June 8, 2009


The rise of British racism may be horribly close: As the June elections draw close, Fraser Nelson goes on the stump with the BNP and is struck by a troubling paradox: the less racist Britain is, the more popular this racist party becomes. As Westminster implodes, far Right politicians are posturing as the tribunes of working people (Fraser Nelson, 27th May 2009, The Spectator)

Just ten years ago, obituaries were being written for British racial nationalism. Oswald Mosley may have filled the Albert Hall in 1940, but he never won so much as a council ward at the ballot box. The National Front won two such contests, but was crushed by Thatcher in 1979 and never recovered. The British National Party had a brief victory in Isle of Dogs in 1993 but then seemed to perish. To hawk its racism in a country as tolerant as Britain seemed as futile as trying to start a coconut farm in Yorkshire. It just didn’t seem to take root.

In recent years, however, under the very noses of the apparently triumphant mainstream political class, the BNP has suddenly started to grow again — and its rise is exponential. Nine years ago it scored just 3,020 votes in England’s local elections. Last year its total was 235,000, giving the BNP 56 incumbent councillors. One such is Seamus Dunne, whom I meet outside the Dick Whittington pub in South Oxhey, a Hertfordshire housing estate built after the war. He has agreed to let me tag along with him and his fellow campaigners, to see what he calls the ‘real BNP’ — not what he regards as the caricature invented by the media.

Certainly, Mr Dunne could scarcely be more different from the stereotype of the tattooed thug. Besuited and softly spoken, he talks about taking his family to Kew Gardens and says that he wants to serve locals — ‘black or white’ — as best he can. It is a racially mixed estate, and there is no telling what the ethnicity of the voter opening the door will be. But the first, a young white man in his thirties, is a quick success. ‘You’re the guy who sorted out the rat infestation for us,’ he tells Mr Dunne. ‘You’ll get my vote. I’m BNP, and so is everyone I know.’

This is the first important point to note: there is no explicit talk of race, immigration or the death penalty (which the BNP supports). Just rats. This chap had a problem; his councillor fixed it and secured at least one vote. This is a significant and new aspect of the BNP’s strategy. Just as Lib Dems talk about holes in the road, not holes in the nation’s finances, the BNP (in spite of its nationalist identity) focuses relentlessly on the local. It targets councils with huge (normally Labour) majorities which have, for whatever reason, lost the will or capacity to campaign and govern well. The BNP then seeks to make itself useful: most recently, by sending squads to clear litter in strategic locations. It is a devious ploy: distracting public attention from the racist reality of the BNP by presenting itself as the ‘helpful party’.

As Mr Dunne continues down the road, this is his pledge. ‘I’ll work for you, the Lib-Lab con will not.’ In itself, it’s a bland and unremarkable democratic proposition. But what strikes me is that the letters BNP are not in themselves off-putting. I wonder why until we meet a lady in the next house. ‘Only ignorant or illiterate people think the BNP is about black vs white,’ she says. ‘The BNP principles are absolutely fine. The issue is about immigration — and this government is soft in letting everyone in.’ To hear this from a swing voter is disarming, to say the least. But what makes the remark so staggering is that the woman who utters it is black.

She immigrated from Jamaica aged three, and proudly considers herself British, ‘which is why I wasn’t happy when they sprayed “NF” on my car.’ Mr Dunne sympathises. ‘My parents came here when they said “no dogs, no Irish,”’ he said. ‘But you work your way up, obey the laws.’ The lady nods. The question of racism and anxiety about immigration — so often conflated in Westminster — are totally separate matters in her mind. Not only does she not regard the BNP as racist, she believes this to be a slur.

That the BNP is racist is, of course, not a matter of opinion. It has a whites-only membership policy, for example, and while it no longer supports compulsory repatriation, there are no prizes for guessing its definition of ‘indigenous population’. But there is no hint of this on the campaign trail.

...whichever group we tried keeping out last time wants to keep the next out this time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 8, 2009 7:13 AM
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