Reactions to Oldham and Bradford Riots

What is still arguably the most intriguing aspect about the initial riots in Oldham, and in Bradford - first time round - is the great difficulty in finding out, what had gone on. Even months afterward, events in Bradford remain clouded in allegation and counter allegation.

Was it really 'outside agitators' who sparked the trouble? Or once the torch paper was lit, did Muslim youth exploit the opportunity to exact retribution on ancient Hindu rivals? Typically the Left maintain that Asian youth were merely 'fighting back'. But against whom? The inference is that the aggressors were not only white, but were also 'National Front supporters'. Was it NF supporters who burned the eight cars outside the pub hosting a Hindu wedding, or did they own them?

The reason for asking these question is not rhetorical. Remarkably as in Oldham, despite the apparent media absorption, it is still far from clear who, or what, sparked the trouble.

Safe to say this smearing of the lens can hardly be accidental, and rather strongly indicates certain interests see political advantage in the whole truth not coming out. Obviously for the more conservative elements on the Left, that an institutionally racist police colluded with 'fascists' by not responding early enough to the swaggering aggression of the NF/C18/BNP (take your pick) is axiomatic. Fine, it is one explanation, but hardly the whole story, which is possibly the most damaging feature of the whole affair. Simply put, it is patently obvious to everyone that entirely for partisan reasons, the word of the Left simply cannot be trusted. If anything, it is as likely to lie as the is the far-right. Indeed for reasons we will go into, the left is now far more likely to do so. For instance, after the Bradford riots in July, the ANL line was that "Nazis had rampaged"!

Slightly less surreal was their role in the row following the attack on the Oldham pensioner Walter Chamberlain. Within a day, the BNP had adopted him as their 'poster boy'. Here was proof they said that 'no-go areas' existed. Whites were the primary victims of race attacks in Oldham, and something needed to be done about it, the BNP insisted. Not so, countered the Left. The attack on Walter Chamberlain was an 'isolated case'. It was in addition not even properly 'racist'. And any talk of 'no go' areas was a myth being peddled by an 'irresponsible media'. Motivated by hatred of the Macpherson report, police simply invented race attack statistics as back-up. A compelling theory, but as a chain of evidence, it is entirely bogus.

Atypically, even Republican News, was suckered by the seductive choreography. Challenged in the letters pages by AFA on the all important chronology of events, Fern Lane, the RN journalist in question insisted, without any attempt to quote sources, that the sequence of events peddled by the ANL/SA was accurate, and went as far as to question AFA's motivations in suggesting otherwise. Had she done her own research, she would have discovered that statistical evidence of racially motivated Asian attacks on whites was substantial. Neither is it a recent development, as available statistics stretch back as far as - 1993. The attack on the pensioner happened on April 21, days after the 'no go' allegations, (by Asian youth incidentally), were made to BBC's Radio Four. In other words it was the PC view of events she regurgitated, not the police figures, which had been doctored.

'Spin' apart, it is hugely instructive to note, that liberals generally struggle to find ways to express regret, much less condemnation for the attacks by minorities on whites, even when the victim is a pensioner, even as in Dover, when a twelve year old girl was slashed by a refugee, or even when, as in the case of Richard Everitt in 1993, the attack ended in the the murder of a schoolboy.

In contrast to the BNP, who strategically have no difficulty in condemning all race attacks these days, the SWP just cannot bring themselves to do so. Partly because it would be an admission that possibly anti-racism was not working, and partly from the rather quaint belief that only 'black people can be the victims of racism'. So regardless of any actuality, this 'greater truth' is the story the SWP is determined to tell. This is in stark contrast to the situation in the 1970's. Then it was anti- fascism that invariably stuck to objective reality and it was the NF who felt obliged to rigidly adhere to doctrinal orthodoxy. Not that the BNP are any more honourable than their predecessors. Hardly. It is just that if they lie less these days, it is because they don't have to.

A primary reason they rarely over-reach, is that 'race is everywhere'. A little over a week, following the best vote for the far-right post war, banner headlines in The Guardian and The Independent wrestled with each other to prove which section of the public sector would next wear the 'institutionally racist' label. One forecast it would be the CPS, while the other the NHS. Within the week, London Mayor Ken Livingstone's race adviser Lee Jasper insisted the entire school system too, was irredeemably bigoted. 'Black only' schools were the answer he announced. An echo of an earlier call from the head of an advisory housing body who had sought to justify 'black only housing'.

