There’s trouble up North, as this could be the year that the far-right BNP manages to get an MEP. Two years ago in its strongest electoral showing, the party held 47 council seats nationwide.
BNP has one London Assembly member, Richard Barnbrook, though he tends to be shunned at Mayor’s Question Time and, being firmly in the minority, he is allowed only limited time to answer questions, meaning limited publicity.
The real danger is that when the north-west region votes in next month’s European elections, under a system using proportional representation, its candidate and chairman Nick Griffin needs just eight per cent of the vote to give the British far right its first ever Euro seat. Last time it polled 6.5 per cent. The implosion of UKIP leaves many potential votes up for grabs.
A further danger is the possibility of this creating a far right block within the European parliament with Italian and Scandinavian groups. The right has proved remarkably fractious though, and last year the Italian and Romanian far right fell out. The BNP had its own very public dispute when several disgruntled members published the entire membership list online.
The party has launched several election strategies to try and secure its new seat, including Operation Fightback, an email service that highlights what they think is unfair reportage in the media. It provides activists with contact details to bombard the newspapers or broadcasters.
The Youth BNP runs a summer camp including lessons in self-defence and marksmanship. For the youngest there is even a puppet called Billy the Brit who spews forth bile in the comic Comet, along with sweet advice that if “you are a younger person then your best plan is to help your Mum and Dad by making cups of tea, or helping your parents with the housework.”
Most students’ image of the BNP is of fat, balding, middle-aged racists outside pubs. That is certainly part of it, but the party has made an effort to clean up its image; activists have been told to cover up tattoos when canvassing, and three of the five East Midlands candidates are university educated and middle class (for example).
They have tended to focus on ‘practical politics’, fixing lifts on neglected estates, rubbish clearance, stuff that other councillors tend to ignore. This has made them very popular amongst certain communities in Manchester, Cumbria, East London etc, which have seen high unemployment and the death of industry. These voters typically feel that local politicians neither care about nor understand them, or the areas in which they live. The BNP’s rhetoric, that white Britons are already ’second class citizens in our own country’ and ‘British jobs for British workers’, connects with people who perceive that immigrants get a better deal.
Media debates about immigration do little to help; it does not make people racist to want good housing and health care for their kids. They are certainly misguided if they think that a party of ignorant fools like the BNP could ever provide this, but branding these voters racist only compounds their sense of persecution.
Hope Not Hate fear that this cocktail of discontent means “the breadth of BNP support should be cause for concern. The BNP has grown in new areas of the West Midlands and averaged 24.6% of the vote in the 12 wards it contested in Nuneaton & Bedworth in last year’s local elections, an authority where the party had never stood before other than in by-elections.”
Another aspect of the BNP’s appeal is that under their Union Jack logo, the party encompasses a whole host of other grievances; from the fact that imperial weights and measures are no longer used, political correctness, health and safety culture, or as they call it ‘the complete annihilation of all things British.’
The expenses scandal in Westminster has given further ammunition for their brand of anti-politics, calling for all ‘pigs to get their snouts out of the trough.’
Still, the party is hampered by a lack of manpower, a funding shortage, and the very fact that within British politics, extremist parties of either wing have never achieved what their brothers on the continent could do. Despite a claim to represent the ‘indigenous nations’ of Scotland, Wales and Ireland, they find very little support there. The BNP has been further broken after the disaster of the publication of the BNP members list.
If this makes them all sound a little bit pitiable, grumpy old Colonels and few skinhead bootboys, it should not. Just because they wear suits, fix lifts, and appear to care does not make views to ‘reach an accord with the Muslim world whereby they will agree to take back their excess population which is currently colonising this country’ any less abhorrent. At a conference in Texas, Griffin himself stated that “we are determined to sell our ideas, to use these saleable words like freedom security identity democracy.
“Perhaps one day when, by being a little more subtle, we were in a position of controlling the British broadcasting media, the British people will change their mind and say every last one [non-white] must go.”
The BNP still harbour a deeply racist agenda, and for all the new presentation, their vision of Britain would be one of a hateful violent nation. An MEP for the party would give hundreds of thousands of pounds in salary and office resources to the party. The Hope Not Hate coalition should hopefully force up the voting numbers out of reach of what the BNP needs for its PR seats, but it depends on every vote possible, be it Labour, Tory or Liberal Democrat.
Hope Not Hate released a statement saying “nothing is certain in politics and while the terrain is certainly getting tougher the BNP can be defeated. However for this to happen requires a massive campaign to mobilise everyone opposed to the politics of hate to turn out and vote. We have shown time and again that there is a huge anti-BNP vote out there and if it is organised and motivated then it will turn up at the polling stations and be decisive in an election.”