We need more hope and less hate to defeat the BNP

PR Week 09_06_11 BNP campaign PR Week has another story on how the BNP managed to win two seats in the European parliament:

‘Hope Not Hate’ campaign ‘did not connect’ with communities

Questions have been asked about a recent UK campaign ‘to counter racism and fascism’ following the BNP’s success in the European elections.

The Hope Not Hate campaign was founded by anti-fascist organisation Searchlight and had been worked on by Blue State Digital, the consultancy behind Barack Obama’s online success.

I’m quoted:

But Stuart Bruce, MD of Wolfstar, was not convinced that YouTube attack videos and mobilising activists via the internet was an effective approach.

He said: ‘The professional classes may by motivated to go out and campaign against the BNP, but I do not think it did anything to connect directly with people in the communities being targeted by the BNP. The proportion of people that a digital campaign could reach in these communities is tiny.’

I’ve had a couple of people ask me to expand on my thoughts, so here’s the full text of what I said:

It’s probably useful background for you to know that for seven years (until 2006) I was an elected local councillor for Middleton Park in south Leeds. Middleton Park is a very white working class ward with lots of council and social housing. It was always a BNP target (it won its only first Leeds council seat in the neighbouring ward of Morley South). In the last local elections (2008) the BNP came within 49 votes of winning Middleton Park.

Personally I think one of the problems with Hope not Hate’s campaign was that it was too much hate and not enough hope. Simply attacking and demonising the BNP can actually have the opposite effect.

Look at where the BNP won its votes. It was in communities that are feeling threatened and alienated. Trying to just portray the BNP as racists isn’t enough when what the BNP is saying is resonating with people on the ground. Instead we should make more effort to understand the real despair that people feel and connect with them on a more local level.

I’m not convinced that Blue State Digital’s emphasis on tactics like YouTube attack videos and mobilising activists via the internet was the right approach. I can see how it would be successful in motivating the ‘professional classes’ to actually go out and campaign against the BNP. They might respond to YouTube videos superimposing Nick Griffin’s head onto Hitler’s body, but I don’t think it did anything to connect directly with people in the communities like the one I used to represent that are being targeted by the BNP.

According to MORI 80% of ABs have personal internet access, compared to less than 40% of DEs. The proportion of people that a digital campaign could reach in these communities is tiny.

What worked for Obama was using the internet to organise activists and get them out on the doorsteps talking to voters and delivering leaflets. You can’t just replicate that approach in the UK and expect it to work in the same way. Local communities with their own problems don’t want ‘outsiders’ coming in and telling them how they shouldn’t vote, especially not when the BNP talking to them about issues that concern them are often from their own community.


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://www.paulseaman.eu Paul Seaman

    Useful post. I would add that the Tory campaign premised on "there is nothing British about the BNP" is also going in the wrong direction. The BNP are as British as David Cameron, Gordon Brown or as I am. Bans don't work either. The BNP's ideas – as far as they are coherent – need to be defeated, or exposed for how contradictory and daft they really are, by rational argument. However, let's not panic. Their vote is declining and their support is soft rather than committed. Arguably, they are winning online, which is something I discussed here:

    http://paulseaman.eu/2009/03/the-web-suits-the-bnp-better-than-the-mainstream/

  • http://wearesocial.net/ Robin Grant, We Are Social

    "Local communities with their own problems don’t want ‘outsiders’ coming in and telling them how they shouldn’t vote"

    Ain't that the truth:
    http://mammon.typepad.com/root_of_all_evil/2008/11/us-election-2008-remembering-guardians-operation-clark-county.html

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robskinner robskinner

    Stuart
    Your analysis is absolutely spot on. One of the best commentaries on the BNP's election success I've seen anywhere.