Reality check, 12.5.06

The success of the BNP in the local elections last week has created hysteria about the threat to Asians from the rise of the far right.

But Eastern Eye will show this week that it is Tony Blair’s policies that remain the greater threat to our rights than the marginal BNP.

We think that concern about the BNP’s policies, which include a halt to “all further non-white immigration” and “voluntary resettlement” of non-whites “their lands of ethnic origin” are a distraction from the real battle for British Asians in 2006 – the fight against draconian laws passed by a Labour party that has relied upon our community’s support since the 1960s.

Instead of wasting our time worrying about the BNP, we should worry about Blair.

Look at the facts. Last week’s local election results saw Labour crumble to its worst loss in local elections since it gained power in 1997.

By contrast, it was Conservative’s best local election performance since they last won national power in 1992. The Tories gained the most seats overall, winning net gains of 316 seats, taking Croydon, Ealing and Crawley in the process.

But it was hype surrounding the BNP fielding 350 candidates across England, which gained publicity in the mainstream media, with a Labour MP, Margaret Hodge (Barking), claiming 80 per cent of white families in her area were “tempted” by BNP.

In reality, the BNP remain a fringe party considered ‘neo-nazis’ by most of the population. The party has just 48 seats in England, out of 22,000 in Britain. Up until last Thursday’s local elections, it had a paltry 20 seats.

Environmental campaigners, the Green Party, have 91 seats.

In Scotland, the BNP do not even have a single council seat.

A lot of fuss has been made of the BNP winning 11 out of 13 seats it contested in Barking and Dagenham, to become the second-biggest party in that London borough.

It is hardly an endorsement of its halt-immigration agenda, as just over two per cent of the borough’s population is Indian, which is the largest Asian group.

And hardly an endorsement of the BNP’s claim to represent the white working class, as it gained 17 per cent of the vote in a rundown borough with an 85 per cent white electorate.

The BNP won its first council seat in 1993 in a by-election in the Millwall ward of Tower Hamlets, only for Labour to win it back with a extraordinarily high turnout in a full-borough election the following May.

In last year’s General Election, the BNP failed to win any of the 119 constituency seats it contested. In fact, it gained just 0.7 per cent of votes in that election. In the same year, it lost its only council seat in London, and was later criticised for using a picture of the bombed bus in a failed attempt to win another seat back.

The BNP won 14 per cent of the vote across Oldham’s two parliamentary seats in the 2001 general election, in the year of the Oldham riots, but fell back to just six per cent in 2005. Earlier this year in Keighley, it lost a seat on Bradford council, when Labour won by 503 votes.

And BNP leader Nick Griffin was filmed by the BBC describing Islam as a ‘wicked, vicious faith’.

Last week’s election also saw the BNP claim seats in Epping Forest, Stoke-on-Trent and Sandwell.

Amid the hysteria and xenophobia of the local election coverage, the real issue for British Asians should be whether Tony Blair deserves to be our Prime Minister after his ruthless attacks on our civil liberties:

Convicted without trial There has been at least 2,000 Anti Social Behavioural Orders (Asbos) issued, but of that, 40 per cent are breached and more than half of those who breach Asbos end up in custody. There is a fear that this type of discipline is not following the traditional route of the law.

Freedom of Speech The Terrorism Act, which came into force last month, makes ‘glorification’ of terrorism an offence. Aimed at Islamic extremists, it could also apply to people who voice their opinions, for example, on Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe or Chinese president Hu Jintao. Blair failed to win a battle to outlaw the incitement of religious hatred, something that means Asians will continue to be mocked for following their religion in this country.

Guilty until proven innocent The age-old saying of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ has been reversed under the Blair government. A new Police and Justice Bill has given the police more power, allowing them to fit police tags on suspects for an unlimited period without referring to a judge. The Government has also brought in curfews for children under 16, who could be escorted home if they are seen on the street after 9pm, and banning hoodies in public places.

Habeas corpus The excuse of terrorist attacks has allowed Blair to hold foreign suspects without charge. Initially, Blair had wanted to detain suspects for 90 days, but a judge ruled against that. After last month’s Terrorism Act, terror suspects can now be held for 28 days without charge.

Privacy Tony Blair wants people to carry a compulsory ID card, where all of our details, including biometric information, will be kept on a national database. He claims the ID cards will help in the war on terror and will assist in preventing crime. But both opposition parties believe the Big Brother-style policy will be ineffective and could trigger more crime.

Protests In the same breath, the government also proposed to restrict our right to protest. Last year’s Serious Organised Crime Act banned any unauthorised demonstrations, which would have included a ban on loud protests near Parliament. One woman, Milan Rai, is so far the first person to be convicted under the Act, after she stood in Whitehall reading the names of the soldiers killed in Iraq.

Torture The war on terror seems to be getting worse for Blair, particularly after claims that the CIA have used British airports to transport terrorist suspects for interrogation to countries that may use torture. There is believed to have been 200 of these torture flights since 2001.

Gareth Crossman is the policy director for human right’s group Liberty. Mr Crossman told Eastern Eye: “The government tends to react to issue, from crime to terrorism, with tough legislation.

“Quite often, this type of legislation can be counter productive. Recent Bills like the ‘glorification’ of terror… don’t help solve the problems and are not very helpful.”

Zulfi Bukhari, spokesman for the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, said Blair’s policies are acting as a platform for the BNP to build on.

Mr Bukhari said: “Some of Blair’s policies on civil liberties have allowed the BNP to build on and use them against the Asian community in this country.”

Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, believes people should not be frightened by BNP’s gain in the elections.

Mr Bunglawala said: “We should not be alarmed by the election because there is still a force of law and order in this country, and the party tapped into a recent rise of anti-Islam sentiment in certain areas.

“But there are misguided policies on terrorism being passed through the Government that are more of an immediate concern to people in the country than the BNP are right now.

“The wording of the Terrorism Act last month, particularly, is vague and ambiguous and does not help people living under oppression.”