Unfortunately the British National Party (BNP} won a council seat in the Tilbury and Thurrock Park ward in Thursdays [1/05/08] local council elections. * This was hardy surprising as Tilbury has been hit hard by the policies of the New Labour Governments. Not least by its refusal to remove from the statute book the anti trade union legislation that was first introduced by Margaret Thatcher. Tilbury is a shadow of its former glory, once a thriving industrial area at the center of which was the Port of London. Which at one time employed thousands of unionized dockers plus many hundreds in the industries that serviced the shipping, ship repairing, transport, ships chandlers etc, all of which operated a close shop policy hence the wage rates were above the UK national average.
Today the Port of London has been totally privatized, even down to the abolition of the Port of London Constabulary; and is now mainly operated by non union labor. Although when the T@GWU closed down their local office it hardly helped instill confidence in the local workforce. Instead of closing its office down the trade union should have used it as a base from which they could recruit new members and raise wage rates in the retail parks like Thurrock Lakeside and Bluewaters and the warehouse complexes that service them that have sprung up on brown build sites in the surrounding areas. With government plans already coming into effect to build a super port down river on the site of the old Shell Haven oil refinery, at Stanford le Hope, the Port of Tilbury’s days are clearly numbered.
To the east of the town in the marshes near where Queen Elisabeth 1 made her speech, “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too,” stood two large power stations. Tilbury A, which has now been demolished and Tilbury B, which is not operating at full capacity and is due to be decommissioned soon. With it will go hundreds of jobs plus those of the construction workers who periodically service and repair its massive generators and boilers. Whilst there is talk of a third Power Station being built on the site, that is all it is, talk!
The people of Tilbury are experiencing something not dissimilar to that which occurred up river at Dagenham, which has failed to recover from the chronic unemployment that was created when Ford Motor Company upped and left without a backward glance leaving social devastation in its wake, When the Labour Government was first elected in 1997 there were high hopes that the area would be rejuvenated, but when this did not occur and the government simply added to their woes Tilbury people became politically demoralized and very angry.
Due to its social desolation the area has some of the lowest house prices to buy or rent in the South east of England. Which in turn has attracted a mass influx of newcomers from overseas which has hardly helped build a sense of community, something that Tilbury was once famous for. Understandably many locals see the newcomers as competitors for the limited amount of council housing, local health care provisions and eduction that is available within the area. To demonstrate how limited some of these resources are, Tilbury people have to travel 14 miles to the nearest general hospital which is situated in Basildon. If you add in the lost jobs and factor in that the political Left has been unable to offer the people of Tilbury a viable political alternative, then as I said at the top of this piece it is hardly surprising that they have voted for the BNP.
That they did not vote for the Conservative or Liberal-Democrat candidates in great numbers is interesting and tells one that by voting for the BNP they are expressing their contempt for all the mainstream party’s, for they have come to believe that these party’s do not have there best interest at heart. Since the 1920s Tilbury has always returned Labour councillors, by voting BNP they are also telling the LP in very clear terms that they no longer regard them as honest brokers.
When the BNP last won a seat in Thurrock in the Grays Riverside ward it came as such a shock to the Labour Party, trade unions and the anti fascist movement that it acted as a wake-up call, which resulted in all of these organizations working hard over the following year within the Grays area. The outcome of this was that the BNP was defeated at the following years election.
Whilst a similar campaign will be needed in Tilbury if the BNP are to be stopped from using Tilbury as a bridgehead into other deprived areas of Thurrock. In itself it will not be enough, for unless the English left can unite within a single political party which will offer the most impoverished section of the working class a viable alternative to the BNP then these people may be lost to the Labour Movement for good. For the BNP have finally woken up to the fact that they can win seats within areas which are made up of socially deprived working class people and lower middle class owner occupiers.
Tilbury Riverside provided the disillusioned and socially deprived working class voters and Thurrock Park the lower middle class owner occupiers. The left will never win over the latter, but unless we regain the trust of the former the nazis will continue to gain support.
* Thurrock’s Tilbury Riverside and Thurrock Park ward.
British National Party
June Ann Brown