BNP suffers crushing defeat at the ballot box

Far-right councillors are wiped out in Barking and Dagenham; further losses nationally.

Results from the local elections are starting to come in, and it looks like the British National Party has suffered catastrophic losses, compounding the failure of its leader, Nick Griffin, to win a seat in Westminster.

In Barking and Dagenham, where the BNP was previously the second-largest party, all 12 of its councillors have lost their seats. That includes the former party group leader Bob Bailey, who was filmed fighting in the street two days ago, and Richard Barnbrook, who was suspended from the council last year for making false claims about murders in the borough.

It is a crushing defeat for the far-right party, which many feared would seize full control of the council on 6 May. However, a concerted effort by anti-fascist campaigners ensured a high turnout and voters overwhelmingly backed Labour candidates on the day.

Elsewhere in the country, the prominent BNP councillor Chris Beverley lost his seat on Leeds City Council. The party has also lost councillors in Stoke-on-Trent, which Griffin once described as the BNP's "jewel in the crown".

The defeat is likely to intensify the internal conflicts that have beset the party in recent months. Far-right activists, commenting on the white power Stormfront internet forum, have already criticised Griffin's election strategy and called for him to go.

In a message to supporters, Griffin urged his party not to lose heart after a "bruising" election campaign and stressed that the coming months would provide an opportunity for "a massive overhaul of our political machinery". Perhaps in order to head off criticism of his leadership, he offered this advice:

If someone tells you a piece of "shocking" internal gossip which clearly is aimed at undermining the people now working to propel the party forward, then you need to treat such lies with the contempt they deserve.

Nick Lowles, who ran the anti-fascist Hope not Hate campaign, said:

We mobilised in a way our country had never seen before. In fact, in just the past few weeks, almost a thousand volunteers have joined us in Barking and Dagenham to deliver over 350,000 pieces of literature, and nearly 300 volunteers came to Stoke-on-Trent to distribute leaflets and knock on doors to turn out the anti-BNP vote.

Last year's BNP victory was not in our name -- but last night's BNP defeat certainly was. We made the world a better place.

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Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear