The extent to which the Far-Right British National Party (BNP) has penetrated Britain’s leading institutions was revealed recently when the full list of its membership was mysteriously leaked on the net. The leak, blamed variously on “disgruntled” elements in the party and a government “conspiracy,” caused as much embarrassment to the secretive BNP leadership and the members who found themselves “outed” as it did to the institution s to which they belong, and to the three mainstream national parties — Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats — whose collective failure to address the concerns of white working class Britons are blamed for the rise of the BNP. It thrives on exploiting their —often imaginary — grievances against immigrants who they accuse of stealing their jobs and destroying the “British way of life.”
Judging from the list, containing more than 12,000 names, the BNP appears have to managed in recent years to get a foothold into every major institution from the police and local councils to health services schools, universities (one member is a Cambridge academic) and even the Church. Bizarrely, the list had names of at least three former members of leading national parties — one each from Labour, Tories and Lib Dems.
So far, the conventional wisdom has been that the BNP’s support is restricted to predominantly — immigrant areas where deprived native white Britons feel “swamped” by foreigners. But, significantly, the list reveals that, as one newspaper reported, “areas not previously associated with far-Right politics have a surprising number of BNP supporters.” So, clearly the BNP’s appeal goes beyond the usual suspects. And since the BNP’s one-point agenda —apart from its Europhobia — is its resolve to throw out all immigrants (the party does not even pretend to have a coherent political or economic philosophy) the fact that so many people, across different walks of life, still support it enough to become its card-carrying members points to a disturbing inference: that the anti-immigrant sentiment and racism in Britain are far more widespread than is generally assumed.
Add to this closet BNP sympathisers and activists and we have the makings of a race bomb ticking away. There has been a tendency to dismiss the BNP’s increasingly impressive showing in local/regional elections as an aberration attributed to “purely local” factors. This is the sort of smugness that in many countries, including India, has contributed to the rise of divisive parties. In almost every local election in the past five or six years, the BNP has improved its performance both in terms of winning seats and increasing its share of the total vote and, for the first time this summer, it won a seat on the London Assembly causing much hand-wringing among the main parties. Having arrived in the heart of London politics, the BNP believes that it is on the brink of winning its first seat in Westminster at the next election. Before that, however, it has its eyes set on the European Parliament elections which the party leader Nick Griffin himself is expected to contest.
There’s a view that odious and potentially dangerous though the BNP is the degree of its influence and the “threat” posed by it has been exaggerated as the perceptions of its strength are often influenced by its own bombastic claims that don’t necessarily reflect the reality on the ground. The argument is that with barely 12,000 members (some lapsed) in a country of more than 60 million people the BNP remains a fringe group: may be slightly bigger than the Looney Party but hardly threatening enough to cause liberal Britain to lose sleep over it.
It is also claimed that not all those who vote for the BNP are necessarily racist and that many turn to it simply to express their disillusionment with mainstream parties who they accuse of not listening to them. It is seen more as a protest vote against the Labour-Tory-Lib Dem trio than a vote in favour of BNP. Some, it is claimed, are conned by BNP’s tactics whereby its activists befriend people and try to win their confidence by masquerading as Good Samaritans out to help the white community. This is how it works: Need a hand with gardening? Want someone to do your weekly shopping? Need a small loan? Just ask John next door, or Philip down the road, or there’s Tony round the block. They will only be too pleased to help.
Come elections and it is pay back time. Over a pint of lager, John or Philip or Tony would innocently suggest: why not vote BNP –the only party to worry about white Britons? By then some are too brainwashed to be able to say ``no”, while some just can’t bring themselves to refuse a friend. Thus one more neighbourhood is converted.
Whether all those who vote BNP are racists is not the point. Some may not be. But the fact remains that their vote helps a racist party pursue its racist agenda. Modern history is replete with examples of how protest votes has helped such groups come from nowhere to capture power. The BNP is nowhere there yet, but that’s precisely why it needs to be tackled now.
It is important for mainstream parties, especially the centre-left Labour, to get their act together before it is too late. And, by the way, this doesn’t mean competing with the BNP by borrowing its language on issues like immigration as they have tended to do, but fighting its hate propaganda politically starting with a serious campaign to reconnect with white working class communities who they have abandoned in recent years for the more influential middle class voters.