The BNP's bid to march in Woolwich shows its desperation

Having once implored BNP members to avoid marches, Griffin is losing a race to the bottom.

A quarter of an hour before the Metropolitan Police announced they were “preventing” the British National Party's (BNP) proposed march through Woolwich, south east London, tomorrow, Nick Griffin bullishly told his Twitter followers that he was “taking over negotiations with them [the police] directly.”

Griffin’s proposed six mile march across south east London from Woolwich to Lewisham is now, instead, a proposed 170 yard shuffle in Westminster, fourteen miles away from the scene of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.

This is not what Griffin wanted. BNP insiders say he was forced into a corner during the week. He’s developed a habit for rash statements, no more rash than the initial statement of intent to march in Woolwich. It’s been a long time since the BNP marched anywhere in London. Marching was one of the very things that Griffin implored the membership, when he campaigned for the leadership, to eschew. It was always unsightly and marches always ended in violence.

Griffin however, has little choice. The English Defence League (EDL) are proving more effective in filling the streets with far-right revenge and rage over Drummer Rigby’s awful murder. Griffin had originally hoped that the numerically superior weight of the EDL would support and bulk up the march. When it became apparent that the EDL would not support Griffin’s march, the party’s rumour mill began talking of a secret climb-down. London BNP members, what few there are left of them, secretly called it a “Death march”, while in the north of the country the party kept telling their activists that the march was definitely on and that white Londoners would flock to Woolwich to support the BNP’s call to deport “hate preachers”.

It’s most unlikely, given the tensions in the area, that the BNP was ever going to be allowed to march in Woolwich. Certainly not all of the way to Lewisham. Still, Griffin was made to sweat on the Met’s decision until late on Thursday afternoon. Being moved to Whitehall is a slap in the face for the BNP. The EDL were there themselves only a week before, and even the National Front has managed to march in Woolwich twice in the last ten years.

Some BNP members in London had been suggesting that they actually be able to negotiate a move of the march to the “white corridors” of south east London, places like Eltham in south east London, or either Bromley or Bexley on the Kent borders. Whether Griffin ever put those suggestions to the police, we will probably never know. Once the EDL decided to not join him on his march, he’s had no choice but to sweat it out and present himself as some kind of free speech martyr instead.

Feeling more than a bit rejuvenated, the EDL leadership has been keen to make Griffin suffer for a year of his continual attacks on them. Instead of backing the BNP’s march, EDL wreath-layings will take place around the country. Over 50 are planned at the last count.

Griffin was insisting last night that the march will still go ahead in Woolwich, not in Whitehall. Demanding that people ignore the police, Griffin’s facing another of his world famous self-inflicted great tests of his leadership. Claiming that the police were threatening to arrest him if he pursued his “determination to draw attention to mosque knife terror training”, he was still demanding, begging, for people to now break the law and join him in Woolwich.

Nick Lowles, chief executive of anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate described Griffin as both “desperate and foolish”. “He’s talked himself into this position out of hatred and egotism. He’s losing a race to the bottom.”

Last night, in sheer desperation, Griffin called upon the EDL’s leader Stephen Lennon to join him in getting arrested on Saturday. It’s unlikely that Lennon will bother.

Matthew Collins is a researcher for Hope Not Hate and author of Hate: My Life in the British Far Right (Biteback Books)

BNP leader Nick Griffin arrives to lay flowers close to the scene where Drummer Lee Rigby was killed in Woolwich, London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Matthew Collins is a researcher for Hope Not Hate and author of Hate: My Life in the British Far Right (Biteback Books).

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Why Podemos will defeat the Spanish Socialists

A new alliance on the Spanish Left will be stronger than the sum of its parts.

On Saturday morning, on a palm-tree lined promenade in the small city of Badalona in eastern Catalonia, a 38-year-old woman named Mar García Puig fanned herself with her speaking notes after taking her turn on the stage.

Until six months ago, Puig was a literary editor with no professional experience in politics apart from attending demonstrations and rallies. Then, in December, her life was transformed twice over. In the national election, she won a parliamentary seat for En Comú Podem, the Catalan regional ally of the anti-austerity party Podemos. Four hours after she learned of her victory, Puig gave birth to twins.

