Scoop Feature: British National Party Rises Again
The Rise Of The British National Party
By Sam Wilson in London
The relatively strong showing in England’s recent local council elections by the anti-immigrant, racist British National Party (BNP) will understandably cause concern among Britain’s Muslims, Jews, and ethnic minority communities, actually fair-minded people generally. At least it ought to. Sam Wilson reports from London.
Sure, the BNP only won three of over 6000 contested council seats. And all in Burnley. This deprived northern town with high unemployment and huge social problems is one of several special cases. Such trouble spots aside, however, there are worrying signs of the far-right widening its support base across the UK, tapping into that bad old-fashioned xenophobia and narrow mindedness that continue to inform many Brit’s attitudes towards anyone of different race, ethnicity, culture or religion. The BNP averaged 12 percent in the 66 seats it contested. Not a great result, but higher than ever.
Last summer racial tensions between white people and British Asians boiled over into rioting and fighting in several northern England towns. Riot police crouched behind their shields as Molotov cocktails lit up the night sky. The streets were littered with glass and strewn with burnt out cars. Some white residents claim Asians have taken their jobs and are given preferential treatment in housing and by the police. Asians have been subjected to bigoted comments by their neighbours and physically attacked by white thugs. It’s apparent some have retaliated in kind. The backlash this has caused has been exploited by the BNP with its ‘rights for whites’ campaigning. Predictably, extremists from Britain’s National Front, and the vile Combat 18-1 represents A, 8 represents H, Adolf Hitler’s initials-have visited the troubled towns to stir things up. Fortunately these groups are very small, but theirs is an inflammatory presence: they egg on angry young white locals.
The BNP leader is Nick Griffin. White Britons are portrayed as an abused majority by Griffin and co. Their rights are supposedly ignored by a ‘politically correct’ liberal establishment putting puts the concerns of ethnic minorities, asylum seekers and gay people above others.
Is the BNP fascist? It rejects that label. However, even a cursory glance at its hard line anti-immigration policies, including ‘voluntary’ repatriation for immigrants, or its draconian, reactionary line on crime, return of the death penalty for pedophiles for example, suggests different. That’s without even considering the language of its propaganda and the motley crew of racists and holocaust deniers that fills its ranks.
Nick Griffin’s certainly anti-Semitic and racist, but he’s managed to broaden the BNP’s electoral appeal considerably. He’s downplayed his party’s fascist bullyboy past: it grew out of the notorious National Front. Instead he’s immersed himself, at least publicly, in the reactionary populism practiced by Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, the late Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands and Jorge Haider in Austria. The BNP advances arguments along the lines of ‘I’m not racist, but immigrants are getting preferential treatment’…’there are enough people here already’…. ‘Britain for the British [read white people], Nigeria for the Nigerians’.
It’s this type of approach to politics and electioneering that wins some votes, not holocaust denial. But, importantly and most worryingly, Griffin has a history of not-too-thinly-veiled vicious anti Semitism. He’s denied the Holocaust: ‘I am well aware that the orthodox opinion is that 6 million Jews were gassed and cremated or turned into lampshades. Orthodox opinion also once held that the earth is flat... I have reached the conclusion that the “extermination” tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter day witch-hysteria.’. In 1997 Griffin produced a pamphlet, Who Are The Mindbenders? This particularly paranoid work, in the vein of the infamous Czarist police forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, supposedly exposed a Jewish plot to rule the world. Unlike Le Pen and Haider, however, as his party’s grown in popularity, he’s not had much to say about his hatred of Jews. This contempt is obvious in his attempt to appear ‘moderate’ and ‘anti-Zionist not anti-Semitic’. He’s on record as saying: ‘those Jews who are loyal to Britain, observe the laws of Britain and play no part in poisoning the minds of the people of Britain have absolutely nothing to fear from us.’ Well, that’s very fair-minded of you, Mr Griffin. I’m sure that will put British Jews at ease! It would be useful if mainstream politicians made more of Griffin’s past, if they weren’t so worried about the BNP getting any publicity, they would expose him for the anti-Semitic extremist he is.
Anyway, it says something good about Britain that Griffin doesn’t dare talk in front of bigger audiences these days about Jews as he has written and spoken about them for years. Equally, it says something most unfortunate about the political cultures in France and Austria that anti Semites like Haider and Le Pen have achieved such popularity despite being so crass in their public anti Semitism. Haider called SS veterans ‘men of honour’ and Le Pen once referred to the holocaust as a ‘detail of history’. In the Austrian case, it’s useful to realise that, to some people’s surprise, crude anti-Semitism is still commonplace in Austrian mainstream politics. Following the Second World War hundreds of thousands of ex-Nazi party members had to integrate back into a democratic society, all those hopes for a powerful ‘1000 year Reich’ and hatred of Jews wouldn’t have just vanished with the creation of a new order. Le Pen, whose father, a Breton fisher, was killed by an Allied mine, played on the worst old Vichy-type sentiments. He also successfully sought support from people using Arab immigrants as a convenient scapegoat: soaring violent crime is their fault.
The BNP also spreads around its loathing: since September 11 it has featured some virulent statements on its website about Islam, Arabs and people from Afghanistan for example. A taster: ‘ We are not the least interested in tear-jerking stories about Afghan refugees; to the BNP the tears of one British mother for her dead soldier son are more important than the wailings of every single woman in Afghanistan’.
The BNP is small fry compared with similar parties across Europe, and its relative success is hardly a portent of fascist rule in Britain. However, democrats of all stripes have a responsibility to respond to electoral gains by racists.
