Brighton: a history of fascism?
Brighton has traditionally been seen as a ‘liberal’ city: a place of diversity with little discrimination or prejudice. In fact, Brightonians usually seem to be quashing fascism rather than promoting it. But at the end of last year a list of BNP members was leaked onto the Internet, giving not only the names but addresses and telephone numbers of its members. The website fishmech.net/bnp allows its users to type in their postcode and, like a search engine, it will come up with a list of members closest to you. I could not resist trying this for myself expecting to find the nearest member in Hastings, but to my surprise there were at least eight BNP members within a mile radius of my house.
This raises the question: just how liberal is our city? Yes, it is supposedly the gay capital of Britain, but does that mean that all inhabitants are accepting of all sexualities, races, religions? It has been rumoured that Oswald Mosley’s (the founder of the British Union of Fascists) last march was on Brighton’s very own “The Level”.
‘To my surprise, there were at least eight BNP members within a mile radius of my house.’
Unfortunately, as much as I tried I could not find this out for certain, it appears to be a thing of legend that goes in the guide books. Apart from that small, and possible mistruth, the BNP has never had a strong grounding in Brighton. That was until 12 December 2008 (ironically, Human Rights Day) when the BNP tried to ‘re-launch’ the party in the area by holding a meeting in Hove. The meeting led to almost 200 citizens of Brighton and Hove and students coming out in force in protest of the group’s legitimacy. The protest consisted of a mixture of the student body including USSU sabbaticals, Brighton MPs from the Labour and Liberal Democrats and Green Party, United Against Fascism, and the National organiser of “Love Music, Racism”, Lee Billingham.
Lee Billingham discussed why he thought it was so important for people in Brighton and Sussex to stand against the BNP, “I think that the BNP are trying to get respectability for themselves and their ideas…they’re about race, hate, about homophobia and about destroying democracy so I think the majority of people have an interest in stopping them from growing by any means necessary”. One of the favourite chants of the evening was “The BNP is a Nazi Party, smash the BNP!” and there were many signs and placards displaying similar messages. I asked Lee if he thought this was an extreme view to take, “I think it really hurts them, because they’re trying to fool people into voting for them as a protest vote. I think a lot of people are tempted by their ideas and maybe agree with them about immigration or some of these things, but if they understand that they’re a fascist party, that is hell bent on discriminating and on propagating
violence against minorities, they won’t vote for them… I think there are lots of ways you can oppose them but exposing them for what they are is the key thing.”
‘Although there were plenty of people at the protest, one could not help noticing that it was a white majority. One protester suggested that “it might be a fear of being identified by the BNP and targeted.”’
Although there were plenty of people at the protest, one could not help noticing that it was a white majority. It seems I wasn’t the only one who noticed, because Nicky Heywood, a resident of Brighton and Hove, approached me to comment that “It struck me how few black people there are here. I can’t say for sure but it might be a fear of being identified by the BNP and targeted.”
Left-wing sympathisers have been targeted in the past through the website “Red Watch”. This is an extremist rightwing website featuring pictures of suspected socialist and lefts i.e. “reds”. Unlike the leaked BNP list there are pictures of anyone suspected of having socialist sympathies as well as some personal details; there were one or two photos featured from Brighton but the majority were from West Sussex. It does also have a pre-requisite before you enter the site that “I understand this website contains no threats nor is it intended that the material should be used for any unlawful activity”.
In my attempt to find out more about the BNP, and possibly be able to infiltrate their meeting, I called them asking for the details of the meeting saying I was interested in becoming a member. Unfortunately, they couldn’t give details unless I was already a member due to fears of people “ruining” the meetings. I did however sign up for an information pack, and was assured that should I attend a meeting I would have lots of people to talk to as over half the members are women. The information pack I received was an interesting read. I was particularly taken with their section entitled “The Young.” The party discuss how they would protect children in the future from paedophiles by introducing “Sarah’s Law” whereby parents are allowed to know if there are registered paedophiles living in their area. This has been a topic of debate for some years now and aligns with various other (less extreme) parties’ views. But, it is difficult to take it more seriously when they say “Police and social workers seem to be more worried about protecting perverts than children”.
While these kinds of publications are extreme, to say the least, it is still within the BNP’s rights as a British political party. But here at Sussex the Student’s Union has a no platform for fascism policy where no fascist organisation is allowed on campus. Lee Vernon, the USSU Finance Officer, explains this position: “We (the Union) recognise that the BNP are an openly racist, homophobic and xenophobic and wherever they organise bring only violence. They go against everything we, as a Union and our members, stand for. To those who say we should allow them to speak, I say the BNP has no interest in debate, only to further its own racist agenda using violence and intimidation”.
Second and third year students will remember the commotion that was caused in the summer term of last year when a BNP member was going to be asked to speak on campus. This caused mass debate among students, half of whom did not want to give a “platform to fascism” and half of which thought that by banning speaker, it would infringe on their freedom of speech. The USSU Welfare Officer Richa Kaul Padte was involved in the campaign against the speaker, states that “intellectual discourse has done nothing to break down policies that are inherently irrational and based on unwarranted prejudice and discrimination.
But every time the BNP is allowed to speak, and are given a platform for debate, it legitimises their party”.
Sussex and Brighton are not under any direct threat from the BNP and seem unlikely to in the future; it seems that should the BNP ever try to make a mark here at Sussex, there would be a vast majority who, in the nicest possible way would tell them to f…go away.