The story of HOPE not hate’s campaigning

The phrase HOPE not hate was first coined as a campaigning tool, in order to differentiate our more hopeful message with the hatred of the British National Party (BNP). It quickly became the name of the organisation and it continues to be an excellent way to define who we are and our campaigning. Our CEO Nick Lowles explains more.

From the very beginning, we knew we just couldn’t be ‘anti’. Many people, especially those we needed to engage with most, were put off with negative campaigning and wanted to support something more positive.

Stressing the ‘HOPE’ in our work is – and has always been – vital. Time and again we have sort to extenuate what people have in common, find positive stories and uplift inspiring voices.

Our campaigning takes place around elections, within communities and digitally online. For the first few years of our existence it was largely focused around defeating the BNP in elections. We identified and targeted anti-BNP voters with passionate pleas to turn out and vote, we identified those who could be convinced by addressing their issues of concerns and debunking the myths circulated by the far right. For those who our message is least likely to reach, we either ignored them, so as not to irritate them enough to vote, or produced harder hitting leaflets highlighting the extremist or criminal nature of the far right candidate or party.

A central premise of our approach was to localise our campaigning. We knew that every area was different and people got rightly annoyed when they believed that they were being told how to think or behave by people who did not understand them or their issues. We produced regular local newsletters, customised for the local communities we were campaigning in, worked in our target areas all year round and relied heavily on local voices to carry and amplify our messages.

HOPE not hate is well known for its campaign to defeat the BNP in Barking and Dagenham in 2010, when, over the course of three months, we distributed 355,000 newspapers, leaflets and letters across the borough in a bid to stop the far right party from winning control of the council. The mobilising of 541 people for one day of action, who together delivered 92,000 newspapers in four hours, was the biggest single turnout of any party or campaign group in the 2010 General Election campaign. Two weeks later, another 395 people helped delivered another 55,000 leaflets. The heavy defeat of the BNP in the election led to the party imploding.

While Barking and Dagenham might have captured most attention, we worked tirelessly and over a far longer period in other areas of the country, including Burnley, Oldham, Bradford and Sandwell.

One of the key elements of our campaigning is to always treat voters – even those who are likely to be attracted to the far right – with respect. People support the far right for a whole host of reasons, so understanding this, addressing their concerns and gently introducing new concepts to them is crucial.

After the collapse of the BNP in 2010, our attention turned to challenging the threat of the English Defence League. Again, we approached this from the perspective of turning the threat posed by an EDL demonstration into an opportunity to bring communities together. We sought common ground between communities against an external threat, got people to think about what they like about where they live and addressed real or perceived divisions in a real and constructive way.

We rarely supported counter-demonstrations, believing this only heightened tensions and alienated locals, preferring instead to organise positive and peaceful cross-community initiatives before and after the day of the EDL demonstration.

One of our strengths of our campaigning work is that it draws on the knowledge, experiences and skillsets of other elements of HOPE not hate. We rely heavily on our research team to alert us to the threats and to our opponents plan, while we use our Policy team’s understanding of the drivers of fear and hate to help design our messaging.

We increasingly use sophisticated data analysis to help guide our campaigning. In the Batley and Spen parliamentary by-election, held in June 2021, we produced different leaflets for different areas of the constituency, based on the likely political and attitudinal views of voters.

We also organise online, both mobilising our supporters to take action or by highlighting and even shaming social media companies, politicians and or the media more generally. In 2011, we took on the Daily Star and secured a commitment from its editor and the Managing Director of its parent company to stop writing about, and promoting, the EDL. More recently, we have used our online campaigning to force social media companies to remove extremist content and change their policies and algorithms.

Campaigning is an agent for change and as such will remain at the heart of our work.

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