Now, where could a fascist gang get the idea of calling themselves a “Defence League”?

EDL thugs in Dudley make their sympathies clear. Via.

Memo to Comrade Smith

Nazi-Nick

So, let’s turn our attention to the local story of the week. This was the splash in the latest Sunday Life, a bona fide scoop.

We’ll return to that in a second, but racism has been on the agenda this week. It got a run-out at the Assembly, where our representatives were keen to show that they’re hip to this new-fangled equality stuff. On the more mundane level, there have been the attacks on Romanians on the Lisburn Road, which has ended up with some forty of them getting ready to get the hell out of the country.

This hasn’t gone unremarked, which I suppose marks some progress. There was a demo on the Lisburn Road where some local residents were bolstered by a startling political formation, what appeared at first sight to be a bloc of the Socialist Party and the Alliance Party. Before anyone gets too excited, Socialist Youth members are apt to turn up at all sorts of things, and it may be that one or two of them live nearby. Meanwhile, for Alliance, we have area MLA Anna Lo, who knows a thing or two about racism and does a fair amount of effective advocacy for ethnic minorities, and who did a lot of the talking on the local news. Unfortunately for our civic image, some yobs, of the sort who you do find in the area, hurled a few bricks and gave Nazi salutes. You always get somebody, don’t you?

Always interesting, by the way, to look at the comments box below Telegraph articles. Though the articles themselves usually say the right things, the comments from punters are maybe a little bit more revealing about our society.

So, back to the scoop. This was the revelation that the BNP’s national call centre is located in an industrial estate in Dundonald. Indeed, it seems that Führer Griffin was over here recently to meet his dedicated workers. Wouldn’t you know there would be some local connection? I’m pleased to see, of course, that some of the anti-fascist sites in Britain have been picking up on this story. But I’m a little impatient for the Unite Against Fascism roadshow to arrive. Much as I enjoy seeing Martin Smith and Weyman Bennett on the telly, I sincerely hope they’re planning a visit to East Belfast. But possibly not in July, lest they get the culture shock of their lives.

Gail Walker Watch

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Gail sez:

It’s been a bad few days for free speech. First, we had the sacking of TalkSport DJ Jon Gaunt for calling a Tory councillor a “Nazi” and an “ignorant pig” during a discussion on a ban on smokers fostering children.

The second reverse was the hysteria whipped up by the illicit release of the names and addresses of members of the British National Party. And with it, nasty McCarthyite-style witch-huntery.

Both stories, in various ways, illustrate that the spectrum of acceptable opinion is narrowing dramatically.

Trouble is, I don’t think Gail’s examples illustrate her point, and I think she may realise this. One senses that the column she’d like to write is one about how decent rightwingers are being persecuted by the politically correct elite, but it’s not exactly easy to defend a bunch of neo-Nazi thugs, so she waffles around that question – had she actually come out and defended the BNP, it wouldn’t have made her popular, but it might have made for a more interesting argument. And while I agree that Gaunty’s sacking was over the top, I fail to see what it has to do with political correctness or a narrowing of acceptable opinion. He was sacked for being abusive to a guest, which is something different.

Elsewhere, Gail does Strictly, and jumps on the “sack the judges” bandwagon. I noticed unemployed Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy speaking out along similar lines, and, while I expect nothing better of the Murphy excrescence, I’m a little disappointed in Gail. She accuses the judges of having damaged the show’s credibility by doing what they were paid to do and giving their professional verdicts on the dancing. This confuses me a little – the Sarge’s defenders had one good argument in that the show was just light entertainment and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, so it seems odd to bring credibility into this.

By the way, Gail, who doesn’t like the Strictly judges being nasty to the contestants, still manages to get in a dig about “C-list celebs” and in particular “desperate-to-win Rachel Stevens”. What has the inoffensive Rachel done to provoke her ire? I suspect it’s that, unless she’s doing one of her occasional columns bigging up a feminist icon (Madonna, Sarah Palin, Jade Goody), Gail likes nothing better than sticking the boot into a female celebrity. Since there are three women left in Strictly and one of them, local girl Christine, is immune from slagging, the only question would be whether it was little Rachel or the big Snowdon girl who would get it. You may as well toss a coin.

And we have a rare turn-up for the books as Gail attacks the Tories while decrying commercialism on TV. No, she hasn’t suddenly become a defender of the BBC, but she does object to Ed Vaizey’s proposal for product placement on Corrie. You know, Coronation Street as sponsored by Harveys furniture. You can’t let the forces of commerce into Weatherfield.

