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Monday, March 08, 2004
Partisan competition, not unity, is how to defeat fascists who lump all democrats together

A group called Unite Against Fascism has launched a blog-based campaign against the British National Party, and Tom Watson and Harry have already signed up, urging others to follow suit by displaying sidebar advertisements like that below. Should I do the same?

As regular readers will know, I like any Conservative oppose the BNP for almost every policy it has. Even without the party's long, dreary history of violence, holocaust denial, Nazism and neo-nazism, the rest of her platform besides the race issue would be an embarrassing left-wing joke. Her economic policies in particular consist of the most laughable Mercantilism, the sort of Bennism even the Labour Party of that time had rejected by the mid-1980s.

Yet I genuinely don't see what good signing up to this campaign would do, and suspect that so far as people like me have any influence, it could do some harm. Liberal Democrat election chief Chris Rennard is of all people the one I think came closest to the truth on this issue, when the Guardian put him on a panel also containing representatives from the two main parties.

All the panellists agreed that choice and healthy competition between the mainstream parties are essential to squeeze out the BNP.

So what should be done about the BNP? Full-blooded competition between the mainstream parties could help, argued Mr Rennard. "I think we've made a mistake sometimes by thinking, okay, if they're growing strong, perhaps by getting together with all three parties and saying whatever you do, don't vote for them this is actually not a very helpful approach. People who may vote for them are actually the ones who think that all parties are the same, that all the mainstream parties are the same." And competition also has the added benefit of increasing voter turnout, making it harder for the BNP to break through.

For all parties to 'Unite Against Fascism' in this way could mean falling securely into that trap of signing up to an anti-BNP campaign with the best of intentions and as a result portraying the BNP as the only real opposition to the existing state of affairs, the only ones who offer an alternative. This is a message the party's leadership fights endlessly to get across: as they put it, they are the only ones who can bring the change that the "establishment parties" all oppose. By publicly uniting into one single opposition, democratic politicians could be playing right into their hands.

By definition, anyone who supports the Tories - as I do - opposes the BNP, and anyone who supports any party opposes all the others. Although the ideological source of the BNP's rhetoric and policies should never leave the lips of mainstream political activists who face them, I don't think voters need reminding that all the other parties oppose the British National Party. What they need to know is that the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all offer different ideas and have different policies on migration and asylum. Under the last Conservative government, Britain had small-scale, controlled immigration. Under Labour, asylum and immigration rates both doubled in five years. Under the Liberal Democrats, we would have still more people coming here. Which of these proposals sounds most palatable is a matter for individual preference, but no one must be left with the illusion that the choice is not there, as they might by any campaign stressing the similarities rather than the differences between the parties. Conservatives who want to see the BNP defeated shouldn't be afraid to say the other parties have got it wrong, and that we will fix things. Ditto Labour and Lib Dem supporters and activists.

Healthy competition between democratic parties that raises voter turnout and makes clear the genuine choice on offer will hurt the BNP. Tokenistic co-operation may only serve to strengthen the case they put to everyone with concerns about our asylum and immigration system that they alone offer an alternative.

UPDATE: Yesterday also marked Tom Watson's first anniversary as a blogger. It's not terribly consistent with the rest of this post for me to say it of a Labour MP, but congratulations to him.

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