Thursday 21 May 2009

Bin the BNP

Yesterday, for the first time ever in this leafy corner of eastern England, we received an election flyer from the BNP. It was in a bundle of junk mail and I didn't notice it until I cleared the kitchen table this morning. Naturally, it went straight in the bin: I felt as though the house had been soiled by its overnight presence.

I was going to retrieve the leaflet so I could dissect its rabid propaganda in this post, but it's now lost beneath the tissues and food wrappers, which is probably where it belongs. I remember something about 'British jobs for British workers', and a photo of a smiling (white) family (I hope they gave their permission).

The general opinion seems to be that the BNP will do well in the forthcoming European elections. I hope the general opinion is wrong, but I fear it's not. The party seems to have become a repository for white working-class disillusionment with New Labour, and for a general alienation from mainstream politics. What went wrong? 

Some of the erosion of working-class support for Labour was probably inevitable, given the decline of manufacturing industry, bourgeoisification, etc. But the steep decline in the working-class Labour vote in the last 10 years must also owe something to New Labour's cavalier attitude to its historical base, its re-styling as a party of Daily Mail-reading 'middle Britain', and its reckless disregard of the members who delivered its landslide victory (Barack Obama: take note). The number of communities that regard themselves as 'naturally' Labour is now perilously few, and the days when people saw the party as 'on the side of working people' have almost gone. Mix into the cocktail some concocted grievances about 'preferential treatment' in housing and jobs being given to 'newcomers', and a gap opens up for other parties to lay claim to being the voice of the white working-class. And into that gap the noxious BNP have quite cunningly and unscrupulously stepped, toning down the overt racism and fascist leanings, and playing up the grievance politics.

I had the dubious privilege of being at university with BNP leader Nick Griffin: we were at the same college, though he was a couple of years below me. (I ask you: how can someone study history at one of our top universities and remain a fascist?) In those days he was a luminary of the Young National Front, and I'm pleased to say that, even at our fairly conservative college (you were a dangerous radical if you voted against increased funds for the boat club) he was regarded as beyond the pale and given the cold shoulder by most of his fellow-students. But that was then: now he presents himself as a mainstream politician who would like to hobnob with the Queen at Buckingham Palace garden parties, and the BNP is winning seats in local councils all over the place. 

How can decent, democratic political parties reverse the BNP tide? I like the approach of this video  , from the 'Nothing British about the BNP' campaign, which calls the party's bluff on its supposed 'patriotism' (actually, a mean-spirited, xenophobic white nationalism), and advances an alternative, inclusive definition of Britishness. I think that's also what Edmund Standing is getting at in his new blog, which is even-handedly dismissive of the BNP and of Islamic and far-left extremists (though I'd be careful about the pillorying of Marxist academics, Edmund: although I have my own beef with elements of the academic left, your little list had just the faintest whiff of McCarthyism about it).

I know the video has been aired a lot on other blogs, but the more people who see it the better: 

No comments: