April 09, 2009

Populist Politics, the BNP Way

Parties that do not hold office have, it is said, the luxury of opposition. The far left is all too often a case study in this piece of political wisdom. There's been plenty of times I've wondered if much of the far left actually want to recruit millions to its politics - I suspect for many a petty sect and guru, they don't. But for parties that have a little more muscle, electorally speaking, this luxury manifests itself in populism. On the one hand there are the politics of easy solutions to complex problems, and on the other there's being seen to be doing popular things.

This pretty much sums up the political approach of the BNP. Their politics are entirely negative - blame the "Marxists" who run the government and media. Blame the Muslims/blacks/asylum seekers, etc. We know the tiresome drill, and it's unfortunate crap like this can fall on fertile ground in some places. Take Stoke for example. This kind of "politics" is the BNP's stock in trade. Presumably the Potteries would flow with milk and honey if the foreigners depart and take their funny languages, religions and clothes with them.

But there's another aspect to Stoke BNP, and this is the second dimension of populism - of being seen to do popular things. So successful has the BNP been pursuing this that Stoke Central Labour MP, Mark Fisher has publicly stated that he believes them to be good community councillors. What is it that they do?

Take Cllr Steve Batkin, for example. To call him a complete tool in the council chamber would do my screwdriver set a great disservice. But during his first term on the council in Longton North, Batkin built a reputation as a community councillor. Got a lawn needing a mow? Need help with that flatpack cabin bed? Just give your friendly neighbourhood fascist a bell and around he'd come. You could tag-team the MDF as he informed you on the finer points of ornithology and Holocaust revisionism. And if no one required his special services he could be found of an afternoon litter-picking his way around the ward. For this he's earned the almost-affectionate epithet of Bin Bag Batkin.

Credit where credit's due. Old Bin Bag has finally learned to utter a few words in the council chamber, which is more than can be said for his fellow BNP'er, Cllr David Marfleet. Almost two years he's sat there and not uttered a single word. Will he serve a full term without opening his gob?

There is a more damaging aspect to this kind of populism. Ellie and Alby Walker (pictured), who along with Michael Coleman form the "brains" of the local BNP group, are past masters at this sort of activity. One thing the Walkers do without fail is provide a kind of meals on wheels service for some of the old folk around Abbey Hulton and often leave full council to do the rounds. Yes, it's great PR for the BNP. I'm sure their families might appreciate the Walkers' efforts and think about putting a cross in the BNP's box come the next elections.

But hold on a second, shouldn't this be a service provided by the council? If it is failing on meals on wheels, instead of taking on the responsibility themselves wouldn't the Walkers be better serving the voters of the Abbey by making sure this service is available? They obviously do not think so. Not only have they failed to raise the issue in the council chamber, despite plenty of opportunities for doing so, Ellie Walker left one council meeting specifically on elderly provision ... to deliver the meals! And the Walkers have the bare-faced cheek to pretend they're the only ones who care about "our people"!

If the BNP gave a shit they would have addressed the lack of service provision to the Abbey's elderly. But it suits them politically to be seen to be doing something about it themselves. This is not community activism. This is not what being an effective councillor is about. It's pure gesture politics.

A Very Public Sociologist


Hiding behind the sofa said...

God, that's one bloody horrible picture!

Anonymous said...

I read this on AVPS when it first appeared, but I am afraid it is only half the story.

Yes, the BNP's populism is sickening and opportunistic but the reason it is able to get away with this stuff is very largely because the mainstream parties have become lazy and complacent.

So yes, let's fight the BNP and expose its hypocrisy but the uncomfortable fact is that if we want to drive fascism back into the margins where it belongs we need more engagement from the mainstream.