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Thursday, December 16, 2004
Searchlight opens its eyes

It's long been an article of faith on the Left that it's traditional Tory voters, not traditional Labour voters, who are giving the BNP its new prominence. With the exception of perceptive left-wing writers like Nick Cohen, this has been the firm party line despite the mathematical problem that the BNP has been gaining almost all its council seats in areas where the Tories weren't even close to victory in the first place. It seems that now even the far-left magazine Searchlight is recognising this is not the case.

The vast majority of BNP candidates will be in Labour constituencies, an indication of where the fascists' support is beginning to emerge and solidify. Searchlight has long argued that traditional Conservative voters have been the first to switch to the BNP in local elections, largely as a means to keep Labour out or as an anti-Asian protest, but this vote is soft and returns to the Conservative Party or goes elsewhere in national elections. The BNP support among traditional Labour voters is firmer and is an indication that sections of the working class are breaking with their traditional loyalties. These voters tend to be less embarrassed by the overt racism of the BNP while finding its anti-capitalist rhetoric appealing.

I don't myself think this reflects especially ill on Labour, or on Old Labour, the fear of this ill reflection being, I think, the real reason most on the Left preferred not to acknowledge from where most BNP support is now coming. Above all, if Labour did once provide a home for people who are now keen on the BNP's racial views, this was clearly despite Labour's own policies on such issues, not because of them.

But the party does now need to face up to the reality of a sizeable number of its core supporters not only abandoning it, but finding a home that to most Labour activists is uniquely loathsome. It's not a reality that can be changed by trying to give the Conservative Party the brush of the BNP, or making puerile, knee-jerk allegations of racism every time public concerns about migration and asylum are given a response by mainstream politicians. Such a wild goose chase only exacerbates the problem that Labour must begin seriously to face.

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