Is this the end for the British National Party? I know that sentence reads like one of those headlines in the Daily Mail to which the answer is always no, like ‘Do tramps give you cancer?’ But things are nonetheless looking a little grim for that doughty and loveable band of white supremacists who, the whining left kept telling us, were poised to sweep all before them, like Guderian’s elite XIX Corp at the Battle of Wyzna.
Is this the end for the British National Party? I know that sentence reads like one of those headlines in the Daily Mail to which the answer is always no, like ‘Do tramps give you cancer?’ But things are nonetheless looking a little grim for that doughty and loveable band of white supremacists who, the whining left kept telling us, were poised to sweep all before them, like Guderian’s elite XIX Corp at the Battle of Wyzna. This did not happen — and it may be that we have David Dimbleby to thank for that, of which more later.
The thing is nobody these days worries terribly much about the BNP; if there is a far-right group attracting attention it is surely the pie-faced shaven-headed loons of the English Defence League, and they are not bothering anyone electorally. The BNP, which 12 months ago had become a compelling cartoon bogeyman to frighten the kiddies, a formidable electoral force as a consequence of its newfound ‘respectability’, which had somehow sent two MEPs to Brussels, is now back in the abyss, where it was before Nick Griffin took over its leadership.
As is usual among far-right groups in Britain, which is one reason why they never get anywhere, the BNP is busy purging its ranks of traitors, reds, buggerers, etc — these being the usual accusations levelled at people who disagree with the leadership’s line. Most of its articulate spokesmen, except for Griffin, have been kicked out or suspended — most recently, three of its senior activists in Yorkshire, including two members who worked as assistants for the BNP’s MEP, the deeply weird former leader of the National Front, Andrew Brons. Others have been barred from meetings, including Michael Barnbrook — aka ‘the odd copper’ from Bexley, a retired police officer who once stood as a candidate for Ukip.
There have been a whole rack of expulsions since the general election, during which Griffin told the police that a colleague was trying to kill him, and the BNP’s website was sabotaged by the bloke who had set it up and now claimed he hadn’t been paid. There has always been dissent and discord among these preternaturally fractious and, arguably, certifiable people; most of the early British neo-Nazi parties were divided upon such ideological issues as who is to blame, the Jews or the Wogs, and who had the better economic policy, Mussolini or Julius Streicher or Ernst Rohm. And in the BNP, between the ones who want the darkies kicked out legally and humanely, if possible, and the ones who just want to do a spot of Paki-bashing. But Nick Griffin, being affable, articulate and at least semi-competent, was able to keep this discord in check, straddling the middle line while tending privately to the left. (I mean by comparison, obviously.) And while he did so the party began to rival and arguably surpass in its electoral successes the achievements of the National Front in the early to mid-1970s.
But the general election of last year effectively did for Griffin. The party fielded more than 300 candidates; it was expected by some that they would win in Barking, where they held 12 council seats, which is why Griffin himself stood. But they were humiliated and lost all of those seats, and their vote in former strongholds — the old milltowns of the north-west, in Stoke, in the north midlands — went down, not up. Since then the BNP has almost evaporated. At a council by-election last week in Salford the party came well behind those new crypto-fascists on the block, the English Democrats. And in two parliamentary by-elections, in areas where they had previously done very well indeed (Oldham and Barnsley), they were beaten out of sight by Ukip. Indeed, it looks very much as if Ukip is taking votes from both the BNP and disenchanted Labour voters, where previously it took votes from the Conservatives. To tell the truth there is not a lot of difference between the BNP and Ukip policy-wise — in fact I cannot find anything of substance between them except on economic policy, where Ukip is identifiably of the right. There is, of course, a considerable difference throughout of tone.
So why has the BNP failed so dismally? Partly because vicious factionalism is an intrinsic component of such parties, as John Tyndall, A.K. Chesterton and even Oswald Mosley would tell you. But more to the point, it was undone by the thing it craved: publicity. When Nick Griffin appeared on the BBC’s Question Time he did not — as the bedraggled bands of ranting idiots screaming ‘nnnnnnoooooo platform for racists’ insisted he would — appear a compelling and plausible figure for whom one could happily vote. He appeared to be instead implausible and forgettable, a man (not a necessarily unpleasant man, on the face of it) patently out of his depth. And leading a party whose manifesto and ethos was riven with contradiction and absurdities.
I was not keen on the way in which Question Time dealt with the BNP issue — consumed by the hysteria of the media, and the band of cretins insisting he should never have been allowed on air, they were forced into the position of making Griffin the whole story. But still, that appearance and the attendant coverage occasioned by the appearance did more harm to the BNP than a thousand ranting protestors could have ever done. And it should be a lesson to the left; it is not always the oxygen of publicity, it is often the cyanide of publicity. The BNP are finished as a force because, against the odds, a democratic reflex afforded them exposure and they were found out.
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