Thousands of people reacted with anger and dismay when the news broke early Monday morning that the fascist British National Party (BNP) had made a major breakthrough into mainstream politics – picking up two seats in the European parliament.
BNP leader and convicted Holocaust denier Nick Griffin narrowly won a seat in the North West of England with 8 percent of the vote in the area.
While former National Front thug Andrew Brons picked up a seat in Yorkshire and the Humber with 9.8 percent.
The most decisive factor in the BNP’s gains was the collapse of the Labour vote.
The BNP did well in former Labour heartlands – picking up 16 percent of the vote in the south Yorkshire town of Barnsley, nearly 12 percent in Doncaster and 15 percent in Rotherham.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Labour voters switched their votes to the BNP.
In fact in both regions where the fascists won seats the number of BNP votes actually declined slightly – so it looks far more likely that Labour supporters just stayed at home.
In the North West the BNP vote fell from 134,959 at the 2004 European election to 132,094.
In Yorkshire and the Humber its vote fell from 126,538 in 2004 to 120,139.
But the BNP’s share of the overall vote rose, however, as Labour’s support plummeted.
The Labour vote fell by 7.5 percentage points across Yorkshire and the Humber and by 6.9 percent in the North West.
Across the North West, Labour lost 16,000 votes in Wigan alone, while in Bury, Rochdale and Stockport, the Labour vote halved.
The BNP has exploited concerns over unemployment, targeting fear and anger at migrants by standing on a platform of defending “British jobs”.
The Nazis have also benefited from the climate of racism against Muslims and migrant workers that New Labour has helped to whip up, as well as from the disillusionment with mainstream politics caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal.
The BNP will try to use its European success to drive a stronger wedge into mainstream politics and to use its new positions as a platform for spreading its race hatred.
However, despite its gains, the BNP has not seen a massive surge in support.
The campaign against the BNP in recent weeks has shown the potential to build a huge united movement against the Nazis.
Just days before the European election more than 20,000 people came to the Love Music Hate Racism festival in Stoke-on-Trent in the West Midlands.
And across Britain, new networks of Unite Against Fascism supporters delivered more than 2.5 million leaflets in the weeks running up to the elections.
These activities have laid down the basis for a new movement to drive the BNP back.
In some areas there are signs that this is already having an impact.
Last week’s county council elections, while not as significant as the European polls, give a snapshot of some of the successes and setbacks for the BNP.
The BNP won its first county council seats – picking up seats in Burnley in Lancashire, Coalville in Leicestershire and South Oxhey in Hertfordshire.
The party failed to pick up seats in other target areas such as Staffordshire or Cumbria.
It also failed to win seats in Derbyshire where it was hoping to build on the election of two borough councillors in Amber Valley last year.
And in Burnley, the results showed that, outside of its strongholds in the Padiham and Hapton areas of the town, the BNP’s hold is weakening.
The anti-fascist movement faces major challenges. The experience of fascists gaining ground in Europe shows that they are harder to dislodge once they gain a foothold in mainstream politics.
But the movement against Britain’s Nazis is already underway – with local protests taking place across Britain.
Unite Against Fascism is also planning a major conference in Manchester on 18 July to involve large numbers of activists in a discussion about where we go from here.
For protests in your area go to » www.uaf.org.uk