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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.

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5 Comments

  1. Hi, the battle on the level is no myth although you’d think so as it’s been (conveniently) left out of history books about brighton.

    Indeed the recently published book “brighton crime and vice 1800 – 2000” by doulgas d’enno has no section at all on racism / fascism (then again he conveniently missed the fact that we have a top author called peter james who write about our city too)

    This book has full account and photos of the battle on the level.
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/43-Group-Untold-Against-Fascism/dp/0903738759

    One person recently said to me “im fascinated by the swing between the politics of bohemian and right wing”. i had to tell them that “bohemian” is not a political persuasion.

    I actually think it’ll be the apathy of the masses that allow the right to resurface

    re the comment about sussex not being under threat from the BNP email me and we’ll have a chat, i think you’d be surprised.

    mike

    Reply
  2. It wasn’t so long ago that Brighton held it’s own traditional May Day celebrations (similar to those in Europe), usually involving unions and left wing groups with stalls etc along Madeira Drive. This would often be attended by skinhead groups trying to cause trouble but they were always vastly outnumbered. The last one I remember was perhaps early 1990s ?
    In the early/mid 80s problems with skinheads groups was pretty awful in most small towns outside Brighton. They would patrol trains going back up the London – Brighton line kicking shit out of anyone too black/ Jewish. I had two firends whose noses were broken for being “nigger lovers”, and others who were hung out of moving trains for other “offences”.

    As to whether Sussex is under threat from the BNP – every area of society is under threat of fascism at the moment.

    The BNP are not interested in debate and anyone who thinks they are is foolish. Just because these people wear suits nowadays dosn’t mean they have changed. The idea that they would be at the place I (and possibly my children) go to study makes me feel ill.

    Reply
  3. If you look at the figures Brighton and Hove’s population is 94% white so obviously the overwhelming majority of people protesting there will be white. Whilst is has this very hippy, integrated image in reality Brighton is white middle class all the way. You want multicultural? Got to St Leonards or Eastbourne; places with cheap rents are way more multicultural than Brighton.

    Reply
  4. It appears West Sussex has a long association with Fascism and the British Union of Fascists with Oswald Mosley running blackshirt summer camps all along the coast.

    Though discussions of it is extremely limited on the internet .I have found some information on this :-

    http://www.westsussex.gov.uk/ccm/content/your-council/news-room/facts-about-west-sussex.en?page=21

    With the death of Diana Mosley on 11 August 2003, a latent curiosity in the British Union of Fascists (BUF) may have arisen. Diana was the most beautiful of the six Mitford sisters and widow of Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the BUF, and totally enamoured with Adolf Hitler.
    Most of us today would reject the BUF cause and its more odious policies but that was not always the case. Indeed, certain elements of its policies, such as protection of the British farming industry from cheap and inferior imports, still currently elicit sympathy with a significant proportion of the electorate.

    Even in 1937, the general tone of correspondence in the Worthing Gazette was that Fascists as individuals were essentially loyal and patriotic but the system of government they advocated was not. But with war clouds gathering and the government and press engendering “fifth columnist” hysteria, attitudes towards the BUF were to change. Following the outbreak of war, 800 leading Fascists were imprisoned without trial as the Habeus Corpus Act was suspended.
    So much for the background, but was there much local support for the BUF?

    The answer is that of all the counties in the UK, West Sussex was seemingly a hotbed of BUF activity and it probably drew the greatest support and sources of finance from the county. In the south, the main centres of all this activity were the towns of Chichester, Selsey, Bognor, Littlehampton, Worthing, Midhurst, Petworth, Horsham, Cuckfield, East Grinstead and, biggest of all, Brighton. These people were not the skin-head followers that today we rightly or wrongly associate with the BUF’s successor, but respectable men, women and knights of the realm, many having become disaffected with the Conservative Party. They were not necessarily disloyal people – many had fought during WW1 and others were to fight for their country against Hitler and his policies during WW2.

    Worthing had a well-established Party HQ and was one of the few towns to elect a BUF councillor – WW1 veteran, Captain Charles Bentinck Budd. The vicar of Rustington was also a Party member. To illustrate the depth of support in West Sussex, the BUF’s well attended Summer camps were openly held at Selsey and Pagham between 1933 and 1937 and, of the 800 leading supporters of the Party detained without trial in 1940 under Defence Regulation 18B, approx. 100 of them came from this county. ”

    See the full article here

    also this book covers the topic of Fascist blackshirt summer camps in West Sussex and along the English coast! :-

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blackshirts-Sea-Pictorial-History-1933-1938/dp/095152531X

    a longer blurb can be found here

    http://www.stevenbooks.co.uk/product/936/BlackshirtsonSea

    Also Wikipedia describes a William Joyce and his involvement in West Sussex.As well as him,there’s mention of Norah Elam- theres a program on Elam and information on ti can be found here.

    More can be found here

    Reply

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