24 October 2009

My tupp'orth on the BNP

Let me begin this post by saying that I rarely watch Question Time. I don't find anything out from it that I can't find out from the blogosphere, which, frankly, tends to put things far better. Spending an hour listening to politicians ignore questions from a studio audience and basically say what they were going to anyway - and have said often enough beforehand - is, quite frankly, some distance down my list of fun ways to spend a Thursday night in. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if the choice were between gouging my own eyes out with a pair of matchsticks and watching QT, I'd ask whether the matchsticks were lit or not. So it was mostly out of morbid curiosity that I tuned in on Thursday night.

I needn't have bothered.

And the reason for that is that we didn't learn anything that we didn't otherwise know. The other parties hate the BNP. We knew this. Were one to analyse Nick Griffin's demeanour and opinions, one would conclude that he is the result of some sort of genetic splicing experiment involving the DNA of Adolf Hitler and Richard Nixon. With maybe some Richard Littlejohn and Jeremy Clarkson thrown in just for the hell of it. Again, nothing new there.

Besides, looking at the reaction, it seems as though everyone saw what they wanted to see. Those already hostile to him saw a fascist bully out of his comfort zone, weakened by his smarter opponents (this was definitely true whenever Bonnie Greer spoke). Those already sympathetic saw a man victimised by the rest of the studio, David Dimbleby et al representing an Establishment bent on suppressing him. Those few undecideds saw a bunch of politicians squabbling and Griffin failing miserably to deal with any question put. Certainly the guys in my local, who you'd think would be the kind of people Griffin would speak to, were not impressed.

But for me, the rest of the panel, in their urge to kick the shit out of Griffin, missed the killer blow. He referred to a poll which suggested that three quarters of the public agree with the BNP's stance on immigration. Bonnie Greer snorted with derision, but no one thought to ask the question that would have felled him:

If so many people agree with you on immigration, why aren't you in Downing Street already?

And of course, none of the answers to that are good for Nick Griffin. Barring any paranoid rants about media suppression, there are three possible responses: first, the poll is bogus; second, there's about 70% of the population who might well agree with the BNP but find the whole party package so repugnant that they won't actually vote for it; third, that many people may well be unhappy about immigration, but to put it bluntly, they don't actually care that much in the grand scheme of things as they have other, more practical, more immediate things to worry about.

Those possibilities need not be mutually exclusive, but I suspect that Griffin himself will probably own up to the third, and possibly, to some degree, the second, given how much time he spent trying to assure us that because of him, the BNP was almost respectable. Of course, respectable parties don't get people frothing at the mouth to the extent that they're willing to riot outside a television station that invites them before the cameras, but that's by the by.

No, the BNP's speciality is going into communities that have been left behind, taken for granted by the other parties and left basically to rot, cut off from the main centres of power and left to feel that any vote is a wasted vote. So when the BNP come in, like the proverbial new broom, of course they're going to get noticed by people who, frankly, haven't been noticed by anyone else in years.

And I should know about that frustration: I spent a large chunk of my childhood on one of those council estates that had basically been left to fall apart. The sort of place where the BNP could very easily sneak in.

Except, at that time certainly, and even today, the BNP couldn't gain much traction as there was no immigrant community to play the locals off against. I must have been seven before I actually met someone who wasn't white.

That was Mr. Singh, who my Dad found a job with at the time. And unlike his previous job - where when the boss finally did get round to paying him, the wages consisted of a chicken breast, three tins of beans and a pair of size 10 boots - Dad actually brought cash money home from it. But he wasn't just treated like he'd joined Mr. Singh's business. No, we were all treated like we'd joined his family. My parents got an invite to his daughter's wedding; when Dad called to see him, I went too, and I'd be invited into the house and play with his younger kids, who were about my age.

So you can give me Mr. Singh's enterprise and hospitality over Griffin's vile scapegoating any day of the year.

But my point is this: the immigrant, ethnic minority population were a lifeline for my family, not a drain. Immigration and ethnic minorities had nothing to do with the grim situation we found ourselves in beforehand - and that's doubtless true of the communities where the BNP have been successful as well: the problems people face will go back decades and will now be shared by the same people that the BNP vilify.

That's the truth that the BNP don't want you to hear. The problems that those potential BNP voters face existed long before any wave of immigration, and they won't be solved by any wave of deportation either. The BNP's core principles won't make anyone's lives any better. And they know it just as well as anyone.

Which is why they concentrate on the broken fences, the burnt-out street lights, the pot holes, the litter and the dog shit. And before you know it, you've actually voted for them not because you're racist or because you fear immigration but because they're the only people who've ever done anything useful for you.

The moral of this post is this: QT didn't legitimise Nick Griffin or his viewpoints. If that's been done at all, it's been done by the thousands of people who have voted BNP. He's spent a week in the media spotlight, facing all sorts of criticism and responding with a melange of evasion and paranoia. He wanted to talk about the issues of the day on television (is racism not an issue of the day?), but even if he had, would his performance have assured people that he and his party could be trusted to sort out the postal strike, or get the economy out of recession. Judging by the fact that he's spent his week in the sun ranting about Churchill and re-writing the history books, I'd say he couldn't get the economy out of a paper bag.

