Saturday, 18 September 2010

Spontaneous antifascist protest sends BNP packing in Liverpool

Today, members of the British National Party - including Nick Griffin - held a stall in Liverpool City Centre. They were, perhaps, hoping to show that they stood tall after their trouncing at the General and local elections. Instead, what it showed was the strength of antifascist sentiment in Liverpool.

Within minutes of the BNP setting up shop in town, word got out. The BNP were on Church Street and texts and phone calls went out across the city warning people and asking for them to turn out in opposition. I was walking the dog at the time, and so and hour elapsed between the time I was first told and the time I reached the crowds. And yes, I do mean crowds.

Nick Griffin had been there, but he fled with his minders the second opposition showed up. As Peter Tatchell opined when he confronted him, the BNP chairman is a gutless coward.

But the local branch of the BNP stayed behind in Griffin's stead, offering the members of the public a "petition" (PDF) to "Bring Our Boys Home" from Afghanistan. But as Griffin admits on the BNP website, this is not a petition that will be presented to anybody, or even a serious effort to raise the issue of the war in Afghanistan.

Although they will be "under the banner of “Support Our Troops — Bring Our Boys Home”" their true purpose is "the biggest co-ordinated nationalist recruitment campaign ever run outside of an election period." Hence who signatories "authorise the British National Party to contact" them or send "future promotional, electoral and fund-raising material."

As I have argued before, the BNP are not an anti-war party. In fact, their 2010 election manifesto explicitly stated that they opposed the Iraq war only on the grounds that "there were no strategic or commercial interests to defend" and "the same applies to the current war in Afghanistan."

Hence, if a BNP felt there were British strategic or commercial interests at stake (as Blair did in those two wars), then they would have no moral qualms about sending "Our Boys" to die. For the BNP, imperialism's only bad when you're not in the seat of command.Which is why the banner of the Stop the War Coalition could be found in the group opposing the BNP.

Unfortunately, their ruse was fooling a lot of people, the anti-war message drawing people away from the fact that this was a fascist recruitment drive, as they planned. Hence why opposition was vital.

Very quickly, a sizeable crowd had gathered, and the BNP found themselves closed off from public view by a semi-circle of very loud antifascists, some bearing banners and signs from various groups. This, in turn, drew members of the public - most notably young teenagers - into the impromptu demo.

While the police held the main demo back from the BNP, some antifascists took the opportunity to talk to people. The general public were receptive to the idea that the BNP were an anti-working class party, offering division at a time when we are facing huge attacks from those in power, and that any pretensions to the contrary (including on the war) were political opportunism.

That their (pre-recorded) chants echoed the Tory party line with calls to "Smash the TUC" certainly didn't help the fascists' case.

Arguing the point with the BNP themselves, for those listening in rather than with hope of converting die-hard BNPers, also went in our favour. People can tell the difference between a valid argument and rhetoric, and what Peter Tierney and his friends offered was certainly the latter.

With the rain pouring down, and some people who had arrived earlier on having to leave for other commitments, still the antifascist crowd continued to grow. The BNP struggled to pass out their leaflets or to get many people to sign their petition-cum-covert-recruitment-form. But still they tried to fight a war of attrition, making a show of themselves for a full six-and-a-half hours.

Ultimately, however, over 100 antifascists and local people watched and jeered as the fascists packed their gear into two cars and drove off, protected by a flank of police. No doubt they will try and sell it differently, but for British nationalism this was undoubtedly a failure.

Elsewhere, the BNP's dissident faction claims that "four teams of two" were "out in Liverpool, Sefton and Knowsley, handing out BNP literature to commuters and the General public." However, even on the basis of their own piss-poor website all they can prove is that Steve Greenhalgh appeared outside Orrell Park Station and Bootle Strand to give letters to ... err, nobody!

But they, like the Griffinites, are promising to be out every Saturday for the next few weeks. On which note, the promise from Liverpool Antifascists is that we will be watching when you turn up again.