I’ve just been to see Laura Fairrie’s excellent documentary The Battle for Barking, which is broadcast on More4 next month. It’s a thoughtful and sensitive portrait of the election battle that took place earlier this year on the fringes of east London between Labour’s Margaret Hodge and the BNP’s Nick Griffin, following the campaign on both sides.
It works particularly well as a portrait of Barking’s ordinary working-class residents and the frustrations that have pushed some of them towards supporting the BNP. A lack of decent housing — as I reported earlier this year — is at the heart of these frustrations. In one scene, a mother invites the camera into her poky towerblock flat. Tearfully, she explains: “All I want is a garden for my kids to play in.”
The sense of isolation from and anger at mainstream politics — not just from white, BNP-supporting residents, in fact, but others, too — is palpable. And it is vital to remember that while voters may have kicked the BNP out of Barking, this anger has not gone away. Barking is exactly the kind of community most likely to be hurt by today’s spending review. Homes and jobs are already scarce resources there; the planned cap on housing benefit and increase in rent for social housing will push more people out of inner London and towards the edges of the capital. Towards places like Barking.
These are people who were not listened to, even in the boom years; even by a Labour party that was supposed to represent them. I wonder: will anyone in power give a second thought to them in the years to come?