Fortunately Puig’s husband, who is a teacher, was able to take paternity leave so that she could take up her seat. In parliament, Puig “felt like an alien”, she told me over coffee. As it turned out, she had to give up her seat prematurely anyway – along with all the other Spanish MPs – when repeated attempts to form a government failed. So now, in the lead-up to Spain’s first repeat election of the modern era, to be held on 26 June, Puig was on the campaign trail once more in a drive to win a parliamentary seat.

The December general election was as historic as it was inconclusive, ushering in a novel political era in Spain and leaving the country with the most fragmented parliament in its history. Fed up with corruption, austerity and a weak recovery from the global financial crisis, voters punished the mainstream parties, ending the 40-year dominance of the conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party) and the centre-left PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), which have held power since the death of General Franco. Neither group was able to win an absolute majority as new parties from both ends of the political spectrum garnered support from disenchanted voters.

On the left, Podemos, which was only founded in March 2014 by the ponytailed political scientist Pablo Iglesias, won 20 per cent of the vote. Ciudadanos (Citizens), formed in Catalonia a decade ago and occupying the centre left or centre right, depending on which analyst you talk to, secured a 14 per cent share.

Despite having four months to form a coalition government, the two biggest political parties could not reach a deal. The People’s Party, which had implemented a harsh austerity package over the past five years, recorded its worst electoral performance since 1989, losing 16 percentage points. It still won the most votes, however, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was the first leader to be asked by King Felipe VI to form a government.

By the end of January, Rajoy conceded defeat after the PSOE refused to join his “grand coalition”. The Socialists then failed in their own attempt to form a government, leading the king to dissolve parliament and call a fresh election.

Despite the inconvenience of having to campaign nationwide once again – and being away from her twins – Mar García Puig’s enthusiasm for her new career is undiminished. “In Spain there is a window of opportunity,” she said. “There is a receptiveness to politics that there wasn’t before.”

When the repeat elections were called, some questioned whether Podemos and its regional allies could mobilise its supporters to the same extent as in December. Yet Puig believes that the party’s appeal has grown further in the six months that the country has been without a government. “We are still new and Podemos has this freshness – it can still make people join,” she told me.

The following day, as the church bells rang at noon in the Basque city of Bilbao, crowds gathered for another rally. For protection against the sun, Podemos supporters had covered their heads with purple triangular paper hats displaying the party name as it will appear on the ballot paper: Unidos Podemos, or “United We Can”.

In May, Podemos entered into an alliance with Izquierda Unida (United Left), the radical left-wing party that includes the Communist Party of Spain, and which won 3 per cent of the vote in December. Izquierda Unida is headed by Alberto Garzón, a 30-year-old Marxist economist who, according to a poll by the state-run CIS research institute, is the most highly rated party leader in Spain. Unlike Podemos’s Iglesias, who can fire up a crowd and is seen by some as divisive, Garzón is a calm and articulate politician who appeals to disaffected voters.

Nagua Alba, who at 26 is Podemos’s youngest MP, said the new alliance would be stronger than the sum of its parts, because Spain’s voting system punishes smaller parties when it comes to allocating seats in parliament. “It [the alliance] will attract all those people that aren’t convinced yet. It shows we can all work together,” Alba said.

As part of the agreement with Podemos, Izquierda Unida has agreed to drop its demands for a programme of renationalisation and withdrawing Spain from Nato. The alliance is campaigning on a platform of reversing Rajoy’s labour reforms, removing the national debt ceiling, opposing the TTIP trade deal, and increasing the minimum wage to €900 a month. A Unidos Podemos government would attempt to move the EU’s economic policy away from austerity and towards a more expansionist stance, joining a broader effort that involves Greece, Italy and Portugal. It is also committed to offering the Catalans a referendum on independence, a move that the mainstream parties strongly oppose.

The latest polls suggest that Unidos Podemos will become Spain’s second-biggest party, with 26 per cent of the vote, behind Rajoy’s Popular Party. The Socialist Party looks poised to fall into third place, with 21 per cent, and Ciudadanos is expected to hold its 14 per cent share. If the polls are accurate, the PSOE will face a difficult choice that highlights how far its stock has fallen. It can choose to enter as a junior partner into a coalition with the insurgent left, which has politically outmanoeuvred it. Or it could decide to prop up a Partido Popular-led right-wing coalition, serving as a constraint on power. 

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain