With the election to the European Parliament of BNP leader and convicted racist Nick Griffin, British politics has entered a subtly different era. We were hoping that the storm over expenses would lead to a higher vote for smaller parties: well it did, with UKIP gaining 2nd place nationally, and the Green Party’s vote up by 44% nationally. However, Britain still only has the two Green MEPs it has had for the last 10 years and the one place where this is a tragedy more than anywhere is in the North West, the new European seat of Nick Griffin, where the Green Party needed only 0.3% more of the vote to overtake him and to occupy the seat instead. Even on the night of the count, as the ballot results rolled in from around the region it looked like the Greens were ahead time and time again… 13.6% in Manchester, ahead of the Conservatives in Manchester and Liverpool, ahead of the LibDems and on 14% in their stronghold of Lancaster. But when the Returning Officer took the agents and candidates aside and revealed the final seat allocations, the Greens still needed an extra 0.3% of the vote to overtake the BNP, and the seat went to Britain’s leading fascist Nick Griffin, instead of the Green, Peter Cranie, a former social worker and a life-long anti-racist campaigner.

This is – ironically – exactly what the Greens predicted and feared happening. Their www.stopnickgriffin.org.uk campaign – masterminded by Cranie and run by the Greens’ London mayoral candidate Sian Berry – consistently put forward the case that it was highly likely the last seat in the region (out of the 8 seats in the D’Hondt system of allocation) would go to the small party that finished last, and that was going to be either the Greens or the BNP. This turned out to be exactly the case. Unfortunately for want of a further 5 000 votes on their total 127 000 votes, the Green Party lost out to the fascists. Even if you think 5 000 sounds a lot, it is still only 3.3% more than the Greens had already secured, and when you break that much needed extra down between the 1003 wards in the North West, it comes down to an extra 5 votes that the Greens needed in each ward. Five.

Little wonder then that despite the messages flowing in from all quarters of “well done anyway” and “better luck next time”, those closest to the campaign – I can authoritatively say – are absolutely and completely devastated, upset at not only missing out so narrowly on electing a Green MEP, but being just unable to prevent Britain’s chief racist from entering the European Parliament instead. The contrast could not be more stark: Green or fascist, Green or fascist? Fascist, comes the answer from the electorate of the North West.

Disturbing times. However, to be fair to the electorate although the BNP’s nominal percentage share rose by +1.6%, their number of votes actually went down by 2 865 from last time (all figures are from the BBC results page for 2009 and the BBC results page from 2004). One factor of course is the much higher percentage turnout last time – over 40% in 2004. This means that to have more-or-less survived a slash in turnout the BNP vote has been fairly resilient, but the Greens did even better, improving their nominal percentage share by +2.1% from last time, which is a real increase of 9740 votes (compared to the BNP’s decrease).

All the more gutting then for the Greens to be beaten when they had got 96.7% of the way towards defeating Griffin. And for those who have wondered that maybe voting Green was not the best way to beat the BNP, the Green argument was – bitterly – proven right: because of the D’Hondt system used to allocate seats, while the Greens needed only an extra 5 000 votes, Labour would have needed 50 000 extra votes to gain the next seat and the LibDems an extra 30 000. Please feel free to experiment with the results I have put in to this D’Hondt online calculator http://icon.cat/util/elections/ikuQWEsDuh to see for yourself how it all works.

So, all in all the StopNickGriffin campaign was justified; it is a crying shame that just 5 more people per ward in the North West did not hear about it and respond to it.