But just as I don't trust him to sort out the problems I see, so those who voted BNP don't trust the other parties to sort out their problems. And that's the real nut to crack. You don't fight fascism by storming television stations that broadcast views you don't agree with (as Orwell might have said, the viewers looked from UAF to the BNP, from the BNP to UAF, and from UAF to the BNP again, but already it was impossible to tell which was which). You don't respond to fascist parties by sending bovver boys to break up their events - if you do that, you've sunk to their level and they have won.

You don't win the argument against them by flouncing off the stage either. As always, it's positive messages that win out, and in this case, real actions. If mainstream parties want to get these people who've voted BNP back, they need to treat them like mainstream communities, and deliver actual, concrete positive change to their lives in the way that they haven't done before.

Blanking the BNP hasn't worked - they've got enough elected officials to prove that. Screaming at them hasn't worked. Debating them can at least stop the rot, and show people that whoever does have the answers, the BNP certainly do not. But if you really want to beat the BNP, you do it by going directly to the people, and taking steps to make their lives better. We can all stand here and preach moral superiority all we want but if we've allowed whole communities to fall by the wayside, then we have no moral high ground at all as our action (or rather, inaction) has caused such suffering and desperation that people now turn to the likes of Nick Griffin.

And the longer we leave it, the longer we spend whinging about the BNP rather than actually tackling the poverty and frustrations of people who've been left on the margins, the harder it'll be to win them over, and the more embedded the BNP will become.

The reality is that the BNP will never offer solutions to people's actual problems. The mainstream parties can, but they have to start doing so. That's how we beat them.


redcliffe62 said...

my (white) parents lived in india, and speak hindi and gujarati.
the work ethic of indians, and their approach to nuclear families has always been exceptional. they fully support their children, male and female in education.
no-one from india of these religious backgrounds has bombed london.
the issue today is more complex. many people from ethnic bacgrounds not related to the brotish empire, where english is not a regularly spoken language.

people arrive without papers from iraq, afghanistan, and somalia, all areas where terrorism is rife. what their real background is nobody really knows on occasions. what they have done and who they have associated with is often hidden.

i can see great benefits in people assimilating into a culture, but when monoglot ghettoes are formed, english needs to be taught to the children of these immigrants at school prior to starting an education. the parents just claim benefits; that is the outcome as they do not have the skills to compete in a tight job market.
if they do try and compete, they are paid less than the going rate.
the problem is not just the quantity of the immigrants it is the quality of the immigrants and the fact that some of them threaten, physically and emotionally, the fabric of society.

i heard little dissent when the hong kong chinese came to redinburgh in the 70's. they opened up their take away restaurants, learned english better which they already knew from hong kong at elast in passing as asecond language and just as importantly did not commit crimes very often against the "locals."

belfast was happy the last 10 years to take refugess from many countries, but drew the line at romanian gypsies when the new immigrants commited many crimes, petty and violent. they were run out of town. political correctness could not hide the fact that many were criminals, albeit petty, estimated as up to some 40 to 50 of the 135 in the community.

so we should not generalise on the grounds of colour, or race per se.
but the open door policy clearly ahs failed and recent additions from countries ahs brought different crimes. east asia has brought different players into drug dealings.

i agree with salmond, that if people come to scotalnd and want to be a part of the team they are VERY welcome. but if you play a different game and only play with your own mates then do not expect the locals to want to play "baw" with you.

whilst i do not agree with the bnp, i do agree that those people that come to this country need to be assessed as to whether the mainly unskilled workers add value. no doubt there is value for them, but with only 300k of the last 1.7 million jobs in the UK going to people born here one would say that the locals are losing out and that does not auger well for the future.
this does not just affect the white working class, but also the 2nd generation black working class in urban england, who also feel they do not have anyone giving them a political voice.
after all, it is hard for them to support the bnp! but if immigration continues at this alarming rate when services cannot be maintained and the country cannot afford further debt many will never work again.

subrosa said...

Your last paragraph sums it up nicely Will.

Anonymous said...

"Besides, looking at the reaction, it seems as though everyone saw what they wanted to see."

Very true. A real Bovril reaction. Lots of heat and little light.

Whisper said...

I think rather than inviting Griffin onto QT, the Beeb should've offered to screen their party conference, he'd have run a mile at the prospect of a proper light shining on his party...

Debate is Free said...

I was all for the BNP to appear on Question Time as long as they were given the same scrutiny on their policies as the other parties are given. It didn't turn out that way though and Griffin was allowed to hijack the show as people attacked him from all sides.

As repellant as I find Griffin I am sure many people were feeling sympthatic to him at that point.

To ignore the BNP is dangerous, to treat the BNP differently from any other party is just as dangerous as it makes them stick out and look like the underdogs.

I wouldn't have put it past Griffin if that was the outcome he wanted all along.