Saturday, 16 May 2009

The BNP in Rotherham - A Year On

A year since the local elections, where two BNP councillors gained seats from long standing Labour councillors in the Rotherham Borough. John Gamble took the Brinsworth and Catcliffe seat from the Mayor of Rotherham and William Blair, Maltby, from long standing Labour councillor Glynn Robinson. Headlines then were “Labour Disaster”, “Damning Indictment”, “Shock Results Outcry at BNP”.

I have recently commented that then, there was debate about how BNP policies might affect Rotherham and that concerns were shown by many. So, almost a year to the day, I again went to interview Cllr Will Blair at his home in Maltby, where his pigeons still flutter in their lofts in the garden and his poodles still seek attention around visitor’s legs. Previously, I had asked him if I could quote directly from a list of BNP policies. This time I asked him if I could put questions from residents of Maltby directly to him. His answer was the same “Ask me anything you want - I am here to help the people of Maltby and Rotherham and to try make it a better place to live”.

We began by discussing the everyday type things that Will Blair has done for the local community – funding football clubs, Christmas parcels for the elderly, an Easter Egg Hunt, supporting local artists, schools and a dance club. Then there’s the less obvious things which Will says only came about through people asking him personally to get sorted – drains, street lighting, the cemetery cleaned up and taps put in, trees and hedges maintained in streets and parks that might not otherwise have been done. He believes in encouraging people to report things of concern to him and people do, he says. He is a member of RMBC’s “Sustainable Communities” scrutiny panel and also “Adult Services and Health”. This work involves him in research on diabetes, which he enjoys because it brings him into contact with ordinary people.

But Cllr Blair is elected as a Borough Councillor representing the British National Party, a name which has for a number of reasons, become synonymous with racism and even fascism. More than seventy religious leaders from across a range of faiths in South Yorkshire have recently publicly urged people to shun the BNP in next month’s elections. How can the politics of such a party support and improve things for the people of Rotherham? How much influence does the BNP have on this councillor’s day to day business?

“Being in the BNP, you have to do better than the rest, to prove that you can make a difference. Labour have done nothing. Many Labour councillors have been in the job so long, used to doing nothing for so long, that they don’t want to do anything. When a new party comes along it has to promote itself and make it acceptable to the people. When people see this happening and that the party is doing what they were elected to do, they will be voted in again. Voted in on their policies, not on what colour tie they wear.”

Will Blair insists that the BNP is neither racist nor fascist. He says that the party stands up for British people and that in fact he is not influenced by their policies.
“The BNP do not dictate what I do. I must serve the people of Rotherham and work for Rotherham Borough Council to the best of my abilities. The BNP can advise, but it is the people who will decide. The BNP listen because their members have studied at the University of Life. We need a government who really knows what people want; a government of ordinary working class people.”
He cites many occasions when he has personally helped families who have had racial problems and tells me again that he has no qualms whatsoever about mixed marriages. What he is concerned about is people who he says come to Britain “looking for work” instead of “coming to work”.
“Polish workers, for example”, says Blair, “might come here and work for £150 a week. This is not enough for them to live on and so their earnings are topped up by benefits. Yes, the benefits system is wrong, but we should not have to pay out of our taxes for people who are not born here. If they come here then they must be able to support themselves and their families without help from the state”.
I have to ask at this point about the Ghurkas. Should they be allowed settlement in Britain ?
“Absolutely, no question about that” is the reply.
Based on what they have done for this country during the war?
“Yes. Those people gave a lot to Britain and we should give back to them”.

I am still not clear, since our talk last year, of how the BNP decides on who to allow to stay in Britain and who must either not be let in or sent back to their “own” country. I am still not clear on whether I am “indigenous” or not – I am sure my ancestors came from either Scandinavia or Europe. How many generations do we go back before we can live here under BNP policy?
Will Blair does not believe that this is an issue.

He believes that the only thing that the BNP are guilty of is standing up for the British people – that’s the people who have come here to build it up and carry it forward.
“People came to this country after the war and helped to build it up again. They and their families have as much right to live here as anyone. People came from Poland, from India, from Pakistan and worked in the woollens mills – they made their homes here. We can’t tell them that the mills are closed now so they have to go.
But, like any other nation, we can not afford to have people who take up houses and give nothing back. At the moment this country is saturated.”

So where do we draw the line?

“You have to draw the line when the people who are coming change the British way of life. “
And is this happening ?
We discuss the comments of Labour MP Shahid Malik at the “Global Peace and Unity” conference. Malik stated that Britain will be an Islamic state with a Muslim Prime Minister within the next thirty years and is clearly in favour of this. The BNP are not. Is this not racist, then?
“No, it’s not racist. If we had an Islamic state there would be Islamic law. This can not be right for Britain.” No one needs to explain to me (married to a Palestinian, now a British citizen) the ins and outs of Sharia law or the implications of an Islamic state. But whether this would actually happen without the input of the BNP is debatable.

I ask what can be said about former colleague, Cllr John Gamble, ejected recently from the BNP.
“Basically, he broke the rules and did not do his job properly. If that is the case, then you have to go, which is what happened”.
The situation within Maltby Town Council ? This has to be asked, as it is his home town and the place where he runs his business.
“When the police are called to a Town Council meeting, there is something wrong. When the council is not representing the views of the people, there’s something wrong. Maltby people are not being represented well by the people they voted for, so it should be closed down.”
No one could accuse Will Blair of not getting straight to the point.

The proposals to turn Maltby Community School into an academy trust ?
“There has not been enough public consultation. Further consultation needs to be done to make sure it is what the residents of Maltby want.”
And finally, would you stand in the next General Election and how do you think you would fare?
“Yes”, he says, “I would stand, and it would be up to the people to decide if what I represent is what they want.”
How do we know you wouldn’t then turn into the type of person that is power crazy?
“I wouldn’t”, he says simply, “because that’s just not me”.

Cllr Will Blair seems to be a “man of the people”. He wants people to know that what he does now is what he has always done, not just because he is a councillor. But with the backing of his party, he believes that he has the support to give Rotherham what it needs and deserves. he appears to be a thoroughly "decent" man.

But I still can not marry up his views with the party he represents.
The latest BNP propaganda leaflet specifically quotes that they "oppose the drive to give 80 million low wageMuslim Turks the right to swamp Britain". The BNP will "ensure that British soldiers are not abused on the streets of our cities by Muslims". Are these not racist and extremist views?

It is well known throughout history that in times of economic crisis and public disillusionment with the ruling parties that far right extremist parties gain the upper hand. This is, as I believe happened last year, often a vote against what we have, not a vote for what we might have. That can't be the best way to elect. I tell Will Blair that I wish he as an individual stood for any other party, except the BNP. I tell him that until the BNP define an "indigenous" population, in a sensible working way, then they can not have credibility. He says that no one can be completely with 100% of the policies of their party. I think that you can. And if you are not, then you should not be a representative of that party.

Only “the people” can decide on that.

(Since this interview with Will Blair, Labour MP Shahid Malik has stepped down as Justice Minister pending an inquiry into claims about his expenses made in the Daily Telegraph.)

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