A broad coalition of local campaigners in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset have launched a major drive to stop the British National Party from making gains in the forthcoming council elections.
The ‘Unite to Stop the BNP’ campaign, led by the South West branch of the National Civil Rights Movement, has drawn support from a range of local trade unions, faith groups and community organisations, including the South West Trades Union Council.
Fears that the BNP might stand candidates in the rural communities of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset were raised last June, when BNP leader, Nick Griffin, attended a meeting in Newton Abbot at which the BNP proclaimed its intention to create a ‘white homeland’ in the South West. The party announced that it was drawing a line from Bristol to Bournemouth which would make South West England a ‘multicultural-free zone’. It now plans to field around fifteen candidates in the South West at the local elections to be held on 1 May 2003. Campaigners believe that the BNP is targetting wards with low turnouts where only a few votes are needed to get a council seat.
The first BNP candidate to contest a seat in Cornwall is Peter Mullins, a 66-year-old former Tory supporter and ex-RAF man. He currently works as the curator of the Daphne du Maurier and Smugglers’ Museum at Bolventor, on Bodmin Moor. Mullins is hoping for a seat on the Altarnun Ward of the District Council, North Cornwall. He recently told the Cornish Guardian: ‘At the moment Altarnun is beautiful and untouched. I wish to help preserve Altarnun and the rest of our British way of life. We don’t want the angst and stress here that we have in our cities.’
In North Devon, Peter Chantler, 39, is standing for a seat in the remote North Molton ward. A former chartered accountant, he now works as a sheep farmer – another natural Tory who has been won over to the BNP because of its stronger line on ‘forced multiculturalism’, ‘black crime’ and ‘political correctness’. In an interview with the Big Issue South West, Chantler said that he ‘does not believe homosexuality is morally right’. Chantler, who is unmarried and single, added that he supports the ‘traditional family’ based on ‘Old Testament Christianity’.
A third candidate is likely to be Tony North, the BNP’s regional organiser. In the local press, he has been trying to canvass votes by blaming high council taxes on ‘ethnic minority children and asylum seekers’.
In Somerset, the BNP is hoping to profit from a recent dispute over the building of a mosque in Yeovil. Clive Wakeley, the BNP’s Somerset organiser, has said that his aim is to ‘keep Yeovil English’. He added that ‘a mosque is totally out of place with a small country town the size of Yeovil’.
Further afield, in Salisbury, Southampton and Portsmouth, the BNP believes it can gain support from fears over local asylum seeker accommodation.
Across the country, the BNP claims it will be fielding 200 candidates in the local elections. But the party’s ambitions in the South West of England mark a departure. The focus is no longer the familiar inner-city stamping grounds. It will be disillusioned Conservative not Labour voters who will be their most likely converts. In order to win over this electorate, the party will attempt to tie in its attacks on ‘multiculturalism’, ‘political correctness’ and asylum seekers with countryside issues that have a more immediate local resonance. The danger for anti-racists is that the party will be able to build on widespread opposition to Westminster and EU farming policies, by arguing that only the BNP can preserve the region’s ‘unified English communities’ and their ‘way of life’.
If local issues are successfully ‘racialised’ in this way, then the BNP will have found a coded language for promoting its ‘white homeland’ strategy. And this strategy is aided by the widespread racism that exists just below the surface of everyday life in what the National Civil Rights Movement calls England’s ‘Deep South’.
The BNP’s intention to hijack countryside issues was demonstrated last year at the Countryside Alliance rally in London, when thousands of copies of a specially targetted magazine, the Countrysider, were handed out. The BNP has also established a ‘rural affairs’ website called Land and People. Its purpose as a front for BNP recruitment would not be obvious to the casual reader. And its message illustrates how the BNP believes it can turn insecurities among rural communities into votes: ‘Throughout the British Isles,’ claims the website, ‘there is a small but growing band of people who are determined to defend our British way of life from those who seek to destroy it… We support all peaceful protests and non-violent direct action aimed at curbing the tyranny of the out-of-touch, Politically Correct, urbanite Government, and at preserving the traditional identity, freedoms and independence of rural communities.’
In connection with the anti-BNP campaign, South West TUC has produced a booklet challenging some of the myths surrounding asylum seekers and immigration. The booklet can be downloaded from the TUC website.