20th Anniversary of the BNP victory in Docklands
Twenty-years ago, people were waking up to news of a momentous event in British politics. The previous day, a small by-election had taken place on the Isle of Dogs, and for the very first time ever, a member of the British Nationalist Party had won an election.
The victory of the BNP on the night of the 16th September 1993 was widely condemned the following morning by politicians on all sides of the spectrum, but was to prove a short lived, and somewhat phyric victory for the BNP themselves.
Tower Hamlets, although today staunchly Labour, was at the time more of a LibDem stronghold, with the exception of the Isle of Dogs, where Labour reigned supreme. A local government decision made Tower Hamlets a particularly juicy target for any party as the council was split into regions, with spending decisions controlled locally.
In that, the Isle of Dogs had its own mini-council, a budget of £23 million, and set its own housing and welfare policies. Long controlled by 5 Labour councillors, it was made up of two Wards — Millwall plus Blackwall and Cubitt Town.
It was the Millwall election that was to cause the storm.
The BNP first tried to get a victory in 1992, and while they secured 20% of the vote, it wasn’t enough to win one of the three seats on the local council.
However, in 1993, the top Labour councillor in the Ward, D.J. Chapman resigned, triggering another by-election.
The BNP chose an unemployed lorry driver, Derek Beackon to campaign for the seat, and in a nasty campaign which emphasized “Rights for Whites” which tapped into discontent about rising numbers of mainly Bangladeshi populations in parts of Wapping.
On the night of the 16th September, in an election that secured a modest 44% turnout, the BNP won its first ever council seat. By just 7 votes.
The victory led to widespread protests, and the other four remaining Labour councillors in the mini-council covering the Isle of Dogs refused to let their new colleague use the local hall, Jack Dash House for meetings.
For the BNP though, the choice of Beackon was to prove a poor one. There were allegations that he was illiterate, and he often had to have the party’s media spokesman clarify comments he made, not on racial issues, but on hum-drum council matters.
As a minority party, he had no effective ability to drive home his racist agenda to seize control of the local housing budget or social policies.
Undaunted though, in the 1994 Tower Hamlets council elections, the party campaigned to take the other half of the Isle of Dogs, and if they could get two more councillors, they would have control over the budget.
Beackon threatened to rename Jack Dash House as Oswald Mosley House if they won control.
As it happened, the Labour party mounted a massive campaign in the area, and as the LibDem vote collapsed, they were able to retake their lost seat once again.
The BNP had been ousted, and would remain out of power until they won seats in Burnley in May 2002.
The Isle of Dogs though was not to remain a Labour stronghold for much longer. The local councilors were, to put it politely of the old guard from the old docks days and strongly on the militant side of the party.
The development of docklands by the LDDC and the growing prosperity has seen the influx of foreigners into the area continue, but this time, they are what the old residents called “foreigners“, namely Londoners who were not born on the island itself.
The banks had arrived, and along came the money, the massive flood of tall residential towers — and Tory voters.
As for Beackon — he is still politically active, although now as a member of the National Front, and stood for election in Thurrock in 2012, where he came fourth with 103 votes.
From IanVisits 17.09.13