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Labour waking up to BNP threat

Recent developments suggest that the Labour Party is starting to realise the terrible truth about the BNP – that the interlopers represent a threat to its very existence as a party of government. But its response shows that it still hasn’t fully grasped the situation. If Labour can only move within the parameters of the neoliberal consensus it has helped to build then it will be unable to halt its own decline.

According to Communities and Local Government Minister John Denham’s statement last week BBC, ‘Labour battles the BNP on class and race’, the government is attempting to ‘re-open lines of communication with a group of people that would once have been seen as its core constituency – the “white working class”.’

In something of a volte-face, Denham has said that being black or Asian in the UK no longer means you will be automatically disadvantaged – and that the needs of white working class communities must also be addressed.

‘If the cause of disadvantage is social class, we will promote opportunity. And if the cause is a combination of racism and social class we will tackle both together.’

As part of these new measures the government has launched a £12m fund to fight ‘far right extremism’ in 130 deprived areas around the country.

Denham claims the new measures aren’t just about combating the BNP: ‘We would be doing what I am doing today if the BNP didn’t exist.’

Observers will draw their own conclusions but in one way he’s right. The communities fund is not just aimed at the BNP. The IWCA – and presumably any credible party attempting to organise in working class areas – is also in the government’s sights.

Blackbird Leys in Oxford, an area represented by IWCA councillors for the last 8 years, is one of the targeted areas set to receive £50,000 of special funding to counter ‘political extremism and ‘those who would divide our communities’ (Oxford Mail, ‘Leys could be vulnerable to political extremism, reckons Government’).

When you consider that Blackbird Leys is a well-integrated estate with few racial tensions, the communities fund starts to look more and more like a blatant party-political move. A move designed to quash opposition to New Labour in areas selected not necessarily because they are vulnerable to ‘political extremism’ but where Labour is vulnerable.

But will it work? The government’s move away from the dogmatic insistence that social problems should be looked at through the lens of race rather than class is a welcome one. This is the beginning of the process by which the government could start to address the concerns of working class voters who feel they have been abandoned and ignored by Labour.

But what will ultimately make up the minds of working class voters is not rhetoric but what actually happens on the ground. The government’s latest measures repeat the mistakes of its previous multicultural approach. Funding may no longer be targeted purely on racial grounds but it will still be targeted, quite narrowly it seems.

Set against the burden on taxpayers that will be required to pay for the costs of the recession – the bank bailouts, quantitative easing and unemployment benefit – targeted funding can only be a drop in the ocean.

In any case the government should be aware, from research it commissioned, that ‘area-based funding doesn’t reduce inequality. A paper released by John Denham’s department concludes that there has been little change in the relative levels of economic deprivation in the 39 New Deal for Communities areas (which received a total of £2 billion in targeted funding) or comparator areas (Tracking economic deprivation in New Deal for Communities areas, Kate Wilkinson and Michael Noble, Social Disadvantage Research Centre, University of Oxford, Department for Communities and Local Government, January 2010).

A simple calculation, made by the IWCA well over a decade ago, shows that if Labour loses its working class ‘core’ vote then the middle class voters it has picked up since Blair became leader in 1994 (in the unlikely event it can hold onto them) will not be sufficient to keep the party in power.

It’s the corollary of Blair and Brown’s triangulation strategy, borrowed from Clinton’s Democrats in the US. The thinking went that if the party tacked to the right then its core voters would have nowhere else to go. However, if working class voters find somewhere else to go then the strategy becomes untenable and Labour could become unelectable.

Up till now there’s little evidence that Labour has taken the BNP threat seriously. Apart from a few isolated voices in the party it seems that, instead, the rise of the far right has been seen as an excuse to motivate activists and voters alike to keep on supporting Labour.

The measures announced last week suggest that, with a Tory victory looming, this thinking is changing. Labour is really waking up to the fact that the BNP could become a serious competitor for working class votes and, as a result, Labour can no longer automatically rely on these votes.

However, the party has yet to realise that a neoliberal economic stance and a pro-working class political stance are mutually exclusive. The only way that Labour can try to maintain both is by being inconsistent – something voters won’t reward them for in the long run.

The essence of New Labour is neoliberal and its new policies are too little, too late and are only a sop to a constituency that it takes for granted almost as matter if principle. For a real alternative to the neoliberal politics of New Labour and Conservatives alike, the working class will need to look elsewhere, and we don’t mean to the BNP.

3 Responses to “Labour waking up to BNP threat”

  1. Robert Says:

    New labour has become a party of control, Hitler would have been proud of it, it says now it did not state no national flags should be flown but oh yes it did, it even stated Christmas should be called winter festival, that year in my Town the shops did not put up Christmas decorations, our Christmas tree had no lights in the Town center.

    Over the last few years Immigrants have poured into my area, they cannot all be coming here because of persecution, so why. Roumour has it social engineering, if thats correct then sadly labour will soon go out of power for a life time or more.

    This country I live in is changing and not for the better, Sharia courts are now set to become legal, we will soon have people calling Muslim to prayers in my area, you cannot ring the church bells it was stopped by the council but it will be OK to call to prayer.

    people are angry that people who came here to supposed to have better life are now trying to change this country into where they came from.

    I’m basic working class, I have spent a long time in the Labour party, sadly new labour is not for me, sadly nor is the BNP, but I have to vote for somebody, so i might as well vote BNP

  2. Paul B Says:

    “This is the beginning of the process by which the government could start to address the concerns of working class voters who feel they have been abandoned and ignored by Labour” or it could just be a late and desperate attempt to shore up the core vote before the election.

    This feels like New Labour holding its nose and making a late attempt to address the class it not so secretly despises. Any intervention that had any merit or deserved to be treated seriously would apologise for creating atomised working class communities over the last few decades, and the deliberate New Labour approach of racialising resources and setting different communities within our class at each others throats.

    They might also have something to say about the despair, poverty, fear of crime and lack of an escape route that they have smuggly presided over for 12 years. Something brilliantly exposed by the report quoted in the IWCA article.

    And Robert, you might want to have a look at the IWCA politics and approach before you vote BNP. There is a progressive working class alternative if you want it and you are looking at it.

  3. Colin C Says:

    Well Robert, I’m basic working class, and while I’ve never been in the Labour Party, the BNP aren’t for me either.
    The point of the article is that New Labour has based it’s entire programme since 1997 on neo-liberal politics that are aimed at attacking the working class. They believed that a certain level of working class voter could always be counted on for support as it had nowhere else to go. At the same time, just like the BNP they’ve approached most issues through the viewpoint of race, albeit from different ends of the spectrum.

    Only now is it beginning to dawn on them that the BNP pose a real threat to their vote in working class communities. Of course, it is too late by far for labour as their only available paradigm is that of neo-liberalism.
    Rather than voting BNP, read back through the IWCA’ analysis of Labour and the BNP to where a real alternative might position itself.

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