There is no escaping the reality. The British National Party have finally made the breakthrough they have been threatening for some time. Admittedly this has been due in no small part to voter apathy, but the voters of the North West now have Nicholas John Griffin as one of our representatives in Europe.
This is a travesty, but no amount of protesting or wishful thinking is going to change it. While in one sense it was pleasing to see the mass anti-fascist protest in Manchester last night, the truth is that these demonstrations are unlikely to achieve anything significant.
So, what can be done? There have been two principal ways of combating the BNP. The first approach has been to play down their signifcance. While not ignoring them, supporters of this way chose to try to marginalise the BNP, starve them of publicity and portray them to the public as politically irrelevant. I'm sure this approach may have been successful in some areas but here in the North West there is no point taking that tack now. It is an inescapable statement of fact that the BNP are in a very strong position here and will look to become even stronger.
The alternative approach has been to "fight the BNP". This often took the form of active protest and demonstration. We have seen the BNP being publicly heckled, the emergence of organised campaigns such as "Hope not Hate" denouncing them and a number of mass anti-fascist rallies across the North West. We have even witnessed various politicians and senior clergy urging the public not to vote BNP - something I always thought was counter-productive. If there is one thing certain to encourage people to consider voting BNP it's the patronising out-of-touch political class telling us who not to vote for. ("I'm going to vote BNP, simply because you b*****ds don't want me to" is a sentiment I've heard a few times myself.)
I'm not convinced that this effort to "fight the BNP" has been the right "fight" to take up. Firstly, it gives the far-right publicity is doesn't necessarily merit. Secondly, it is always a reactive approach, with protesters responding to the actions of the BNP. There must be a more pro-active route to combating fascism. The media's tactics have proved completely ineffective and have only served to enable the BNP to play the role of political martyr and to claim discrimination.
My own remedy would be to stop "fighting the BNP". It is not the BNP we need to fight, but their ideology and the basis for their support. Instead of openly responding to them, as various hecklers did outside Manchester City hall on Sunday night, we should avoid unnecessary confrontation. We shouldn't be directing our anger towards Nick Griffin and his ilk. They don't deserve our anger - they deserve our pity.
Of course, what should be challenged is the BNP's racist and ill-conceived agenda, and their understanding of Britishness and British history. This ideological battle doesn't have to be argued in an open forum, although I personally would have no problem sharing a platform with Nick Griffin. I'm not afraid of his lies and weak arguments. But what actually has to happen is for politicians and community groups to join forces - not to openly fight fascism - but to facilitate greater understanding between various social groups, to help broken communities to learn to live together. We need to challenge the BNP's ideology not by fighting it out with them but by going into our communities and helping to create the peaceful and tolerant societies that people want.
We can't be afraid of talking about the kind of issues that the BNP want to talk about. In places like Blackburn, where by brother lives, there is a commonly held perception that non-whites are given preferential treatment. We need to be willing to discuss these ideas with people, and challenge perceptions rather than ignore them. We need to listen to people's concerns and fears and respond to them, so the BNP don't capitalise on such fears, while at the same time educating people about the realities the BNP are keen to distort. And we need to do this sensitively, to draw the community together rather than further divide it.
This will not be easy, but the "Hope not Hate" message can be carried more effectively through this kind of approach than any mass-leafleting campaign. To quote a Labour Party slogan: we need to "go forward, not back". We need to move on from the fears, misconceptions and prejudices that have paralysed community relations in some of our communities. We can show the BNP that people can move forward and reject their simplistic and hateful politics. Only this way can the BNP be defeated.