Of course, the majority of people who voted BNP did not do so to support their entire neo-Nazi set of beliefs. But, given the onslaught of anti-BNP statements by the media and the government, as well as the work done by anti-racists and anti-fascists to answer the lies of the BNP, how did they still manage to get elected?
Firstly, the three elected BNP candidates in Burnley were able to get in because every single council seat was up for re-election. By standing one candidate per seat the BNP were able to pick up protest votes more easily from people who would also be voting for two other candidates.
In Oldham, where BNP candidates actually got higher votes than in most of the seats they stood in Burnley, they didn’t win any council seats because only one seat was up for grabs.
Secondly, they used populist propaganda cleverly, exploiting existing resentments. For example the BNP used the issue of funding, demanding more funding for “white” areas and attacking funding given to Stoneyholme - an area with a larger Asian population - to renovate the housing.
One of the main factors though was disillusionment with the record of the main parties. Burnley council’s decision to close 35 care homes for pensioners has created huge anger.
And the arguments of Blair (“house prices will fall”) and Alistair Campbell (“firms won’t want to invest in Burnley”) against voting BNP were frankly pathetic given the thousands of jobs lost in Burnley over the last year and the long-term decline of local services in the area.
Also, Burnley council and the police have helped the BNP enormously during the year since the riots by attempting to ban anti-racist events and witch-hunt anti-racist activists involved in campaigning against the BNP. For example the banning of the Anti-Nazi League festival last autumn and the ensuing police harassment of anti-racists who went out on the day to leaflet instead, was a victory for the BNP.
The council and police in Burnley have worked hard to try and label anti-racists and socialists “extremist” in the same breath as they spoke about the BNP. This paranoid and anti-democratic strategy played right into the BNP’s hands.
While the BNP picked up some votes from disillusioned ex-Labour supporters, it is also striking that the ward where they won most votes in Burnley — Cliviger with Worsthorne — is a middle class rural ward which usually votes strongly Tory.
Racism, particularly against the Asian communities, was definitely a factor in the election. It seems that this was stronger in the Cliviger ward, based on keeping the ward ‘white only’. Elsewhere other reasons such as funding and disillusionment with Labour were a key factor.
The racial segregation in Burnley, like many Lancashire towns, is a long-term problem created by council segregationist housing policies and the practice of having separate shifts for white and Asian workers in the mills. This was then entrenched by unemployment and cuts in services as jobs haemorrhaged from the town from the 1980s onwards.
The only way to cut across the potential for far-right groups like the BNP to grow long-term is to organise united campaigns for better funding and services for all and argue for socialist solutions to these problems, rather than the dead end of divisions and hatred that the BNP promote.