March 25, 2008

Apathy could give BNP a foothold

The British National Party's results in a string of recent elections demonstrate it is no longer a force simply to be ignored.

Although the party has yet to succeed in securing a single councillor in Sussex, it is fielding more candidates than before who are receiving a growing share of the vote. Elsewhere in the country, BNP councillors are becoming increasingly entrenched in the political landscape. But name-calling is not the answer, says local government correspondent Lawrence Marzouk. Voters must wake up to the fact that apathy is the ally of the BNP.

In April 2002, French Front National candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen scooped an extraordinary 20 per cent of the popular vote to enter a second round run-off against the then president Jacques Chirac. France was convulsed by the shocking result. Protesters took to the streets in disgust at the ageing extremist's anti-immigration policies and in guilt at the apathy which resulted in a record low turnout.

Le Pen was beaten convincingly at the second trip to the ballot box.

But the lesson of the first round was clearly learnt as, five years on, 85 per cent of the adult population performed their democratic duty at the next presidential election and the far-right's share of the vote was halved.

In Britain, we continue to dismiss the British National Party as an irrelevance.

The party does not have the political clout the Front National in France does but the parallels are there, and this particular French lesson seems to have been lost in translation.

Mainstream politicians have failed to convince swathes of the public of their message on immigration. Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats still do not to field candidates in some byelections. And the voting public continue to operate on the assumption that their votes count for nothing as politicians, and the policies on offer, are all the same.

In February, BNP member Donna Bailey missed out on the hotly-contested Upper Beeding Parish Council seat in West Sussex by just 20 votes.

In last weekend's Arun District Council by-election, BNP candidate Albert Bodle, who runs the Selwood Lodge guest house in Victoria Drive, Bognor, polled third with 205 votes. Second was Lib Dem David Jones with just seven extra ticks at the ballot box. Labour failed to field a candidate.

The BNP has fielded candidates for a raft of by-elections in the past year, scoring hundreds of votes each time, and is expected to play a part in May's local elections.

Its success remains modest compared to the big three and should not be overstated.

But a strategy of targeting minor by-elections where major parties often fail to field candidates and turn-out is poor ensures the party takes a disproportionately large slice of the vote.

These results strengthen the BNP's claims that they are now part of mainstream politics and, consequently, their appeal to a wider audience.

But their improved showing is also a result of the public's disenchantment with politics and a feeling the BNP is the only party to be fighting for the rights of white, British voters who are under siege from a growing alien population.

This is fuelled by a sometimes irresponsible media, which peddles negative stereotypes of asylum seekers and pushes the idea that Britain is a soft-touch for "foreign scroungers".

Statistics have become so politicised that it impossible to separate fact from fiction.

The BNP has stepped into this political vacuum following a comprehensive makeover in recent years. The public rants have been replaced by carefully crafted statements, which do not talk of race explicitly.

The party is presenting a face of reasonable, educated, middle aged men and women who do not hate foreigners but are fighting for traditional British values.

This veneer of respectability has brought the party out from the margins of society and opened the door for quiet sympathisers to become loud supporters and voters. A strong line against immigration and those who remain illegally in the country clearly has resonance among many voters.

But behind the slick websites and new image, many of the policies remain as abhorrent as ever to the bulk of the British public.

The party continues to advocate that you cannot really be British if you do not have the "British genotype".

This argument, along with the use of an arbitrary definition of what constitutes an indigenous British person, is just xenophobia dressed up as laughable pseudo-science. The genetic make-up and cultural norms of those living in Britain are nebulous concepts, constantly evolving under the influence of a range of factors, including immigration.

There has been a disorienting speed of change concerning immigration over the past 50 years and this should not be ignored.

Mainstream politicians must show convincingly that they are protecting and enhancing British culture and society and promoting integration and the English language.

Immigration should also be dealt with head-on with credible policies so it cannot be hijacked by the BNP.

The country is not being "swamped" by new arrivals but the perception is as damaging as the reality and clearer independent statistics need to be successfully communicated.

As a hard-working, proud, British citizen, born to an English mother and Lebanese father, I find the suggestion that I am somehow undesirable in this country, and that my children will never be British, ridiculous and insulting.

The BNP may tell you it is not racist but its views on discouraging mixed marriages and shipping out as many foreigners as possible to preserve the purity of the "British genotype" are about as extreme as they come.

These are not the views of a mainstream party offering sensible policies on the issue of immigration.

Vigorous campaigning and fighting voter fatigue will ensure the very real concerns about immigration do not translate into a vote for extremism. We ignore the BNP at our own peril. Apathy could create a British repeat of Le Pen's shock election result.

The Argus

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This article is absolutely correct. Through the shortcomings of the major Parties and aided substantially by the Internet, the BNP have managed to grow their vote. As the major Parties have become more and more detached from the genuine concerns of many people, so a space has been left for a more cunning BNP. Of course, you really don’t have to look too far to see the real nature of these people but far enough so that numerous voters don’t make the effort. I’ve no doubt that a fair percentage of their vote is in protest. These votes still count, however!

Also, in terms of confronting the BNP, the old name-calling and matching vitriol with vitriol is not really the answer. Politicians themselves run scared of the BNP rather than confronting them head on. This is a bizarre circumstance as ‘their great leader’ is wholly incapable of presenting anything rationally. Even in areas where he may just have a point of relevance, he falls flat on his face; witness his ludicrous outburst on News night regarding drugs. It is not necessary to give the BNP a special platform. Where they present themselves in the media, however, it is important that they be confronted and their true stance exposed. This they are happy to do without much prodding. Now, a truly media savvy leadership would be a much more difficult proposition.