David Blackburn

The liberal centre’s continuing confusion on challenging the BNP

The liberal centre’s continuing confusion on challenging the BNP
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My recent post about the BNP has offended liberals as well as the hard right. Liberal Conspiracy’s Sunny Hundal writes:

‘David is highly confused. This is because he says: "The Spectator has maintained that the party’s domestic policies are inspired by racial supremacist ideology and that its economic policies are like Dagenham – that is, three stops beyond Barking." Yes, I’ll agree with that. The party’s domestic policies are indeed inspired by a racial supremacist ideology. Which is why people should avoid following those policies right? Except, he does on to say centrist parties “must engage with (and I mean engage with, not shout down)” BNP policies. What a muddle. ‘Engage’ is a mealy-mouthed word that usually means ‘follow’.'

Just to strike a blow for linguistic accuracy, I should point out to Sunny, who is the editor of Liberal Conspiracy no less, that although the word ‘engage’ has many meanings none of them is ‘to follow’. In the context of challenging the BNP, engage means ‘come into battle’ – that is the nature of a challenge, even in the abstract sense. In the context of those who vote BNP, engage means to 'take part' in a debate about their concerns.

However, Hundal’s singular use of language masks a more fundamental confusion. He writes:

‘Last week this govt announced some even more tightening up of immigration from non-EU countries. The Tories inevitably attacked them for not going far enough. But immigration from non-EU countries make up a small fraction of our immigration – most of it comes from the EU. Any problems that people face in housing, public services, increased labour competition and changing areas people face will be from other European countries not India, Pakistan etc.

The Labour Party has essentially moved to the Conservative Party position, which is the same as the BNP Party position, that they want to restrict non-whites coming into the UK as much as possible. That small proportion must be vastly more threatening than the Eastern Europeans because even the Tories are not planning to stop EU-immigration.’

The government and the Tories have, at best, embryonic immigration policies. They are and will always remain colour blind. (Though no doubt, the closet Mosleyites Alan Johnson and Damian Green plan some future mass darkies exclusion scheme – a suggestion that is so preposterous it ceases to be as offensive as it should be.) More importantly, at the heart of Hundal’s argument is the belief that addressing immigration will only heighten underlying tensions and increase the BNP’s popularity.

Therein is the problem. It is fanciful to hope that tension will evaporate without even acknowledging the concerns of the million or so voters who feel it, and challenging the precepts of the party that offers them a repulsive ideological solution.

BNP policy documents contain more absurdities than a volume of Edward Lear, but I shall limit myself to their immigration policy, as that is all Hundal discusses.

Despite what the BNP claim, immigration is economically beneficial when the number of migrants does not exceed available opportunity. Cheap migrant labour fuelled the recent boom but at some cost to existing working classes, who remain marginalised and find themselves in an increasingly competitive job and housing market. The rise of the BNP is directly ascribed to metropolitan liberal politics’ refusal to tackle unfettered migrant labour, long-term joblessness and regional economic stagnation amid an unprecedented national boom. In the prevailing political and economic atmosphere of the late 1990s and 2000s this dereliction was understandable. It is not now, it is exacerbating the problem. Immigration cannot be completely curtailed, either legally, philosophically or economically. But immigration and its effects must be managed more effectively, and there is no reason why that should not be achieved in a civilised, compassionate and economically beneficial fashion. Just because the BNP's ideology is racially inspired it does not follow that those who vote for the party are inherently racist; many simply have concerns that no other party will confront. Sunny, it’s time to engage.