The news in Britain during the past couple of weeks has been filled with stories about the rise of the anti-immigrant, racist right across Europe. During the first week of May alone came the news of the BNP’s gains, along with nearly one in five French voters voting for Le Pen. Then there was the story of the late Pim Fortuyn’s broad appeal in the Netherlands, his grisly murder and his party’s considerable success: it’s now a partner in the new governing right wing governing coalition. There was also the news that the German constitutional court ruled in favour of allowing the NPD to stand in upcoming parliamentary elections. This far-right party includes among its membership and associates neo-Nazi thugs of the most extreme kind.
This huge upsurge in exclusionist politics has prompted considerable soul searching among the British political establishment and media, liberals especially. Quite rightly many commentators have pointed to anxieties about further European integration and EU eastward expansion. Both left and right wing anti-Euro campaigners have emphasised the potential further dilution of sovereign state power if the European currency is introduced in Britain and their concerns that more and more functions traditionally regarded as defining a state are coming under EU control, or looking as though they will. The common currency and talk of joint military forces leap to mind. Superficially, the only real difference is that the right puts a stress on a loss of national identity that the left doesn’t. However, this is an important distinction, because the right promotes the ‘be wary of Johnny Foreigner’ mindset, and the left doesn’t.
Incidentally, the Government’s started to make not-too-subtle noises in favour of the single currency. If and when it’s adopted in Britain, the economic strife that will follow a sharp devaluation of the currency and huge opposition to a perceived embryonic European superstate will provide fertile ground for extreme right stirring.
Many fears about EU enlargement are actually fears about more immigrants from the east moving into richer Western Europe. The tabloid newspapers have a tendency, more than ever, to run emotive stories about asylum seekers ‘flooding’ into the UK.
Then there are reactions to globalisation. The anti-WTO and anti-IMF demonstrations, anti-globalisation campaigns for maintaining national economic sovereignty and decent labour and environment laws are generally left wing in their language and intentions. A large proportion of anti-globalisation activists are anti capitalism. However, many traditionalist right-wingers, including chauvinists and racists of various descriptions are campaigning to maintain national democracy-however defined- in the face of an increasingly international economy and oligarchic configuration of international institutional power. When transnational corporations that have turnover figures larger than the Gross Domestic Product of small countries are so influential, as they are in this age when the words ‘capital flight’ are enough to give Cabinet ministers palpitations, nationalism takes on a new meaning.
Progressive nationalism means countries saying ‘hey we want to create our own laws’ and still being broadly internationalist their outlook. But there’s also hostile reactionary nationalism, such as the fear mongering over immigration indulged in by the Howard administration in Australia last year, and Le Pen and Griffin. Politics worldwide is dominated by big corporate power becomes world politics is dominated by big corporate power with immigrants who don’t belong in our country flooding in to provide a pool of cheap labour, and on the extreme right, …the rest and Jewish financial power and media control. It’s in this latter realm you’ll find Griffin and co.
Anyway, the reactionary right can and is tapping into anti-globalisation sentiments of a certain variety. There’s much common ground in responses to globalisation and regarding both this and further European integration, the left should worker harder to present itself as more distinct from the right, or pro-globalisation politicians such as Tony Blair will continue to present everyone opposed to their brave new world as parochial and inward looking.
Support for extremists has a habit of soaring overnight, particularly when lots of people feel cheated and excluded by mainstream parliamentary politicians. Many Britons feel politically short-changed these days, because they are. It’s simple plurality at Westminster (‘first-past-the-post’). The main parties are caught up in the tedious tit-for-tat game of blaming the other side for everything possible. And then there are all the newspaper stories about the growing list of rich donors to the Labour Party, who appear to have done very well thank you out of the Government for their donations.
The huge disparity between how highly social equality and economic equality feature on the political agenda in Britain has exacerbated things. Quite rightly institutionalized racism in Britain’s police forces, for example, has been the subject of a government enquiry and local authorities have worked to be more inclusive of asylum seekers and people with English as a second language. But the Blair Government has misled the public over its homelessness policies and tried to win reactionary support, for example by recently endorsing imprisonment of a mother because her children were truanting from school. Ministers have also floated the idea of reducing people’s social benefits if their children don’t attend school. How depressing, is this all the government can offer to deal with chronic, pervasive poverty, a punitive law that means the poorest sections of society become poorer?
By the way, one of the wards the BNP won in Burnley was rural and wealthy; support for the BNP is not just a working class phenomenon. Reading some of Britain’s newspapers you might reach a different conclusion. Some commentators are guilty of perpetuating stereotypes of the ‘uneducated reactionary racist’ versus the ‘educated’ broad-minded, tolerant liberal.
The BNP is saying what a section of the white British public wants to hear. This must be addressed by tackling poverty and ensuring people are given the facts on how asylum seekers are treated in the UK…for example that they’ve been given vouchers not cash for a long time. This is inconvenient and not a handout that is abused as the BNP implies. Criminal people traffickers must be tracked down and punished harshly and Britain has a right to uphold its asylum policies by policing them…people who sneak through the channel tunnel on trains should be caught and their applications processed through the correct procedures.
On a deeper level, Britons of all backgrounds should be given a more meaningful level of control over their national economy. The WTO and the World Bank, not poor immigrants, have usurped them. The Government should make work internationally to formulate treaties with like-minded countries, to set similar robust environmental and labour laws. The more countries that do this, the fewer places multinationals that profiteer regardless of social cost have to relocate to. The possibility of further European integration and issues pertaining to globalisation should be discussed on a sincere, inclusive level and the Blair Government should consult. It should remind Brits about the economic advantages and social diversity immigrants bring with them, on a frequent basis.
The BNP’s hatemongering must be fought with a multi-pronged package of policies. For all the gloss and spin, Nick Griffin’s party is riddled with neo-Nazis, overt and otherwise. The ultimate expression of the brand of politics these people promote is clear: Auschwitz.