A new BNP presence mobilised local anti-fascists in Bermondsey recently by delivering a spiteful leaflet warning that immigration might lead Bermondsey to “end up like Peckham and Camberwell”. A picture showed a west African shop front. Having surveyed nearly a thousand households in Peckham in the past six months, I can see the power of this appeal because the character of Peckham town centre was by far the most frequently raised issue. But how to respond to the BNP whipping up racial explanations?
Southwark Green Party have recently published our action plan for Peckham, detailing 17 ways that we could improve the town centre. I hope that this positive and practical response to peoples varied and valid concerns, very few of which seemed motivated by racist or xenophobic views, is exactly the kind of thing that can help counter the BNP. Like it or not, a lot of people are unhappy with the way that Peckham has developed in the past decade, and the most visible change is the growth in West African churches, nail bars, hairdressers and food shops.
Just labelling “concerned of Peckham” as disgusting racists (which the BNP hardcore are, of course), or laughing them off, won’t convince those hundreds of people who feel that they have lost their town centre to traffic, litter, shops that don’t serve their needs and unwelcoming roads, in a city where housing and public transport is becoming ever less affordable.
We need more anti-fascists to come forward with local proposals and action plans to respond to local concerns. They should put, at their heart, the idea that a supported local community can revitalise and take control of their local area. This surely must be the best way to win people back to positive politics, and away from the politics of hate.