I’ve had the rare privilege of telling one of the leaders of the British National Party precisely what I think of him and his creed on national television. The occasion was several months ago, and it was on a BBC programme entitled “The Big Questions”; I was in the studio audience. I had to get up early on a Sunday morning to attend; it was surreal to drive to Southampton with the orange and purple colours of early dawn painting the blank canvas of the empty motorway. My mind protested the violation of the normal rhythms of the week. Surely, it told me, the best thing to do was to turn around, go back to bed, then wake up late, drink coffee, and read the Sunday papers. I did not expect that my presence would add much except an additional face to the crowd.
For those who are familiar with the programme, it may come as a surprise that the space in which it is held is quite small. In this case, it was in the gymnasium of a large school. However, the normally generous room was stuffed with seats, set decorations and the electronic accoutrements that live television demand. I took my place in a row near the back, and was seated next to a prospective Labour Parliamentary candidate. We chatted for a while; we had been informed of the topics beforehand, and they included a debate about evolution, another about motherhood and lastly, one about whether or not members of the British National Party should be allowed to work in public services such as education and health.
For those who aren’t familiar with the British National Party, I need to digress into a bit of history. In 1932, the British Union of Fascists was founded and led by a former Labour minister and MP, Oswald Mosley, who wanted to create a political front which was modelled after those spawned by Mussolini and Hitler. Mosley’s “Black Shirt” group found most of its strength among the deprived of East London; at its height, its membership reached 50,000, and they were occasionally engaged in pitched battles with their Communist rivals. War with Germany and Italy quickly led the Government to ban the BUF in May 1940; however, it was not entirely snuffed out. Activists like A.K. Chesterton kept the embers burning in spite of fascism’s eventual defeat in World War II: the refusal of the ideology to lay down and die later led to the foundation of the National Front, which then was succeeded by the British National Party. The BNP was established in 1982.
Let us be absolutely clear: beyond its pedigree, the BNP is connected in thought and spirit to some of the most loathsome ideological positions in Europe. One of their “founding fathers”, John Tyndall, wrote a book in 1962 entitled “The Authoritarian State” which directly stated that liberal democracy was some sort of Jewish plot for world domination. The BNP’s present leader, Nick Griffin, wrote in 1996 in a book entitled “The Rune”, that “I am well aware that orthodox opinion is that six million Jews were gassed and cremated or turned into soup and lampshades. I have reached the conclusion that the ‘extermination’ tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter witch-hysteria.” He also is on record denying that the gas chambers existed, in spite of the fact that anyone can go visit Auschwitz and see that they did.
Griffin, however, is sufficiently clever to realise that the anti-semitism of the 1930’s doesn’t resonate with modern British voters. He has since changed focus to immigrants and in particular, made clear his dislike of Muslims. In a BBC documentary aired in 2004, Griffin stated that Islam was a “wicked, vicious faith”.
The BNP has made electoral progress, particularly among disaffected Labour voters; for example, they have 9 local councillors in once solidly Labour Stoke on Trent. Furthermore, they have a member of the London Assembly, Richard Barnbrook. Barnbrook was the only prominent official of theirs who was brave enough to appear on “The Big Questions”.
Seated a few metres away, I thought he gave every indication of a man who was thoroughly in love with himself and having difficulty keeping that passion restrained in public. He wore a buttoned up jacket that had been carefully pressed so as to eliminate any trace of wrinkles. Every hair had been sprayed into a particular position. He was sweating and a touch red-faced. He may have been trying too hard to appear respectable, and perhaps because of the extremity of that effort, he came across as a phony from the get-go. I did not recognise him at first, however; based on his waxy, dogmatic visage, I thought he was likely to be one of the militant Christians who wanted to deny evolution. The music then rose, the cameras went on, and the presenter Nicky Campbell began the show with the evolution debate.
