The British National Party is both an ideological disgrace and hopeless in practice. The main parties must do more to encourage voting in the European elections
“Britain today is a society living in fear. Our society is overcrowded, splintered and bankrupt. We stand on the brink of destruction.” Every few years the British National Party claims to have become more sophisticated. But its reliance on an apocalyptic picture of a country on the cusp of collapse is constant. The culprits leading Britain to this brink are, as usual, immigrants, welfare scroungers and an imperial European Union.
That is not to say that the BNP does not pose a genuine threat at the forthcoming European elections. In the North West, for example, where the party’s leader, Nick Griffin, is standing, the BNP only needs to go from 6.4 per cent to 8 per cent to be virtually guaranteed a seat. A single MEP could deliver the BNP as much as £250,000 a year in salaries and office costs. An only slightly bigger increase in the vote is needed in Yorkshire and The Humber and the West Midlands.
There have been false dawns before for the BNP. But there are three reasons to think that this time the danger is more real. First, a high turnout is the best antidote to extremism. The turnout in 2004 was abnormally high — more than double what it had been in 1999 — because council elections took place simultaneously in most of the West Midlands and the North and, in four regions the elections were all-postal ballots. That may not be repeated this time.
Second, the last European election was dominated by the political success of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) which won 16 per cent of the national vote and gained 12 MEPs. UKIP has now all but imploded: some at least of that anti-European vote is back in play.
Third, recession, rising unemployment and a political class held in low public esteem provide — as government politicians regularly, and counter-productively, remind us — propitious circumstances for the politics of the far Right.
Nobody should have any doubts that these are indeed the politics of the far Right. Non-whites are, in the BNP’s own euphemism, firmly encouraged to seek voluntary repatriation. Party membership is restricted to “indigenous British ethnic groups”. One of the party’s major concerns is what it calls the Islamification of Britain. Even for that sliver of this country that shares such nonsensical views, the BNP is hopeless. Ideologically, they are a disgrace; practically, they are a joke. Like all small extremist parties, they are prone to splintering into even smaller ones. The latest internal dispute led 60 dissidents to begin referring to themselves as the “Real BNP”.
When forced to conduct real local politics the BNP is quickly revealed to be pointless. In Burnley, where three councillors were elected in 2002, the BNP contingent failed to turn up for the meeting to set the budget. In Barking, in 2005, Councillor Daniel Kelley retired after just 10 months, claiming he had been an outcast. In October 2007, James Lloyd, a BNP councillor, was disqualified from Sandwell Council for not attending a single meeting in a six-month period.
It is a good thing that a discenchanted electorate has somewhere else to cast its ballots. But there is no iron of law of politics that decrees that such sentiment needs to be turned to malign effect. In 1989 the Green party won 15 per cent of the popular vote in the European elections. Not even its most committed supporters really interpreted that vote as a sudden upsurge of environmental concern. It was, instead, the register of protest, a claim that none of the main parties had done enough to warrant their support.
To alert voters to the reality of the BNP, the main parties need to make their own case and persuade people that, no matter what they think about the state of politics in general, the BNP is worse than just useless, it is bad. A vote for the BNP is a vote for extremism and intolerance.