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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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