Far right-proofing politics
Last night I watched an advance preview of the ‘Battle for Barking’, a film by Laura Fairrie about Margaret Hodge and the local Labour party's election fight against the British National Party. Laura's film is full of incredible footage as she spent a year with Hodge and her team, as well as Nick Griffin and company.
Go and see this film: it is fantastic. Firstly, it tests one's sympathy for the BNP and those who vote for it beyond the usual clichés. We saw the father whose son was killed in combat in Afghanistan; the councillor who turned to the BNP after being assaulted by three black men in Hackney and the people who feel their community has been destroyed in the space of a decade and don't know what to do about it.
Another thought raised was the racism ('you White c*nt') that BNP members received. Is it somehow excusable because it's the BNP on the end of it? I don't think so, even if it is more understandable.
More interestingly, I left feeling glad that the BNP stood there. The threat of the BNP in Barking politicised a huge number of young people, who suddenly realised voting mattered. New, angry, active young councillors stood, and were elected, out of nowhere. It also showed, emphatically, how unelectable the BNP are. Nick Griffin was airdropped into a constituency with a large, disenfranchised working class, during the biggest economic recession of a generation and the expenses scandal. The party significantly targeted its resources there. The result? They got absolutely smashed. They didn't even come second, and then lost every seat on the council. Compared to the rest of Europe, the UK is quite far-right proof.
It has also turned me into a massive Margaret Hodge fan. And as she admitted last night at the screening, the whole event has turned her into a more local politician: she spends more time in Barking with her constituents tackling local issues, campaigning on what matters to them and never taking the vote for granted. Exactly as it should be.