Analysis: This was a victory for all those who elect hope over hatred

By Martin Bright, May 13, 2010
Quiet triumph and relief at an extraordinary political deal, the new Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg

Quiet triumph and relief at an extraordinary political deal, the new Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg

Labour, Liberal Democrat or Tory, Jewish or non-Jewish: a string of results from last week's election should be wholeheartedly welcomed by people who care about British democracy.

The stunning victories of Margaret Hodge in Barking and Jon Cruddas in Dagenham and Rainham mean that the British National Party has been destroyed (at least for the time being) as a credible force in the politics of this country. To this achievement, campaigners can add the real satisfaction of witnessing the BNP lose every seat on Barking and Dagenham Council. Before this election, a nightmare scenario had emerged in which local mainstream politicians warned of the chilling possibility that the extreme right would take control of the council, allowing the BNP to build a real power base. In an area where community relations are already fragile, this outcome would have been explosive.

At the same time, the fear that the BNP could establish itself across the north of England did not materialise. Concerns about immigration failed to translate into a surge of votes for the far-right. Perhaps we should have had more faith in the British people.

Instead, the BNP was completely routed, demonstrating that it is possible to oppose the politics of fear without pandering to anti-immigrant sentiments.

The MPs themselves must take a great deal of credit for this. But so too must the Hope Not Hate movement and its cheerleader, the musician and songwriter Billy Bragg.

In the end it was Hope Not Hate rather than Cleggmania which proved to be the sustainable political phenomenon of this campaign. Hundreds of young people, fired up by the fight against fascism, descended on the two east London constituencies to distribute leaflets and argue the case on the doorstep.

Jewish donors to the campaign, which was co-ordinated by the longstanding anti-fascist group Searchlight, can be justly proud of what it achieved.

A similar popular movement against the totalitarian tendency was at work in the neighbouring constituencies of Bethnal Green and Bow and Poplar and Limehouse, where George Galloway's pro-Islamist Respect Party was heavily defeated. As with the BNP further east, the local council elections were also significant and Respect now has only has one councillor in Tower Hamlets.

Although the Labour Party is licking its wounds nationally, it should congratulate itself for its campaign in Barking and Dagenham, where its MPs provided the bulwark against the extremists of the BNP. Less has been made of the triumph of Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick against Respect in the East End of London. But here too Labour provided the only viable alternative to the politics of hate.

The campaign by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee to target pro-Israel or supposedly Islamophobic MPs also failed. In a bitter campaign in Oldham, former immigration minister Phil Woolas kept his seat, as did Tory Lee Scott in Ilford North and Labour's Mike Gapes in Ilford South. The suggestion that MPAC campaign successfully unseated Andrew Dismore is absurd. The Zionist credentials of his victor in Hendon, Matthew Offord are well established. He will have no truck with the divisive nonsense peddled by Mr Dismore's detractors, who were described by the Community Security Trust in last week's JC as "notorious for viciously abusing and intimidating candidates whom they dislike".

The humiliation of MPAC, which is led by Asghar Bukhari, a self-confessed funder of Holocaust denier David Irving, is an important political moment as much for moderate Muslims as for the organisation's opponents.

Supporters of Israel across the political divide will be comforted by the election of Luciana Berger, director of Labour Friends of Israel; Richard Harrington, Executive Chair of Conservative Friends of Israel; and CFI's political director Robert Halfon. Ms Berger, Mr Harrington and Mr Halfon will take their places on the green benches alongside pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist colleagues and MPs with no interest in the Middle East.

Far from providing evidence of the "tentacles" of Israel identified by Labour's Martin Linton (who lost his seat), they are the living proof of the vibrancy and diversity of British politics. None has hidden their advocacy of Israel. But in Liverpool, Watford and Harlow their constituents will judge them on how well they represent their interests in Westminster.

There is now a serious job of work to be done by the incoming government on the issue of community cohesion.

At first sight, Eric Pickles is not the obvious choice for Communities and Local Government Secretary. However, he is a highly influential figure within the party, with close links with the grassroots. His appointment suggests that the new government is taking the issue seriously. For too long, ministers have failed to recognise the full diversity of ethnic minorities and faith communities and Mr Pickles will have to work hard to persuade people that the new government has some fresh solutions to the entrenched problem of political alienation and radicalisation among young Muslims.

One lesson of the televised debates seemed to be that the viewing public was turned off by old-style political point-scoring. Hopefully, the lesson of the wider election is that sectarian politics just doesn't work.

Last updated: 2:05pm, May 13 2010