This Saturday, forty-one people campaigned for a progressive cause in Walthamstow. No, not to save our dog track. It was for Hope not Hate. I organised this event not instead of supporting party activity, but precisely because I am Labour. Fighting fascism is written into the DNA of progressive politics; everything the BNP stand for we pledge as Labour to overturn. Their policies of hatred and division offend all who wish Britain to become a more egalitarian, socially just and free society.
In 2004 just 37% of Waltham Forest voted in the Euro elections. Over three hours, forty-one of us gave out 16,000 leaflets with one simple message. The BNP only have to secure 8% of the total votes cast on 4th June across all of London to gain a seat. Voting for any other party helps put that prize beyond their reach. It was a message that resonated. Passers-by took away flyers to give out themselves at work, on their street or at college, outraged that the BNP could profit from low turnout. The people who came to help were a mix of Labour party activists, community representatives and non partisan Facebook users who joined the campaign online. All wanted to show the BNP they are not welcome in our patch of East London.
Their victory on the London Assembly a year ago still sickens me, as does watching the antics of Richard Barnbrook, however farcical. I get angry seeing my Labour colleagues there have to waste valuable legislative time on their vile policies. Given the difficulties nations across Europe will face in the next four years, I don’t want to see MEPs being sidetracked into rebutting tired racist propaganda during immigration debates or the machinations of who gets to go to royal garden parties. I want those who represent my city to be focused on finding solutions to the challenges we need European governance for; action on climate change, protecting workers rights and dealing with a global financial recession. And make no mistake, my preference is and always will be for Labour MEPs to be making those decisions – to secure on 4 June a victory for fantastic candidates who will carry on the good work our current MEPs have done across Europe with our sister parties.
I acknowledge some have concerns about spending time on the Hope not Hate campaign because it does not explicitly ask for support for any one party. Yet the threat of a BNP victory is so great that now is not the time to falter when such a progressive cause is at stake. So during this election time alongside canvassing for Labour, I’ve also worked with Unite against Fascism, organised a workshop to get local community groups involved and even tried to interest other local political parties in delivering Hope not Hate materials too.
These actions are not mutually exclusive but mutually reinforcing. They reflect the kind of future I seek to work for alongside others here in Walthamstow. Our neighbourhood is vibrant and diverse, with a cultural dynamic I proudly encourage all to sample. We draw strength from the mix of people who live here; where shared creativity and different lives come together to generate amazing street parties, bands, friendships, arts and restaurants. Personally, I don’t want anyone who believes mixed race relationships should be outlawed or who thinks those from an ethnic minority background can never be British and should be “reclassified” as “racial foreigners” able to say they speak for us – or indeed any part of London.
We live in an age crippled by public disquiet about why people join political parties let alone stand to represent them. As others highlight, it is something the BNP themselves seek to exploit. We can be both party people, passionate about our politics and campaigners for a cause, capable of finding common ground for action on progressive ends. As we head towards the Euro elections I will continue to urge the people of Walthamstow to vote Labour on 4 June. And to vote to defeat the BNP too. The hatred of the thought of four years watching them lay claim to London drives me on. The hope of their defeat is a progressive victory to be won in itself.