I do miss not being behind the counter at CoffeeHouse as much now that I’ve moved back of shop. You don’t get much BNP debate in the mainstream media – which is, of course, part of the problem. So I thought I’d respond to the comments from my recent post via another post.
Jeremy Watson and Vulture ask why I’m so keen to trash the BNP and Griffin – and ask if I’m guilty of the same kneejerk liberal reaction that I accuse others of. A fair point: ‘racist’ can seem like a playground chant, and any rebuttal of the BNP needs more detail to be credible. The Westminster parties’ failure to grasp this, in my opinion, has led to the BNP’s rise. Yet I oppose them for the racism reason. The party incubates and legitimises genuine racism. To look at a person’s skin, and think ‘you don’t belong here’ – even if they are third generation British – is abhorrent to me. The BNP has cleverly learned to bury these racist sentiments beneath legitimate concerns about immigration. If the BNP becomes part of the British political furniture (and thanks to Blair’s LibDem-appeasing decision to elect Euro MPs on a PR basis, it will be for the next five years) then its presence will become a space where racism will always have room to breathe. I think it important that a free society doesn’t give anyone that space. And to confront it robustly if it does arrive. When Hitler started National Socialism in Germany it started off with 2 percent of the vote. So I don’t think you can write the BNP off on account of its small support. And these sinister theories of racial purity or segregation are not uncommon (see Laura’s proposal for white-only areas in Britain).
Snowman says he is surprised that the BNP don’t have more support, given the extent to which their non-immigration policies overlap with public opinion. I agree that the striking feature in Britain is not how many votes they have, but how many they don’t. The BNP are the only party other than UKIP advocating British withdrawal from the EU – bear in mind that the European Commission’s own research shows that just 32 percent of Brits think our membership of the EU is a “a good thing” whereas almost 100% of Westminster parties think it is a good thing. This is just one area of huge mismatch, which creates space for the BNP and other minority parties. A Gallup-EU poll* shows (p7) just 17 percent of the public trust Westminster. This chimes with the findings of the Power Inquiry. There is a huge market on a ‘plague on all your houses’ party. Westminster just cares about swing voters in swing seats and ignores the majority of voters. There is an almost structural hostility between the masses, and the Westminster parties pitching for their votes. This, in European history, has been the condition for the emergence of a fascist party. The conditions are perfect for a mass protest party.
So why has the BNP not done better? This, IMHO, is because Britain is the most tolerant country on earth and the BNP’s racist agenda repels people. It is, fundamentally, un-British. We are, through empire, the original multi-ethnic state and today’s young people judge racist arguments as being more bizarre than repugnant. If the BNP can successfully fight off the ‘racist’ tag – and leave the skinhead thuggery to new groups like the English Defence League – they could get a lot more support.
Simon Stephenson says it’s time to explain better why we hate the BNP. I totally agree. The lobotomized left (which I distinguish from New Labour at its peak) are characterized by debating via two main tools: hysteria and name-calling. A look at the opinion polls shows how successful this tactic is. But the voters repelled by this are not all coming to the Tories. It’s a reminder just how counter-productive namecalling is. Which brings me on to...
Peter, TGF UKIP, Simon Stephenson and Tim Carpenter, who all point out that the BNP is left wing. I agree: Lord Tebbit is right to say that their policies (nationalization, mass state control) are leftist. Hitler’s party was called National Socialism for a reason. The word “fascism” comes from the notion of collectivism (ie, sticks bundled together being harder to break). And the BNP are targeting white working-class voters who feel abandoned by Labour so they can in many ways be seen as a splinter-group. So the “far right” shorthand is flawed – but to call them “far left” in print would be a diversion too far. I may well revise my opinion on that, but I’ve so far stuck with the commonly accepted language.
Old Fogey says that the BNP has a strong message against Islamism – and that this is distinct from racism. He is precisely right. There is widespread disgust at the way Islamic splinter groups are trying to wage a cultural (and often terrorist) war against their adopted country. This disgust spreads from the Spectator's own Melanie Phillips to mainstream Muslims like Saira Khan, who wants to ban the burkha. But when these criticisms are met with names like “Islamophobe” and “racist” it hammers home the BNP’s main point: that mainstream politicians (and the media) don’t understand, and are trying to malign ordinary concerns. Old Fogey’s argument goes some way to explaining BNP support. People do need to hear it.
Jim mentions that the BNP opposed the bank bailout. I forgot to add that to my list of non-immigration policies that the BNP advocate. Again: they do have policies over a range of issues, and that if anyone on the QT panel tries embarrass Griffin by asking him about non-immigration issues they may be unpleasantly surprised. The gulf between the public and the Westminster consensus is wide not just on immigration, but a whole load of issues. Griffin will seek to plonk himself in that gap – whether on Europe, finance, the sale of British utilities to foreign companies, anything.
Peter From Maidstone say the problem is not the BNP but Westminster consensus. I agree and am hoping the QT debate will force them to rethink their strategy and, who knows, maybe the Tories might start talking about the no.1 concern in Britain: immigration. Thatcher killed the NF stone dead in 1976 by referring to immigration “swamping” Britain. Consequently, the NF lost all their deposits in the 1979 election, when people had expected them to make significant inroads. So yes, the BNP are a symptom – the myopia of Westminster is the cause.
Dave John asks if I would like to go up against Griffin on that panel. Certainly not. You need a debater there with better skills than yours truly – us hacks are at their best when behind a computer screen. QT will need that fifth panelist to balance out what I suspect will be four white middle-class politicians. Us print hacks have a tendency in broadcast to speak too quickly, and to try to insert subclauses in our argument that work in print but not in broadcast. Basically, you need a knock-out debater in that role, or who can use jujitsu against Griffin. How about Sir Andrew Green from Migration Watch? He knows the subject literally better than anyone, and is the most likely to expose Griffin’s ignorance. There could be two non-party people on the panel: perhaps balance him with someone fiesty like Shami Chakrabati. If CoffeeHousers can suggest someone else, please do.
* Coffee Housers may mistrust EU polls, but the Eurobarometer survey it conducts is the largest poll in the world. It asks the same questions and is difficult to fudge. It is one that I do regard as hugely authoritative.