If turkeys had the vote, it is theoretically possible that they would join a party that was strongly pro-Christmas. Possible, but unlikely
Yesterday, the BNP voted at an “extraordinary general meeting” in Essex to amend its constitution so black and Asian Britons can join its ranks. As Nick Griffin, the BNP's leader, told Sky News, this is likely to result in a “trickle, rather than a flood” of membership applications: and even a “trickle” may be pushing it.
The whole idea is, of course, innately hilarious: a party founded on the cultivation of intolerance and racial tension declaring that it has an open-door policy. In its 2005 manifesto, the BNP called for “voluntary resettlement” of immigrants and their descendants. So it wants you to leave the country but, before you do, invites you to join up and pay the membership fees (a standard rate of £30 pa, or £60 for the party's “gold” category, which presumably will entitle its new black and Asian members to a better class of dinghy when they are urged “to return to their lands of ethnic origin”).
Yet, even as we mock, we should be vigilant. The BNP is exploiting this constitutional change for all it is worth, both as evidence that it is being victimised and (the opposite claim) that it is voluntarily “modernising”. In truth, the new membership policy has been forced upon the party by the threat of legal action by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. On the BNP's website, there is currently a webcast by Griffin, complaining about the quango's attack on “this little party of ours”.
At the same time, the new membership policy fits neatly with his more general pursuit of incremental legitimacy. Like Sinn Fein-IRA with its “Armalite and ballot box” strategy, the BNP runs on twin tracks. Look at the so-called “security” at BNP gatherings if you doubt that the party still depends on a hardcore of skinhead brutes. At the same time, Griffin himself — a suit-wearing Cambridge graduate — has fought for years to bring the movement out of the Bierkeller and into mainstream political life.
This is why the election of two BNP candidates (Griffin and Andrew Brons) to the European Parliament last June was so depressing: it gave the party a claim to more serious media coverage, including Griffin's hugely contentious appearance on Question Time last November. The opening of the party's membership to non-whites is also part of this spurious process of “modernisation”: Clause Fourth Reich, so to speak.
Tony Blair had his Big Tent. Now Griffin will pretend that he has a Big Bunker, a rainbow coalition of prejudice. And it is certainly true that a plural society inevitably generates new tensions: where I live in east London, there is now a minor strain of hostility between second and third generation Afro-Caribbean Britons and newer arrivals from the enlarged EU: the working-class black community objects that it is being driven out of the service economy — cleaning, childcare — by Eastern European economic migrants who have undercut their wage-rates. In an age of globalisation and unprecedented population mobility, any complex urban society will generate such abrasions. And deplorable political movements such as the BNP will always be on hand to fan the flames and exploit the simmering anger.
As I wrote in November, Griffin and his gang are themselves refugees from reality, asylum seekers from the modern world. They choose to ignore the significant role that economic migration played (and will play again) in the years of non-inflationary growth. Worse, they seek to preserve something that never really existed: Britain is the historical product of nations and races coming together and commingling. Historically, this country has been a port rather than a fortress, a place of trade, exchange and racial interaction. Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Huguenots, Jews, Afro-Caribbeans, Asians, Eastern Europeans: pluralism is the very essence of our island story. Some of my best friends are Jutes.
At the wonderful Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck concert at the O2 Centre last night, it occurred to me that Britain is the only country on earth that could take a black American musical form — the blues — adapt it to a new setting and, eventually, revive it in its very country of origin (as Clapton and many others did in the Sixties). The BNP has no grasp of the porousness and heterogeneity of true Britishness.
Yet, more than ever in its 28-year history, the party represents a clear and present danger. A matter of weeks from now, it will field a number of parliamentary candidates in the general election: most dangerously, Griffin himself in Barking. The seat is held by Labour's Margaret Hodge, defending a majority of almost 9,000.
Safe? By no means. Labour's own polling shows that the category of voter most easily described as “white van man” is warming alarmingly to the BNP: in seven out of 11 wards, more than 50 per cent of this tranche of voters — more than 70 per cent in some areas — think they might vote for Griffin. Ever willing to nurture the voters' anxieties and resentments, the BNP has prospered during the recession and exploited the collapse of trust in the political class. In Barking, it sees a real chance to pull off an extraordinary victory.
It is bad enough that the party is represented in town halls and at Strasbourg. But the election of Griffin as an MP would be much, much worse. For the Commons is not just another representative assembly. Never forget: in our unwritten constitution, the Queen-in-Parliament is sovereign. I don't know about you, but the thought of the BNP having a share in that sovereignty, however small, makes me sick to the stomach, and more determined than ever that the battle of Barking should not be lost. In the end, in spite of all its absurdities, the BNP's advance is no laughing matter.
London Evening Standard