Last night on Question Time, Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, appeared for the first time. The audience was packed with his opponents, rent-a-mob besieged the BBC studio and four panelists appeared with him, all strongly opposed to his views.
Griffin is reputedly a fascist, yet his party won two seats at last year's European Elections and many councillors at local elections. I am not a BNP supporter.
As I have posted before, I supported the BBC in giving him the opportunity to present his views. In fact they had no choice. Their Charter demands that they be impartial and in the past they have given a voice to the Green Party, George Galloway's Respect Party and to UKIP, all of which are parties with a small and patchy following, that have won seats in Europe.
In the 1930s Oswald Moseley split from the Labor Party to form the British Union of Fascists, which allied with the Nazi Party in Germany and fought pitched battles on the streets of London with those on the Left. After the war, this brand of politics was taken up by the League of Empire Loyalists and then by the National Front. In the 1979 general election, the National Front polled 191,719 votes, 0.6% of the vote overall. Although it still exists, its current membership is 150. Nick Griffin is a former national organizer of the National Front and claims to be moving the British National Party in a more moderate direction. In the 2005 general election the BNP polled 0.7% of the total vote, but in 2008 got 5.2% of the votes in the London Mayoral election and in the same year had 2 MEPs elected and many local councillors to bring their total representation locally to 56 seats. The also have one of the 25 seats on the London Assembly. The BNP has increased its electoral influence despite well documented instances of racism, homophobia and antagonism to Islam. The general public has not been deterred from voting for them.
The rise of the BNP has been attributed to many factors. The scandal about MPs overclaiming expenses sowed distrust among voters for mainstream politicians, the recession has led to unemployment so that workers have become obsessed by immigrants 'taking our jobs', immigration has definitely increased leading to predictions that Britain's population will go from 60 to 70 million in the next 20 years, there is widespread discontent that even those illegal immigrants who are caught are seldom deported to their country of origin and the Labor government seems to keep no record of whether those on temporary visas (visitors of students) ever return to their own countries. Finally Europe is a dirty word to most Britons and many are angry that the promised referendum on the Lisbon Treaty never emerged, despite it being a Manifesto commitment by New Labor.
The TV program proved a disappointment. No political issues were discussed; instead the BNP was attacked for its previous statements (some of them mythical) rather than its present policies. Griffin was not a smart performer and some of his unpleasant beliefs were drawn out of him, but the atmosphere of intimidation was such that some will undoubtedly have felt sorry for him. One Afro-Caribbean member of the audience came over as a coherent and eloquent defender of Black Englishmen who was proud of his country and the same could be said of a South Asian who spoke with a London accent.
Griffin got in one barb at Jack Straw, the Labor Minister for Justice, by pointing out that Griffin's father had fought the Nazis in the RAF, while Straw's father (though part-Jewish) had registered as a conscientious objector. Had he wished to be nasty he could have had fun with Straw's previous views as a Marxist and with his son's conviction as a drug dealer. Griffin himself has been accused of inciting racial hatred but was not convicted of it when tried.
The only question that did not attack the BNP was "Is the rise of the BNP due to to government's handling of immigration?" The audience certainly thought so.
In summary, a debate on the BNP should certainly be held. There are issues which the main parties are afraid to approach for fear of being thought racist, homophobic or anti-Islamic. Many people are anxious about the loss of English cultural identity. Politicians are distrusted as self-serving crooks. A change of government is coming, but may be elected on a diminishing plebiscite which will allow minor parties undue influence.