Dead Men Left

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Lib Dems and the BNP

Bit of a blast from the past, but discussion of recent antics in Burnley reminded me. Back in 1993, the BNP elected its first ever councillor, Derek Beackon, on the Isle of Dogs in London, under the slogan "Rights for Whites". Racist attacks in the area rose 300% following his election, but a sustained campaign, led locally by the Anti-Nazi League, saw him removed from office a few months later. Prior to his election, BNP "activists" had been working the streets. Amongst other things, they vociferously (and often violently) helped foment the belief that Asians were getting preferential treatment, particularly in the allocation of housing, from the Labour-controlled council.

Sensing a "community issue" to campaign over, local Lib Dem members seized the opportunity. This is excerpted from The Scotsman, Saturday 18 September, 1993 (via Lexis-Nexis):

Last night the Liberal Democrats became embroiled in allegations that they had been racist in the way they had conducted their election campaign.

The party leader, Paddy Ashdown, ordered an investigation into the allegations and warned that anyone proved to have acted in a racist way would be expelled.

The claims are a severe embarrassment for Mr Ashdown, coming days before the Liberal Democrat Party conference in Torquay.

The Liberal Democrats were accused by Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, of seeking to inflame racial tension and of playing to local prejudice and fear by issuing racist leaflets during the campaign.

Mr Ashdown accepted that one leaflet he had seen "could lend itself to a racist interpretation."

The leaflet, entitled How Labour Spends Your Money, says: "Bangladesh Shocker ... Millwall Labour councillors tried last month to give #30,000 to Bangladesh for flood relief. Liberals wanted it spent on repairs locally."

Another paragraph states: "Bangladeshi youth movement ... An organisation which employed Labour councillors and their 'friends' and received #175,000 from Labour last year. Has it helped you recently?" Mr Ashdown wrote a hard hitting letter to local Liberal Democrats forbidding them from issuing any further leaflets without the approval of the regional party.

To be absolutely clear: as left-leaning Ashdown's consternation demonstrates, aping the BNP is not Liberal Democrat policy. It says something for the party, however, that local members did not have the basic political sense to realise what they were doing was wrong. It fits with a wider pattern of opportunism - though the Liberals may now be trying to lose their habitual bandwagon-jumping. Unfortunately, it is by veering sharply to the ideological free-market right.