North East England: A BNP Free Zone
On one dismal evening in early May 2006, the BNP won 12 seats on Barking and Dagenham Council in East London.
Thankfully they lost all the seats again on the evening of 1st May 2010, when the decline of the BNP across the country really started to become apparent. The BNP were also the official opposition in Stoke for a year, while they also won a number of seats in Northern towns and cities, including Burnley, Keighley and Bradford. But in North-east England…nothing. The BNP never made a breakthrough and never won even a single council seat across the whole region.
It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. One year in the early 2000s, they stood more candidates in the North-east than in any other region in the country, including a full-slate in Sunderland. Whilst it they did come close to winning a seat on the council, on one occasion coming within 53 votes of winning a seat, the people of the North-east stood firm and never sullied their reputation for rejecting fascism.
This is not the first time the north east has rejected fascism. In the 1930’s Oswald Mosley tried to make Newcastle what he called a ‘stromcentre’ of fascist operations. Some hope. Instead he and his Blackshirt thugs were chased out of the city. They met with similar failure in North and South Shields. Far from becoming a ‘stormcentre’ of fascism, the North-east of England in the 1930’s and 1940’s acquired a reputation for solid anti-fascism. Dockers refused to unload arms for Franco’s fascist forces in Spain, whilst North-east people welcomed Basque refugee children from the same conflict with open arms.
In the 1940’s, it was the Durham Light Infantry who liberated the hell-hole of Belsen, whilst it was a hawk-eyed Newcastle soldier by the name of Jimmy Evans who spotted Lord Haw Haw, a Nazi propagandist and had him arrested at the war’s end. These were real patriots, who understood that the real Britain stands for tolerance, solidarity and friendship – the very opposite of the values of the BNP, EDL and fellow travellers..
The 1930’s and 1940’s were hard times of course. A worldwide recession was followed by a bitter conflict with the facists of Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Tojo’s Japan. Many British soldiers suffered in German and Japanese prisoner of war camps, however, when leading north-east BNP member Adam Walker visited Japan in August 2010 to attend a far-right conference, he paid his respects at Yasukuni, a Shinto shrine in the capital that honours Japan’s war dead, including 14 class-A war criminals, men who had committed war crimes against Allied troops. This is no surprise – you don’t have to scratch far below the surface of many BNP members to find their true colours as supporters of fascism and the denial of basic human rights. Walker was accompanied by holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen.
The North-east anti-fascism of the 1930’s holds particular relevance to today. They were terribly hard times, when unemployment reached 70% in Jarrow, 200 of whose men felt compelled to march all he way to London to ask for work. It would perhaps have been easy for the people of North-east England to have gone down the disastrous road that so many in Germany did and found scapegoats for all their troubles. They didn’t. Indeed the 1930’s was also the deacde when the Yemenis became accepted as a community in South Shields. They were to become a model of integration admired across Britain as their assimilation into North-east life was as successful as that of the Irish had been 70 or 80 years earlier.
We must now today show the same resolve as our forebears did. We are faced with another huge global economic crisis, just as they were in the 1930’s. We must remember the lessons from 80 years ago and show the same spirit of solidarity between all people to get us through. If we do then we can get through it and become stronger as a region. If we don’t then the problems caused by the credit crunch and accompanying economic downturn which are already besetting us will only mulitply. Things are going to be hard enough as it is, without inter-communal strife.
As a region we have shown recently that we can reject fascism in the guise of the odious BNP. They are now in seemingly terminal decline. It is sadly very possible that fascist ideas will again be presented to the North-east people as solutions to our problems, either by the thugs of the English Defence League, or some other grouping on the far-right. We must all hope and trust that the people of North-east England can remember their heritage as fair-minded, decent people who will continue to reject the ethos of bullying and hatred presented to them by the far-right.