Monday, 9 November 2009

Interview with Janine Griffiths of LUAF 28/10/09

The Leeds branch of the Unite Against Fascism action group are always happy to speak with anybody about what they do. Their branch meetings around the area may be small but have been growing in popularity in recent months, and protests led by the UAF often call in more than a thousand supporters. On the 31st October, 2009, LUAF held a protest outside Leeds art gallery to oppose the EDL (England Defence League) who were holding a protest of their own on City Square, against, in their own words, "Islamic Extremism in Britain". Although trouble in Leeds remained at a minimum throughout the day, tensions were high, and the opposing ideologies protesting in such a small area as central Leeds stood to highlight the growing separation between political beliefs in the North.

Janine Griffiths is a leading member of Leeds Unite Against Fascism, and over a cup of tea in a pleasant city cafe she answered a few of my questions about the increasing popularity of both her beliefs and those opposing them since I last spoke to her before the European elections, as well as addressing some issues that the UAF have raised in the press.

Since the BNP won seats in West Yorkshire during the European elections, have you seen any changes in the attitude towards them in this area?

Not particularly in this area, I think there’s been a national change in attitude towards the BNP which I think is quite unfortunate. Since they won seats in the European election they have been invited on Question Time, and I think that's really helped to boost their image. I can’t remember the exact figure, but I know that Nick Griffin did boast that there had been an increase in interest in their party since they were shown on the BBC.

Do you think the BBC were wrong to let Nick Griffin air his views on National television?

I think they were absolutely wrong, many people say that they’re just exercising their democratic rights, but the truth is they’ve already been allowed to share their views in newspapers, why should they get more of a hearing than, say, the green party?

Did anyone from the Leeds UAF group attend the protests outside the BBC?

A few of the people from Leeds did go down to the protests at the BBC, because at the end of the day, they’ve got a convicted criminals as part of their party. They’re treated as a credible party, but really, they’re not.

Do you think sometimes the UAFs tactics can be counter-productive towards their cause?

No, not at all. There probably have been a few incidents where people have jumped on the UAF bandwagon and have started trouble, but you get that in almost any protest. The UAF as an organisation want to counter the BNP. Sometimes the advice from other parties is “ignore [the UAF], don’t attend the marches” and this year the police did advise people not to attend the marches, but to be honest I think the UAF has done a lot of work to try and get them [the BNP] out.

Was the storming of television centre a PR coup or a PR disaster?

I think it was more a PR disaster. I think anything the UAF do is going to be a PR disaster because we are seen as the extreme left, which we’re not really. We don’t want a – not an openly-fascist but certainly a racist party - parading round and gaining power.

What are your opinions on why the North seems to hold the most support for the BNP? Why did Nick Griffin claim that had the Question Time he appeared in been filmed in a northern town, he’d have had a lot more support?

First of all I think the North has more traditionally run-down working class areas, and not a lot of money is being pumped into them. It’s fairly easy for the BNP to then whip up paranoia in the people who live there. Secondly, you also get here the petit-bourgeois members of society – they’re not rich but they’re in a position where they’ve got businesses and they are feeling the effects of the recession, and recent polls have shown that the vast majority of the BNPs followers come from these types of people.

Have you got any thoughts, on the instability that’s been reported within the BNP since Nick Griffin’s quite disastrous the BBC QT appearance?

It depends, really, on their future performance. There’s always been a split within the BNP, with those who still support the old-school Mosely views , and those who want to appear more respectable. It depends really on whether they get a new figurehead, and what type of a figure head they become. Really though, I think that whether they are open about their old-school views or whether they stay with Nick Griffin or another person just like him, I don’t think the BNP will change much, or gain anything from a change in leader.

Why do you think people are still voting BNP as a protest when they’ve already seen that this can get them into power?

I don’t know if it was a matter of the BNPs votes increasing, or whether it was just a lack of votes in general that won them their seats. I also think their position has been helped by a lot of people’s fears about this so-called “influx of immigrants” which I don’t think has been helped much by the right wing press. And so I think a lot of people were pushed because they feel that Labour doesn’t do enough for them, when in fact Labour have brought in some of the most draconian measures out of any EU country to deal with immigration.

Where do you think the BNPs views have stemmed from? Why?

Well, I’d have to say two things to that – the first thing is that the core membership of the BNP is made up of fascists and racists, there’s an anecdote Nick Griffin once told about his school librarian asking him is he was a socialist and he said “yes, I am a socialist, a National Socialist”. It is people like that that make up the hardcore of the BNP party. Wheras the rest are just made up of people who are dissolutioned with Labour and feel that they aren’t really representing them.

Has there been an increase in activities by more extreme Right Wing groups such as the BPP and the EDL? Do you think they are bandwaggoning on the BNPs success?

I think they’re definitely bandwaggoning, although I think the EDL are linked to the BNP, so whenever the BNP win votes in an area, the EDL will always follow up with a march. Right wing groups have definitely been given more confidence from the BNPs little successes.

How do you think the EDL will react to Anti-Fascist demonstrations being held on Saturday (31st October) at the same time as their protest?

I think they’ll react the same way as they always do, by making advances, shouting racists remarks. I hope it won’t turn violent, but with thugs like that you never really know.

So do you think it will be like in Birmingham when they were throwing missiles into the crowds?

I think it’ll be very similar to how it was in Manchester where I don’t think they were throwing things if I remember correctly although a few of them did start they were sort of jeering at people and gearing up for a fight.

Do you think they should be allowed to partake in public demonstrations?

I think the people of the BNP already have a right to air their views, but the EDL should be banned simply because most of their demonstrations do turn violent. They went around smashing up Asian-owned shops, throwing things through the windows.

Have the views in the area changed since your campaigning before the European Election?

Definitely people are starting to realise how serious the threat is of the BNP, so we held an anti-fascist meetings and I started one up in Chapel Town and chaired the meeting there, and a lot of people are really starting to realise the seriousness of the situation.

What are your next steps to spread the anti-fascism message?

Well, the UAF are going to hold extra branch meetings. We also go into working class areas and try to speak to people about what the BNP really mean.

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