point is that you won't beat the far right by closing down votes or denying them a "platform". It totally ignores the reasons for their success.

A few years ago I found myself involved in a council housing case in an inner city area. A young, working, married couple had been living with the wives parents for eight years and the council were effectively refusing to find them a place. The wife and (I think) her parents had been born in the council's area and the overcrowding was affecting the father's health.

The next door two bed flat had been empty for some months, and was suddenly extensively repaired by a council work crew. To house the couple? No. To house a single Nigerian woman new to the country, who was paying her rent through social security payments rather than her wages.

Now to the great credit of the dwellers of this overcrowded flat no connection was made between the nationality of the next door neighbour and their plight, perhaps they'd thought that I'd be offended. However the general grumbles about favouring immigrants were never far from the surface.

This is one reason why the BNP have so much potential for growth. The perception is that immigrant communities are crowding out not just the jobs of the native working class (which also includes British-born blacks and Asians) but the homes and schools as well. It also shows a second reason for the growth of the BNP, but not so obvious. The working class may have DVD recorders and satelite TV, put it is still at the mercy of middle class bureaucrats when it comes to policing, housing and their children's education. Not only are many of their most basic necesities out of their hands, but the people who control these necesities despise them.

The working class are beginning feel that there is no one there to protect them. And they're right. Their old protectors in the Labour Party have become the political arm of white collar Public service workers - who are more of the working class's class enemy than the bosses ever were. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are less institutionally biased against the working class than the Labour Party, but simply have spent too long in the Shires and the free market or civil liberty think tanks to learn how to address the Working Class. And as for the majority of the far left they are simply from the same constituency as the Labour Party, more concerned with teachers' perks than with ensuring a good education for working class kids.

So who's there to represent the working class? The far right have seen their niche, and they're going for it. It is for this reason, and not because of virulent white racism, that the BNP has been starting to find success.

Of course the Left's reaction will be to call for the far right to be no platformed and in private to decry the lack of revolutionary fiber in the working class. But in the end the BNP's their bastard offspring.


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