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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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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