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Stoke-on-Trent election report
How to Combat the Threat of the Far Right
Stoke-on-Trent contradicted the national picture of major losses suffered by New Labour in the local elections.
Andy Bentley, Stoke Socialist Party
They regained overall control of the city council but this cannot hide the loss of support as they carry out cuts in jobs and services and massive increases in council tax. In 1997, they held all 60 seats but even after these results they have only recovered to 34.
There are two factors that have allowed New Labour to buck the national trend here. The 'independent' mayor, Mike Wolfe, has managed to make himself even more unpopular than Tony Blair by, for example, demanding that we should all be paying 20% more council tax. This has allowed New Labour to position itself as the main voice of opposition to mayor Wolfe's madcap ideas.
Second, more importantly, is the increase in support for the far-right BNP. Standing eight candidates, they were expected to win two or three more seats to add to the two they already hold. They won one and lost one, leaving them on two seats. The main reason for this was that thousands of traditional Labour voters (and others who voted tactically for Labour) turned out to prevent the BNP from winning more seats.
This is the main electoral policy of New Labour in Stoke now - vote Labour to keep out the BNP. However, it did not stop the BNP from gaining more than 6,000 votes in the city. They received significant votes where they stood and increased their vote in the wards where they stood last year, except in Abbey Green.
All the other parties and anti-racist and anti-fascist groups who distributed leaflets and papers throughout the city that merely hurled abuse at the BNP and carried slogans like 'Vote Hope not Hate' had little success in reducing the vote for the BNP.
For an excellent example of how to do so, they would do well to look at the result achieved by Stoke Socialist Party in Abbey Green.
Abbey Green was the only ward in the city where a fighting socialist alternative was put forward. In four weeks Stoke Socialist Party sold 404 copies of the socialist while canvassing. Our leaflets exposed the policies of New Labour, which provide the breeding ground for a rise in support for the BNP.
When we stood in Abbey Green for the first time in a by-election last September we polled 61 votes. This time our candidate, Steve Pugh, polled 312, a staggering increase of 500%! This despite the fact that our vote was squeezed by many who voted Labour to keep out the BNP.
Abbey Green was the only ward where the BNP's vote went down. We have clearly demonstrated in action that by exposing the anti-working class policies of New Labour and providing a genuine socialist alternative we can stem the growth in support for the BNP.
In The Socialist 19 June 2004:
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