Confronting the issue – Why is the British National Party the fastest growing party in the United Kingdom?

By the time this article is published the leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin MEP, will have appeared on Question Time, Britain’s flagship political program. His invitation represents a massive achievement for the fledgling party, a sign of their growing popularity and an admission that they are part of the political landscape. Their rise has been meteoric – while the BNP received only 3,020 votes in the 2000 local elections, they secured 235,000 and 56 councillors in 2008. Most significantly, the party won two seats – and 6.2% of the vote – in the European Parliamentary elections earlier this year. Evidently Griffin and his followers can no longer be summarily dismissed as extremists trading on the fringes of British politics. We must confront the issue: why is the British National Party the fastest growing party in the United Kingdom?

The British National Party is a racist institution. Their constitution maintains that membership to the party is extended only to “the indigenous British ethnic group deriving from the class of ‘Indigenous Caucasian’”, a term that their mission statement defines as “the people whose ancestors were the earliest settlers here after the last great Ice Age and which have been complemented by the historic migrations from mainland Europe.” In short, it is a whites-only party. Of course, Griffin’s well rehearsed rhetoric on this policy is not wholly invalid – the argument that it is a legal insurance designed to protect its members from discrimination is somewhat unconvincing, but we should remember that their modus operandi is just as exclusive as – among many others – the Black Policeman’s Association or the Jewish Free School’s. However, the salient difference between these organisations and Griffin’s is that they are geared towards what people are, rather than what they are not. There is no suggestion, for example, that the BPA want to do away with non-black policemen or that JFS seek to abolish non-Jewish education. On the other hand, the British National Party hold that non-whites do not belong in their community, and must adapt to their cultural norms. On a personal level, I find this sort of intolerance repulsive. Indeed, while the BNP have abandoned their support for compulsory repatriation, one must feel anxiety at the prospect of being excluded from the so-called ‘indigenous population’ in a Griffin-led Britain.

On the other hand, it occurs to me that Britain is not a racist country. At any rate, it is no more racist now than it was when Griffin emerged as leader and energized the BNP in 1999. Indeed, his party does not always perform well in areas with a high concentration of non-whites. Analysis of electoral statistics suggests that the party does not gain any electoral advantage from an influx of Indian migrants into an area, while they traditionally struggle to gain support in areas where there are many Britons of Afro-Caribbean descent. Furthermore, the idea that everyone who votes British Nationalist is – by extension – racist, is crude and misleading. In fact, the British National Party deliberately avoids any explicit talk of race. While its constitution betrays the racism that is at the core of the party, it is difficult to point to anything overtly racist in BNP literature. Rather, they focus relentlessly on local issues, targeting traditionally run-down areas with inept councils and position themselves as the useful, genuine party. Public acts of charity in visible locations – anti-litter campaigns, for example – are common, while BNP councillors are known for their commitment to sensitive local issues. To people in these areas, the BNP are not the racist party, but the helpful party; a breath of fresh air in a rotten political environment. In this way, Griffin and his colleagues appear to have their fingers firmly on the pulse; they are capitalising on the general discontent with the traditional political order and are exploiting the helplessness that comes with financial ill-health. As Britons drift further away from Westminster, they fall squarely into Griffin’s lap.

This may be why the elite reaction to the British National Party has been weak. The current policy adopted by the mainstream parties of ostracizing Griffin and his colleagues as racist thugs is patently not working. For starters, it is inaccurate. As I’m sure will become clear on Question Time, Griffin is a capable orator who can talk with authority on a variety of policies that have nothing to do with immigration. As a Cambridge-educated family man he is a radical opposite to the caricature of skinhead thuggery that his party is normally associated with. More importantly, Griffin thrives on his status as an outsider to the traditional order – it is why he publicly rejected his invitation to a garden party hosted by the Queen earlier this year. He is best when playing David to Westminster’s Goliath; it distinguishes him from the rot at parliament and separates him from the politicians that Britain has lost confidence in. Rather than demonising Griffin’s movement, the political elite should address the reasons why Britons are joining it.

Griffin fills a wide gap that has been vacated by the major parties in their rush for the centre ground. Difficult issues considered by the elite parties as too risky or polarising are now Griffin’s exclusive provinces. For example, the British National Party has the anti-European Union market entirely cornered – while polls reveal that a significant portion of the British public share Euro-sceptic concerns, the BNP and UKIP are the only parties that support an exit from the EU. Indeed, while Westminster sidelines the issue of immigration, it is totemic for Griffin. The British National Party are the only party that consistently put the immigration question on the political agenda. It is easy to see why; Brown is probably relieved that his party’s inconsistent record on immigration remains a non-issue, while the Tories learnt in 2005 that stressing immigration turns voters off. In addition, either party that expresses a stance on immigration faces the inevitable smearing that characterises this era of ‘Punch-and-Judy’ politics. However, the rise of the British National Party suggests that Britain wants to discuss immigration. And rightly so – Home Office statistics reveal that 270,000 work permits were granted to non-EU nationals between 2005 and 2008, while the most recent study by the London School of Economics estimates that there are 725,000 illegal migrants operating in Britain. Regardless of one’s personal convictions on the merits of immigration, it is a huge part of British life that is largely forgotten at Westminster.

This is the problem. Politicians are quick to dismiss the BNP vote as the ‘protest’ vote. The trouble is that the protest has gone unnoticed. Griffin and his ilk will continue to court votes and support as long as the controversial issues are sidelined. Bringing Griffin on Question Time is a step in the right direction; the best way to dismantle his ideas is to test them in rational, fair debate. My guess is that Britain will reject the platform Griffin has been given. They will find his view of ‘British’ culture too narrow, his idea of ‘British’ history too selective. In fact, the sort of intolerance that the BNP incubates strikes me as fundamentally un-British. However, there is no getting around the fact that many Britons have legitimate concerns about the uncomfortable issues that Griffin raises. Our leaders must confront these issues, however unpopular that makes them.

Alex Friede

For follow-up comment on Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, see www.impactnottingham.com.

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