Some were stalwart enough to stay up last night, others awoke to the news this morning, but either way, I think most were dishearteningly unsurprised to find that two of our elected 72 MEPs are members of the British National Party. For those that missed the story, and associated outrage, party leader Nick Griffin won the final seat in the North West region (NW), and Andrew Brons did the same in Yorkshire and Humber (Y&H). Nationally the party polled 943598 votes, making up 6.26% of the total vote.
While it is undoubtedly embarrassing to have two near-fascists representing our country in Europe, I’d argue that this may not be the dawn of the apocalypse. Regrettable as the boost to the party’s finances and wider legitimacy is, the recent circumstances preceding this election heavily favoured the likelihood of such a result; thus this may not be an accurate indicator of the rise of true fascism.
Most obviously, the recession, and still ongoing trickle of MPs’ expenses revelations by the Telegraph have dealt a significant blow to public faith in politics. The resulting effects upon the largely unrelated European elections probably included direct defection from major parties to fringe ones in ‘protest’, and arguably most damaging, the exacerbation of perennial apathy-based abstinence. It should be noted also, that the holding government party was always going to suffer disproportionately from a parliament-wide scandal, so no surprises to see Labour beaten into third place by UKIP, only polling 15% of the vote.
Overall though, it was closer than it sounds. For example, in the NW region, only 5000 more votes for the Greens would’ve beaten Nick Griffin to his seat. Also, as many have noted from the statistics, net votes for the BNP have actually dropped compared to five years ago. In NW and Y&H respectively, the BNP received 2500 and 6000 fewer votes than in 2004. A lower overall turnout though, meant that through the proportional representation system they needed fewer votes to pass the percentage threshold to gain the seat, and thus were gifted two MEPs through voters declining to vote.
It’s common knowledge that their policies are ‘racist’, but in reality what does this mean? Focusing on their most controversial credo, in their own words:
“The British National Party stands for the preservation of the national and ethnic character of the British people and is wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples. It is therefore committed to stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration and to restoring, by legal changes, negotiation and consent, the overwhelmingly white makeup of the British population that existed in Britain prior to 1948.”
(BNP Constitution 2005, Section 1, 2b)
It isn’t difficult to understand the apprehension such language arouses in people both ‘British’ and ‘non-European’ people. The BNP deny racism (though who would openly brand themselves racists?), but claim to instead be defending the rights of the supposedly disenfranchised ‘indigenous’ white people. Whilst institutionalised positive discrimination is an issue that should be discussed, the BNP dangerously blur the lines between a genuine open debate and racist scapegoating, which is neither acceptable nor constructive. Interestingly, despite regurgitated rhetoric about white people ‘dying out’ because of an extraneous assault on the gene pool, they still constitute about 92% of the UK’s population – far from a minority!
Among the many inconsistencies that emerge from this muddling of true positive and erroneous normative claims (i.e. white people are sometimes discriminated against, vs. we should solve this by blaming non-whites) are some that are plain ludicrous and contradictory. For example Nick Griffin declares in a laughably ignorant sermon about Obama’s election, that “virtually all black people think in terms of someone else being black being their brother, and we don’t think like that!” Yet the BNP constitution declares that it seeks to “form a single brotherhood of peoples” amongst all those of indigenous British descent. The disparity between the official, almost legitimate, party line and the obviously moronic ignorance with which it is practiced is what worries many.
The danger lies in dismissing the BNP as a joke not to be taken seriously, as clearly some of what they address is missed by mainstream parties. Sunny Hundal rightly points out that the BNP’s success is an indictment of “a centralised party ignoring local concerns”. This is pertinent in racially-ghettoised areas where the BNP is currently garnering support, and where investment in multi-ethnic community projects and education could tackle the root cause.
By not discerning between the legitimate concerns that underpin BNP support – by which I mean issues like positive discrimination, our expenditure as part of the EU, and our sustainability as a nation – and the conflation of these with racist oration, the BNP attracts those who perceive these problems going unaddressed by central parties. According the BNP the privileged role of being the only forum for lobbying on these issues also condones the accompanying racism; that is the reason behind, and problem with the BNP winning MEP seats.
I’d argue that our responsibility now lies in confronting the issue at hand. Rather than continuing to overlook the BNP, we should return to the fundamental reason they became such an openly vilified group in this country – their deeply flawed policies. The freedom of speech debate is another can of worms entirely (instanced by Griffin’s controversial appearance at Oxford University a few years ago), but clearly, repressing marginal voices to the periphery hasn’t done enough to mollify support.
The best reaction to this exercise of democracy, as undesirable as the outcome may be, would be to work within the parameters of the system to show them up for what they are. I’m mighty disappointed to have missed out on both my local hustings, because I would’ve loved to have directly questioned the BNP candidates on their specific policies (rather than just yelling out ‘fascists’, as someone did last night at one of the regional announcements, as cheering as that was).
Their various stated policies are often not just unrealistic but actually detrimental to the country. Setting aside the cultural poverty that would arise from a single-ethnicity within the British Isles, much of their isolationism would result in material and economic divestment. Contradictory EU trade policies and barring entry to immigrants wishing to work in jobs we don’t want ourselves, are just two examples of how racism has become so endemic to their manifesto that it overrides reason and the welfare of the country. Thus through challenging their manifesto they can be exposed and thwarted.
Admittedly this is an attitude that has been lacking in our wider democractic activity, and should be extrapolated. Can anyone remember the last time when we actually examined any of the dominant parties’ manifestos? All political debate these days seems to revolve around the nexus of TV-appearance point-scoring, tokenistic PR stunts, and hypocritical newspaper speculation. We must demand transparent policy debate, and then perhaps the central parties will provide a viable voting alternative for those who feel disenfranchised enough to stay away from the polling stations, thereby gifting the far-right undue gains.