PP reader and occasional commenter ‘A Councillor Writes…’ wrote an interesting post a few days ago on a previous thread which I believes deserves proper reading and discussing. I hope he or she does not mind me highlighting it, particularly since it covers some efforts by councillors to neautralise the BNP.
Five years ago, in 2002, the BNP first stood in the precursor seat to my ward, they attracted a meagre 2% of the vote. In 2003, they didnâ€™t bother. In 2004, when the boundaries changed they got 15% of the vote with one candidate in an â€œall-upâ€ contest (i.e. all three councillors for re-election) – this usually enhances the vote of the smaller parties. In 2006, with a traditional one on one election, they got under 20% of the vote. All of this was done with very little campaigning, the odd bit of door to door work and the odd (very odd in one case) leaflet, but no concerted campaign.
Where did this increase come from? Well, a common comment is that it came out of the votes of the main parties by voters disenchanted with their similarity and that has a share in the truth, but I suspect that many of their voters actually hadnâ€™t voted for some time.
Why this increase? My ward is a mainly white working class ward, it has some middle-class pockets, less than one-fifth of the electorate are from a BME (Black Minority Ethnic) background. It has high residual unemployment where there used to be well-paid skilled jobs and high levels of perceived anti-social behaviour and crime (neither are as high as they are perceived to be). There are considerable housing pressures within the ward, with a high number of “hidden households” and average houseprices well above the required sums for a couple to buy a house.
Over the last ten years, there has been a considerable increase in the BME population – many of which have moved into social housing properties because of the higher levels of multiple housing need amongst some of the BME communities. Over the last three years a considerable number of Eastern Europeans have come to live in the ward, the latter has increased private rental prices considerable whilst competing for the pool of jobs available in the area.
The downtown area has been extensively and expensively regenerated, what was a declining shopping area and nighttime crime area is now a bustling area with excellent shops, good nightlife and lots of apartments with ‘City Living’. Many inner city areas have also received extensive and much needed funding to deal with the many problems in those areas.
Very little has been spent on the outer former council estate areas which now have identikit shopping parades with two takeaways, a newsagents/offie/general store, a hairdressers/tanning salon/nail salon and an estate agents . We have poor facilities available to the public (a common problem of mainly social housing areas of the interwar and postwar periods).
I have no doubt that the BNP and itâ€™s ilk have a small core vote of stone racists and nazi worshippers.
I have very little doubt that there are other people who happily vote for them knowing full well what they are like because what they say echoes with what they are feeling about unemployment, housing and the decline and lack of investment in the area. They may not be the most politically correct people in the world, but they arenâ€™t hardcore haters and they are voting as a message to the political establishment.
They have an increasing number of older people supporting them because they are more comfortable with the social message of the BNP than that of the main parties.
In trying to combat this – they have three councillors who try to keep them informed (regular newsletters every couple of months) and take action on local problems and help them with casework. We are elected with around 50% of the vote. One of the other mainstream parties is also active and does some good work and keeps us on our toes, we have some very good community organisations and residents associations – although they tend to dip from the same pool of people, many of whom are retired.
The schools are at worst above average and the best of them are excellent. Our local police are friendly, approachable, have increased their visibilty and taken on more resident-centric methods of policing. We have attempted to wisely spent our small amounts of regeneration funding. All this helps to keep the wolf from the door.
â€œHope not Hateâ€ and other associated campaigns may keep areas from electing BNP members and thatâ€™s good (although some of their literature is rather â€œpreachyâ€), but it only offers a short-term solution. There are fundamental problems that need to be sorted out before things will improve that the 57 varieties of Britism proto-facism return to the insignificance they once held.
We need to smarten up even further, as elected members and as active citizens. We need work as catalysts for community interaction to bring people together. We need to work harder not just on the day to day issues, nut on capacity building in community organisations and on gaining inward funding. Most of all we need confidence in ourselves and our community to do these tasks.
As a final comment, more picklers in electoral politics, yes please. Youâ€™ll be younger than the average, I suspect better educated than the average and will come from different socio-economic backgrounds to many of us. Of course, you may not like the hours or the wages, but the rewards are different to what youâ€™ll get in any other â€œjobâ€.
But the one thing you can do, if you have local elections this year is vote.
Iâ€™m not going to ask you to vote for my party, Iâ€™ll ask you to vote for the person who you feel will do the best job for all the people in your area. But please vote, itâ€™s important and if the BNP are standing in your area, remember, every vote in the box that isnâ€™t for them, is against them.
This was slightly edited down. It was first posted here.
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Filed in: The BNP