Alex Massie

The BNP, the BBC and a Sense of Perspective

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Fraser makes a number of excellent points in his latest post on the BNP and I also agree that Jack Straw is not a great choice to debate Nick Griffin. Straw is too self-righteous for the job and, despite his lefty past, neither the bruiser he thinks he is, nor possessed of the kind of rapier wit that will, gratifyingly, make the BNP appear as the ridiculous oafs they are.

Nonetheless, it strikes me that there's rather too much hand-wringing about Griffin's appearance on Question Time. He leads, let us remember, a party that has never won an election that actually matters. Rather few than one in 60 Britons voted for the BNP in their "breakthrough" performance in this year's European Parliamentary elections. At a rough estimate that makes the BNP about as popular as a middling-sized Preimership football club. Everton, say. Or, if you prefer, the party's support is roughly the same as the population of Leicestershire. Heck, in these parts there are almost as many heroin addicts as there are BNP supporters. (Granted, this may say more about our affection for heroin than any disinclination to give Griffin and his bovver boys a hearing.)

In other words, as Fraser says, the striking thing about the BNP is not how much support they have but how little. No-one believes the Greens are on the brink of a historic electoral breakthrough, but the eco-warriors won more votes than the neo-fascists this year. Not that you would think so were you reliant upon our newspapers for your news or sense of perspective.

They are a grotesque and revolting and wrong bunch. Which is one reason why I'm not sure that I'm persuaded by this part of Fraser's argument.

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.

Hang on! In the first place, the notion that there's a conspiracy to avoid talking about immigration is something of a stretch given the tabloids' obsession with the subject. Secondly, the suggestion that BNP voters will be mollified if the Tories roll back the years to the good old days when Iain Duncan-Smith and Michael Howard led the party seems improbable. The BNP vote is essentially an anti-politics vote. Toguher Tory rhetoric - or even policy - on immigration might only dent, not demolish it. And in any case, it's not as though the Tories are terribly friendly to immigration liberals (of the classical kind). Thirdly, granting these vicious pipsqueaks the ability to influence the terms of political engagement gives them credit that neither their brains nor their numbers merit.

One may simultaneously be less than suprised that a million people will vote for the BNP while also believing that the electorate, as a whole, is sophisticated and wise enough to see through the BNP's antics and recognise them for what they are. That is, a million people can be wrong about anything but the public as a whole tends to be pretty, even remarkably, sensible. (Consider, for instance, that the electorate has chosen the right, or at least most deserving, winner in every general election these past thirty years.)

Debate the BNP or don't debate them: I'm not convinced it matters because I refuse to believe that they're on the verge of any kind of breakthrough. (Though to the extent that they are, this is a problem for the Labour party not the Tories.) As I say, they've no form in any election that people actually take seriously and I doubt that they'll have much to celebrate at the next general election either.

Five percent of the population can be relied upon to hold vile views on any number of subjects. Or, indeed, on any given subject. That doesn't mean we should think them giants and monsters or grant them a regrettable degree of influence.

Remember: they get beaten by the Green party. Not so very scary, then.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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