Sunday, 7 February 2010

Why Margaret Hodge's pseudo-Griffinism only helps the BNP

In the General Election, Margaret Hodge will be defending her seat in Barking against British National Party leader Nick Griffin. It's not surprising, then, that at the forefront of her concerns is how to tackle the BNP and the disenfranchisement that drives people to support them. Unfortunately, it would appear that she has decided that the best way to do this is to steal their rhetoric.

In Thursday's Daily Mail, she wrote that "we need to have an honest conversation about what’s really going on in our working class communities." In that much, she's right. She is also right that "parties like the BNP tap into people’s frustrations and that’s why we’ve seen a rise in support for them." But beyond that she misses the mark completely. The idea that this translates into a "need to be much braver and draw a distinction between immigration and fair access to public services" is a misunderstanding so profound that it's hard to know where to begin.

Let's be clear on this point: although the BNP tap into people's frustrations, this does not in any sense make the solutions they offer the right ones. The whole point here is that the BNP, as so many other fascist groups before them, take genuine grievances against the current system and spin them to offer a scapegoat and division.
As an example, let's take social housing. The reason that we are suffering a severe shortfall in social housing and long waiting lists at present has nothing to do with migration and everything to do with successive governments that have put private profit ahead of public welfare. Studies have shown that migrants do not "jump the queue" for social housing, and I have previously debunked attempts by the Daily Mail and the BNP to rubbish those findings. What we have, instead, is a policy that goes back to the Thatcher era whereby money made from giving council tenants the "right to buy" was not reinvested in housing stock. As Liverpool Antifascists point out, "councils are not allowed to build new houses with the money from the sales, and housing associations have built very few. This has meant that total social housing has reduced from 35% of housing stock in 1965 to about 21% today." At the same time, "successive governments have left it to the private landlords to provide more houses but this just hasn't happened. As always, the system we are ruled by prioritises profit over the needs of real people, whatever our colour or race."

This is the realisation that needs to be made if we are to stop people turning to the BNP out of sheer frustration. Private greed is a genuine threat to our lives, unlike living with people of other races who are - like us - just trying to get by.

Margaret Hodge, filling her coffers in that same profit system, has no interest in telling this truth. That is why she dismisses reality by saying "of course we need to build more houses and it’s fantastic that this Government has started building council houses once again, but there won’t be a return to the 1960s and 70s when we saw mass building of council houses." As such, scapegoating takes priority, and "we need to be radical in our thinking and look at drawing up a point system based on length of residence, citizenship or national insurance contributions which ensures that economic migrants can only access social housing and key benefits when they have paid into the system."

Hodge tells us that "this isn't about race," but we knew that already. Likewise, it isn't about "having a transparent system which people understand and which is fair" or "giving people in communities like Barking and Dagenham a voice and real solutions to their problems." It's about playing the same blame game as the BNP and turning one element of the working class against another so that they need not look up and see who's really responsible for their ills.

Those who oppose the BNP do not do so just because of "Nick Griffin’s views on the Holocaust and his sympathy with the Nazis." Antifascism is about opposing an ideology which divides the working class in order to promote the interests of the nation-state. We don't want to see BNP fascism co-opted by Margaret Hodge any more than we wanted to see National Front fascism co-opted by Margaret Thatcher. We want to see it destroyed.