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Friday, 9 May 2008

BNP – Bullying, Nasty, Pernicious

During last week's local elections, there was an interesting cameo scene televised from London's City Hall after the results had been announced, that attracted little, if any, comment. This was during the post-results speech-making, when each of the candidates is invited to take the microphone and congratulate each other, commiserate, make the odd political dig and thank party workers for their sterling efforts.

When BNP candidate, Richard Barnbrook, stepped forward, almost all the other candidates shuffled off stage in a gesture of contempt, allowing him to make a snide little quip about "rats leaving a sinking ship". The auditorium, too, was almost deserted, save for the back row in which other BNP candidates sat shoulder-to-shoulder with their garish red-white-and-blue rosettes, snickering in that peculiarly snide and joyless way that working class oaves generally do. What struck me about these men – all men – was their ugliness, not just physical (they were all the wrong side of 40, the wrong side of 200 lbs and a bit sweaty), but their demeanour too. This demeanour was vaguely familiar.

Where, I wondered, have I seen this behaviour before? And then it struck me. On the few occasions in my life when I have been subjected to anti-gay bullying, this all-lads-together ganging up is but a prelude to the bullying that invariably follows. It happened once at school, once on the Rugby field, once in the Navy and a few times on the estate where I used to live. It's a cowardly business, but no less intimidating for that – the way that every aspect of one's body, clothing, movements, vocabulary and voice become subject to intense laddish scrutiny, ridicule and mimickry, accompanied by grossly intrusive speculation as to one's supposed sexual behaviour. Fortunately for me, I don't scare that easily and I know how to look after myself (you take out the ringleader and the others usually melt away).

The relationship between the gay community and the BNP is an interesting one. The gay press pays rather more attention to the BNP that it deserves – after all, it barely registers on the electoral seismograph, yet they're obsessed by the "neo-Nazi BNP" (not really an accurate description). The gay press is always critical and wary, but nonetheless approaches the BNP like a fairground ride, viewing it as something scary, but somehow compelling. For their part, BNP members are ambivalent about gays. They don't mind it "behind closed doors" as they say, but are against "flaunting it" publicly. They support oppressive legislation like Section 28. But even their leader in London, the aforementioned Richard Barm-cake, has made a homoerotic "art film" in which naked young men run around flagellating each other and simulating gay sex acts whilst homoerotic poetry is intoned. Barmy-brook is, however, reassuringly heterosexual.

The BNP shrewdly recognises that parts of the "gay community" have always been a fertile recruiting ground for the far-Right. Skinhead homoeroticism is obvious, while history tells us that the world is full of men who go weak at the knees at the thought of fit young men marching around in boots and uniforms. Baden-Powell did it, the Japanese writer, Yukio Mishima, did it and even Adolf Hitler did it (famously waxing lyrical over the thought of a blond boy in lederhosen). And we all know what the Brownshirts were doing when they were arrested during the Night of the Long Knives. That sexual outsiders should be attracted to political outsiders – and vice versa – shouldn't surprise us in the least. Left or Right, the extremists can count on a significant number of gays to act as their footsoldiers (until they've served their purpose and wind up in the camps, of course).

Personally, I think the BNP is an odious bunch of losers. Being a gay, part-Jewish freethinker, I know I have a lot to fear from the BNP (but not as much as they have to fear from me). Nevertheless, I support their right to field candidates and express their points of view, no matter how unpleasant or daft those views may be. In a democracy, one must not only expect, but welcome, representation by the far-Right and the far-Left, even though they are in many ways two sides of the same coin – the same bad penny. They have a right to stand and we have the right to vote for them (or not). In fact, I demand the right to be able to vote for them – even though I would never choose to!

The BNP is now officially an "anti-immigration" party, not a "racist" party – and whilst I am sure this conceals some rather nastier private opinions – it does represent a triumph, of sorts, for the anti-racist lobby. The "thuggish" BNP has been tamed and now couches its arguments in "common sense" terms, appealing to a respectable (if rather dim) section of the white working class population.

Fortunately, the British electorate has an uncanny knack of sniffing out losers and phonies, which is why Neil Kinnock and William Hague never became Prime Ministers, why Peter Tatchell never became an MP or GLA councillor, and why the BNP is only ever a statistical blip in the elections. Nonetheless, the working class protest vote which elects these BNP goons does have some validity in what it tells us about being white, poor and powerless in today's society. It should not be treated so dismissively by other candidates walking off stage.

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