May Day Massacre, part 2: Gauleiter Barnbrook goes to City Hall

Apart from the Tory victory last Thursday, one of the other depressing aspects of the local elections was the success of the BNP. This, it has to be said, was patchy, as the fascists failed to make the big breakthrough they had hoped for in their Lancashire, Yorkshire and Black Country strongholds. But their feat in surpassing the 5% mark in London and returning Richard Barnbrook, their leader on Barking and Dagenham council, to the GLA will have given them a spring in their step.

It will also, at least for the time being, strengthen the hand of the Griffin leadership within the fissile ranks of the BNP. Griffin, you see, has a cunning plan. Being a smart bloke, and not being content to spend the rest of his life leading an irrelevant sect, he’s been studying the examples of his analogues in Europe.

There really is no fundamental reason why Britain can’t have a sizeable right-populist party like you have in several European countries. But the candidates for that ecological niche have so far failed to fit the bill. UKIP had a certain amount of dynamism behind it, but UKIP is too monomaniacally focussed on the EU, too full of blazer-wearing retired colonels and too prone to define its reactionary politics in terms of hankering after the days when good old Smithy was running Rhodesia. There’s a certain market for that sort of thing, but it’s a limited and ageing market. The BNP is a lot more streetwise, but it’s been hampered in turn by being full of thugs – you can sell racism to the electorate, but it’s harder to sell thuggery – and by being mired in Third Reich nostalgia.

Griffin understands this. He is well aware that for decades the Austrian Freedom Party bounced around on about 5% of the vote – its spectacular growth under Haider was precisely the result of Haider spending years distancing the party from its Nazi and Pan-German roots in favour of a more contemporary appeal. Fini has done something similar in Italy, as has (to a much lesser extent) Le Pen in France. To say nothing of the various hard-right parties on the continent who don’t have roots in pre-war fascism. Fidelity to the fascist tradition may keep a cadre together in hard times, but it does severely limit the possibilities of appealing to a broader audience.

That’s why the Griffin leadership has been throwing old fascist shibbolethim overboard with gay abandon. You see a lot of this in the foreign policy sphere. Traditionally, the British far right has had an anti-Zionist stance deriving from its anti-Semitism. Sometimes this has shaded into a vague Arabism, and even into saluting the indefatigability of Saddam and Gaddafi. Yet today we find the BNP taking a staunchly pro-Israeli position, which might be surprising from a group that not so long ago was selling Holocaust denial tracts in its bookshop. But this is only surprising if you assume that fascists can’t have an opportunistic streak, and are so stupid they don’t realise that, while anti-Semitism isn’t respectable any more, there is a good deal of mileage to be had from bashing the Muslims.

And as with the Middle East, so with the Balkans. Recently the BNP has been banging the drum in favour of Serbian sovereignty in Kosovo. And yet, during the Yugoslav wars when such positions were actually relevant, the BNP held fast to the traditional fascist position of calling for victory to Croatia. Indeed, if memory serves, some BNP guys tried to set up an “International Brigade” to fight for the Croats, who were supposed to be defending European civilisation from the communist Serbs. Is it likely that Griffin has suddenly discovered a deep affinity for Serbia? I think not. It’s more likely that the new BNP position has its roots in Londoners’ fear and loathing of violent Albanian gangsters.

But what’s more important is domestic politics. This means going into run-down estates that Labour has pretty much abandoned, and offering people a seductive cocktail of what looks at first glance very like Old Labour politics, combined with racism as a global explanation of the working class’s woes. In certain working-class areas, especially racially segregated places like Oldham or Dewsbury, or white flight areas like Dagenham, you can understand the appeal to people at the bottom of the pile.

What’s obviously called for is an imaginative response. I think what Cruddas has been doing at grassroots level in Dagenham is interesting for this reason, that Cruddas understands that the white working class tends to be resistant to moralistic appeals from do-gooders, and that an anti-fascist and anti-racist strategy needs to be tied in to offering some kind of politics of hope and solidarity. Cruddas reckons you can do this by reconnecting the Labour Party with its core base. Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. But thinking along these lines is vital if we want to do anything beyond contemplating Barnbrook in City Hall and throwing up our hands in horror.

More on this at Socialist Unity.