Already Griffin has garnered huge media attention. Even when he is attacked by egg-throwing protesters he can get 10 minutes of chatty continuous dialogue with a BBC presenter about it on News 24, and high billing on the BBC nightly news. From now on every time Griffin and the BNP are attacked they can say – and he is already saying – “but we’re elected, the people voted for us, if people are trying to prevent us from speaking that’s harming our right to free speech and is not what the decent ordinary white people of this country want to see”. And it’s working. The BNP are now acceptable, the BNP are winners. Great. And the media – as they tacitly did during the campaign, are still helping them: the level of probing question from the BBC is, frankly, lame, and indeed, the broadcasters have a huge problem now. The only cutting question they can ask is to repeat over and over again: “But Mr Griffin, you’re really a bit of a racist aren’t you?” and every time they say it, Nick Griffin’s calm, controlled and reasonable-sounding answer is “No, we represent ordinary people, and ordinary people have elected us to represent them”. And you know what? He’s right. They have. And the Green Party had an opportunity to get in his way and narrowly missed out, leaving not a platform of hope for the future – of tackling climate change and inequality, of improving the quality of people’s lives – but a platform and agenda of hopelessness, hate, bigotry, misinformation, climate denial (already started in Griffin’s first interview on Radio Five) conspiracy-theories and class-warfare.

If this is not a wake-up call for the British political establishment, and for the decent average British voter, I don’t know what is.
But the solution, in this instance, at least, was not to vote Labour or Conservative or simply anything other than BNP. Because of the way the voting system works the only solution – advocated by Greens from the start and now borne out by the firm evidence of the result on the day – was to vote Green, and for whatever reason 5000 too few people listened to or heard about that; and as a result we have a convicted racist representing us.

The damage that Griffin’s platform can do cannot be underestimated. In exactly the same way that the Greens were hoping to win a seat to build a growing movement for political reform, for social justice and for environmental sustainability, the BNP will now be using the resources of the European Parliament to build a national and pan-European network of anti-immigrant, anti-non-white sentiment: £61,820 a year in salary each for Griffin and for his elected Yorkshire fellow fascist; nearly €200 000 a year in staff costs, a daily attendance allowance of €279 a day each if they actually bother to participate in any parliamentary business (figures from The Times).

Make no mistake, we are going to be hearing a lot more from Britain’s racists, and this might signify a seismic shift in their ability to capture the imagination and support of a certain section of the public. Instead of a whole new generation of young people growing up with the knowledge that a Green vote is an effective vote and that Green politics is a viable and rewarding route forward, the BNP will be sending a message that fascism and bigotry have a place in politics, and that racists can make legitimate campaigners too. We could be seeing the start of the political process as a vehicle for fascism and race-hate; “target-to-win” fascists turning up on your doorstep asking you to vote against immigration, emboldened by the fact that they now represent two thirds of the North.

The consequences for Britain in five, ten or twenty years time are also potentially immense. We saw running street battles with skinheads in the 70s… We will see the same again? The likely shocks to the global economy and to civil society from climate change and from the peaking of the availability of cheap oil were always likely to bring to the surface the more disturbing elements of political philosophy. Disastrously, it looks like those elements now already have a head start (the BNP are looking forward to peak oil which they describe as an opportunity: “Peak Oil is yet another example of how the current political process has failed the people of this country, how the short-sightedness of most of our corrupt, incompetent and downright traitorous politicians is very shortly going to create one awful mess and we rightly identify those individuals, those systems, those institutions that have been responsible for that collapse”.
As with everything in the way the BNP look at the world, every horrible crisis is for them an even more horrible opportunity; an opportunity to divide, blame, scape-goat and corrupt.

The election of these racists is indeed a disaster, but the solution is simpler than ever: to confront the really relevant issues in a pro-human rights way, we need the Green Party, and we need people to support the Green Party.

There will and should be an internal debate among the North West Green Party themselves about how they could have done better, and in the Green Party more broadly about the level of national support given to the North West campaign.

But one thing is now above all clear; painfully clear: The Green Party matters. The Green Party is important, and if a few more people had realised this at this election we would have an MEP standing for hope, not hate, here in the North West. We need as many people as possible to support and join and become active in the Green Party because it turns out we do have it within our power to stop bad things from happening and to make good things happen instead.

It’s all the more important that people work hard to help the Green Party grow and defeat Nick Griffin next time – as the Green Party clearly can.
But this time, we have failed, and the only possible good thing to come out of that failure is the increased motivation and determination to make sure we do not fail again.

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