Saturday, 8 May 2010

Christianity’s hijackers sent packing

During the 1990s I was Team Rector of a parish on the Becontree Estate in Barking and Dagenham. I had the privilege of serving as Mayor’s Chaplain in 1997 following Labour’s historic victory on May 1st. One of the people I got to meet on several occhodgeasions was Margaret Hodge, elected MP for Barking in 1994. I remember chatting with her at the Mayor’s dinner about the new Labour government’s priorities for education.

Towards the end of my time in Barking and Dagenham I became very aware of an insidious menace establishing a presence in the borough. The BNP opened an office and began to target the borough as a base for its local and national operations. They sought to feed on the uncertainty and confusion in communities trying to come to terms with massive economic, social and demographic changes and eventually established a foothold. As a result 11 BNP councillors were elected to the borough council in the 2006 elections. While this was deeply depressing the upside was that people experienced just how useless the BNP councillors were and quickly became disillusioned.

At this year’s General Election Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP, stood against Margaret Hodge in Barking. One of the highlights of the election results was hearing the news that Griffin had been trounced by Hodge as the electorate made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with the BNP’s odious policies. Griffin left the election declaration with Hodge’s words ringing in his ears:

The message from Barking to the BNP is clear — get out and stay out. You're not wanted here, and your vile politics have no place in British democracy. Tomorrow you're going to lose councillors and tomorrow we're giving you a clear message — pack your bags and go.

Hodge’s prediction proved accurate as the BNP went on to lose all 12 seats they had held on the council and so they were completely wiped out in the borough. It now looks likely that Griffin and his lackeys will relocate out of the area and there is much speculation as to Griffin’s future. This defeat of the BNP is testimony to all the hard work done by party activists, local churches, other faith communities and residents in the borough. It is also a victory for the sam campaign headed up by Hope Not Hate. I am particularly pleased for Sam Tarry, son of my friend Revd Canon Gordon Tarry (Team Rector of Barking), who was elected as a councillor and is the Chair of Young Labour. I have seen how much work Sam and his colleagues have put into campaigning against the BNP and their victory on Thursday is well deserved.

One of the most disreputable tactics of the BNP has been to attempt to hijack the Christian faith in promoting their policies. The BNP ran a particularly offensive campaign in the run up to the European Elections in June 2009. Their posters carried an image of Jesus Christ on the cross and quoted part of a verse from John's Gospel (John 15:20) in which Jesus says: "If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you". The irony of this campaign was that they used the image of someone they would not have allowed to be a member of their political party according to their own membership rules at the time.

So it’s good riddance to Griffin and the BNP and a great opportunity for the people of Barking and Dagenham to work for the building up of peace and the common good in the community. I continue to pray for them.

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