You can tell that we are nearing local and European elections, because suddenly there's an eruption of scare stories about the BNP all over the newspapers. This festering boil on the nation's political bottom would just shrivel up and die if we all just ignored it – like we generally do for the other 11 months of the year. Political pundits, puffed up with self-righteousness, are also appearing regularly on political TV programmes, warning us about the "fascist" BNP, the "Nazi" BNP, the "neo-Nazi" BNP and the "I-can't-believe-it's-not-butter" BNP.
Not one of these descriptions is accurate. The BNP is officially an "anti-immigration" and "pro-family" party, not a "racist" or "anti-gay" party, though these important distinctions undoubtedly mask some pretty nasty, un-reconstituted racism and anti-gay prejudices amongst its sweaty-arsed rank and file.
One of their tacky leaflets recently dropped onto my doormat. A riot of clashing colours, type-faces and ugly graphics, it looked like one of Sir Alan Sugar's apprentice wannabes had knocked it up in five minutes at the end of a hard day. Full of pictures of chavvy-looking dullards, it reeks of red-top populism aimed at the kind of disgruntled, pessimistic cynics who feel besieged by modern life, that the whole world is against them, that everyone else is getting a free ride at the expense of "decent ordinary folk" like themselves.
The policies are all built on banal prejudices, myths that masquerade as common sense and the kind of snap judgements dull people make about complex issues when they are too lazy or stupid to trouble themselves with facts or analysis. The iconography of Churchill and World War II is pressed into service, alongside a knee-jerk opposition to the European Union. Other than that, there is support for the Anglican Church, the monarchy, traditional family life and – bizarrely – green issues.
I think there are three main reasons why the main parties are crapping themselves over the perceived BNP threat at the forthcoming local and European elections on June 4th. The first is that our Westminster politicians – even the decent majority of them – are now indelibly associated with corruption and greed, in the wake of the mushroom cloud of anger that erupted over the scandal of MPs' expenses. For those of us who are, or were, "natural" Labour Party supporters, it is disheartening and maddening to discover that so many high profile Labour MP's have busied themselves, not with making our society fairer and a decent, safe place to live in, but feathering their own luxuriously-appointed nests at the tax-payers' expense.
The Conservatives are no better, but you kind of expect it from the "Alan B'stard" type of Tory, while David Cameron's vision of a progressive, reforming Conservatism, is exactly what the country needs right now. The BNP may well reap protest votes among the disaffected and misguided as a result of all these venal "public servants" caught with their snouts in the trough – Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman, certainly seems to think so (Times, 9th May). Her cabinet chum, Hazel Blears, has been a marvellous, if unwitting, recruiting agent for the BNP, no doubt.
The second reason is that the BNP is not run by the knuckle-headed morons of popular imagination, but by shrewd and clever people like Nick Griffin. Look past his comical Harry Potter haircut and and you'll see he is a calculating Oxford-educated lawyer. The BNP leadership has cleverly manoeuvred the party into the position where it actually articulates a lot of common sense that everybody knows to be true, but which political correctness stops most mainstream politicians from admitting.
Yes, immigration is out of control and far too high. Yes, we should do more to secure our borders. Yes, undiluted Islam is problematic and often runs counter to western values. No rational person would disagree. Agreeing with those statements does not mean you agree with the BNP – it means the BNP has cleverly repositioned itself so that it appears to agree with you. No one should be fooled by this cynical ploy, but some disgruntled simpletons will be.
The third reason is that the BNP can now claim the kind of "victim status" that Muslims and other minorities have traditionally manipulated so effectively to their own advantage. Earlier this year, the BNP went bleating to the police after the feminist comedian, Jo Brand – in response to the leaking of the BNP members' list – quipped, live on stage: "Oh good. Now we know who to send the poo to!" At the Royal Mail, the Communication Workers Union is currently backing some of its members who are refusing to deliver the BNP's election leaflets in Bristol (Times, 15th May). One trade unionist is quoted as saying: "Although there isn't anything racist or fascist on it, it does say no to immigration." In other words, the leaflets are perfectly legal and in line with the Representation of the People Act, which stipulates that the Royal Mail has a duty to deliver electoral materials for all political parties, without favour or discrimination.
This follows an unusually forthright condemnation of the BNP from our normally mealy-mouthed Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, after a soppy-looking Jesus appeared on BNP hoardings lending his weight to BNP claims of social and electoral martyrdom. Meanwhile, Nick Barnbrook, the BNP's sole representative at the Greater London Assembly (GLA), has also been "persuaded" not to take Nick Griffin along to the Buckingham Palace garden party, as is his right, as an elected GLA representative. Nick Griffin is portraying this climb-down as "sparing Her Majesty any embarrassment" but, elsewhere, the BNP is already claiming it has been victimised, yet again, by our corrupt liberal-left establishment. They do have a point.
Democracy requires a full spectrum of opinion, including barking mad right-wingers like the BNP and their equally barking mad left-wing counterparts. If extremists want to put up candidates, then that is their right and we have the right to vote for them (or not), as well as demonstrate against them (or not). We don't need limp liberals or shrill left-wingers telling us what we must think and do.
Two years ago, I remember seeing the former London Mayor, "Red" Ken Livingstone, on the TV. He was touring Barking (appropriately), where the BNP was hoping to win some council seats. Collaring a Vicky Pollard look-alike who was considering voting for the BNP, he tried to remind her that the parents and grandparents of today's Londoners "fought against fascism and being taken over by people like the BNP". Of course, that is nonsense-on-stilts. What the parents and grandparents of today's Londoners were actually fighting for was to protect their neighbourhoods from – oh dear! – being invaded by foreigners. Thanks to decades of mismanaged immigration, a lot of those parents and grandparents must look around those same neighbourhoods and wonder why they bothered.
After Ken Livingstone's monumentally ineffectual visit, the citizens of Barking & Dagenham went on to elect 10 BNP councillors (more than any other London borough), while the out-of-touch socialist grandee was swept out of office by London's electorate just a year later.
In fact, our society is perfectly well-equipped to deal with bunk from all sources, including the BNP, without the efforts of self-regarding socialists and other tiresome do-gooders, because we have a free press and other vigorously independent institutions. Independence of mind is, ironically, part of the collective British psyche, together with a huge dollop of tolerance and feisty good humour (nothing is more un-British, in a sense, than the narrow-minded British National Party). We Brits, diverse as we are, have a collective nose for people who are either intolerant, greedy, or fraudulent and we don't suffer fools gladly either.
However, most fair-minded people also recognise that the BNP has no terrorist wing, unlike, say, Sinn Fein, while it also eschews, or at least disassociates itself from, other forms of violence – unlike some parts of the Muslim community. As long as the BNP operates within the law, genuine freethinkers and democrats, gay or straight, must defend its right to participate in the democratic process, while campaigning, legitimately, against a lot of what it stands for.
On June 4th, we can be confident that the BNP will be the huge electoral flop it always has been, even in working-class boroughs like Barking & Dagenham. Let's not dignify BNP members' thinly disguised racism and anti-gay prejudices by denouncing them with yet more hysterical left-wing wank. That just plays into their hands. These people are just berks and jerks – not the big bad bogeymen of liberal imagination.
When is right wrong?
Behind closed doors