It turned out that the evolution denier was an amiable middle aged man in a grey suit who spoke very gently. While I disagreed with him, his faith was rather touching. Following this, the motherhood debate (i.e., whether or not the demands of modern society were diminishing good parenting) revealed the first of the BNP men: he was a grey haired man in the livery of an Anglican vicar. He outed himself when he implied that women were better off “barefoot and pregnant”.
Finally, we came to the BNP debate. It may not have come across on television, but Barnbrook had an almost falsetto edge to his voice when he was defending himself against accusations of racism. The audience, to their credit, wasn’t having it: he attracted fire from nearly all quarters. The debate seemed to go around in circles for a time; unfortunately, it lingered in the territory which the BNP wanted it to remain: namely, the implicit suggestion that freedom of political association and entitlement to work for the government were one and the same.
After holding up my hand for so long that it felt like my elbow had ossified, I was finally called to speak on the matter:
“We are talking about two separate things,” I said, “one is the right to freedom of speech, the other is the right to participate in public service. The public has the right to expect its services to be delivered without prejudice and we don’t have that certainty with the BNP.”
Barnbrook’s voice squeaked again in reply, and he repeated his anti-racist credentials: why, his fiancee had a mixed race baby whom he loved very much and he had served as a teacher to students of all races. His assault on common sense would likely have continued had not the music raised and the programme ended. After, I noted that Barnbrook and his vicar colleague departed the scene as quickly as possible.
It’s alarming how readily groups of maladjusted hysterics like the BNP exploit our present circumstances. It is entirely possible that they will attract enough votes to have a representative in the European Parliament. It is also possible that they will increase their share of the vote in local government. People are bewildered and enraged by the financial crash and the corruption of Parliament: the position of the BNP far outside the normal political process helps them. Gordon Brown also accidentally assisted them by providing their latest motto; in one of his speeches, he stated one of his priorities was “British jobs for British workers”, this slogan is now plastered all over their propaganda. Furthermore, because they are the bottom feeders of democracy, the BNP don’t mind playing on the fears of the electorate in whatever way they see fit. Meanwhile, they have the nerve to claim, like Christ, they have been persecuted, and that Jesus would vote their way too.
All this is rather rich coming from a party which deserves a moniker that is beyond fascist, beyond repugnant, beyond racist: traitor. This is not a reference solely to their BUF pedigree, but also to the fact that their ideology exists in direct opposition to the values for which this country stands. Britain has long been a nation of immigrants: in antiquity, it was a place that the Celts called home, then the Romans, then the Angles and the Saxons, then the Normans. Huguenots came from France to practice their Protestant faith. Oliver Cromwell gave sanctuary to the Jews. While there have been fits of violence and persecution (particularly of Jews and Catholics), the nation’s history is one of new arrivals, the nation and the immigrants coming to an accord, and life carrying on, the country’s cultural wealth having increased in the process. To deny the continuing role of diversity in British society is to turn one’s back on what precisely has made the United Kingdom’s story largely one of the triumph of liberty; furthermore, given how widespread the legacy of immigrants remains ingrained in the nation’s heritage, BNP supporters are likely spitting on the generous spirit which enabled their existence as “British” in the first place. I may be more aware of this than most: while I come from an English-speaking country and I am white, I too am an immigrant, and I have been privileged to integrate the thread of my life into the very broad and multicoloured tapestry of this country.
It’s not clear what the BNP’s destructive efforts are all for; after all, BNP councillors have proven to be as corrupt and untrustworthy as any member of Parliament. In 2007, Barnbrook was forced to discipline them in a letter which was distributed nationwide. It can be said that far from representing a break with the norm, they are just a more venal variant.
Fortunately, the danger the BNP represents is pronounced to the point that the normally apolitical and mild Church of England felt obliged to take a stand. Every other “contender” party in the next election has also made their distaste for the BNP clear. However, we should not be afraid to point out that the BNP’s chosen label, in the final analysis, is a contradiction: far from being British, they are the heirs and practitioners of an alien ideology, far from being national, their appeal is limited to few constituencies, and far from being a party, they are a gaggle of thugs which hopefully the British public will be ready to dismiss on June 4.