And despite displaying a certain degree of alarm, liberals when challenged, remain insistent calls by blacks for segregation are 'qualatively different' from identical demands made by the BNP. So when Nick Griffin calls for a 'peace line' in Oldham, the left feign outrage. Meanwhile the spokesperson for the CRE Chris Myant, can welcome the news that race is topping the agenda as a "positive development", while at the same time as former CRE chairman Herman Oueseley comments on the "brittleness of race relations in Britain".

But even in the midst of such manifest muddle, should AFA, say, pose the questions: 'Is anti-racism working?' or 'Can the LSA beat the BNP?' the uniform response is to close ranks, while calls to stone the messenger receive a sympathetic hearing.

In the same vein, when the Oldham Chronicle, correctly took the ANL to task for "effectively doing the NF's work for it - winning it publicity without out it needing to do anything itself", the ANL, in the interests of a free press, denounced it for "pandering to Nazis" and launched a campaign against the paper. But when Oldham MP Phil Wollas alarmed by BNP influence, argues that "the traditional tactic of the anti-racist movement must change" he is largely ignored. Traditionalists presumably assumed his analysis is purely geographical. 'Oldham' rather than multiculturalism is the problem they reassured each other. But that was before Burnley blew up. And before Bradford exploded for the second time. And are race relations so much better in neighbouring Rochdale, Keighley, Halifax? All of them towns, where AFA was required to physically beat the BNP into submission in the early 1990's. On one notable occasion in 1993, following running battles with AFA in the town centre in the run-up to an election, a BNP candidate got a total of nine votes - even his sponsors didn't turn out.

What has changed in Burnley and nationally, is that in the seven years since the 'no marches, meetings, punch-ups' capitulation in 1994, the BNP climb from the fringes has been relentless. From 1992 to1997 their national vote went up five fold. In the Euro-elections in 1999 it tripled again. In 2002, support in London leapt again, with a four fold increase bringing it up to 80,000 votes. In all of this it is most important to remember, that the Socialist Worker/Searchlight stance has been to deny, deny, deny. Both have worked tirelessly, even up to the point of fiddling results to sedate its own membership and anti-fascism in general, at every juncture. (In recent weeks, the SSP leader Tommy Sheridan has gone on record in the Weekly Worker as saying that the BNP's vote actually dropped at the last election!) Characteristically, when Weekly Worker addresses the Wollas warning it scrapes out the kernel 'change' and takes issue with the authoritarian husk'', and even gives credence to Michael Meachers' claim that of the almost twelve thousand BNP votes in Oldham no more than a 'dozen or more are racist'. What has so far also been totally ignored, is that unlike the 70's, 80's and 1990's instead of the clashes being between left and right, they are now inter- communal and inter-racial.

Prior to the election, the SWP was insisting it was 'not always wrong to follow a liberal bourgeois agenda'. Tacitly many on the left agree. But what is painfully manifest since the election, is that the entire Left also endorses a liberal bourgeois analysis.

With the BNP, already recognised as the 'radical alternative', by the media at least, and will we must now assume, confirm this with council seats next May, how much longer can we wait for the Damascene conversion?

In the interim what choice there is for the conservative left is unavoidably bleak. As we have repeatedly pointed out, it can conform to the European pattern and stick with a liberal agenda, deliberately stripped clean of class content, or it can - break with it. Given that much the same left were absent when the fight was physical, any real optimism it will respond with any greater courage when the challenge is political is practically non-existent.

What is more, the Socialist Alliance is politically stale. As an 'alliance', it is repeatedly shown to be utterly devoid of imagination, integrity and intelligence. It is conspicuously failing, and deserves to do so. Not only is failure, even by its own terms, seemingly assured, but for radical prospects apparently necessary. Unreconstructed socialism would like us to believe it's time has come, when in actuality, it's - time is very nearly up.

Reproduced from RA Bulletin Volume 4, Issue 12, July/Aug '01