Friday, October 23, 2009

An Exercise in the Risks of Democracy

There will be too much blah about Nick Griffin and the BNP on the web already, but I feel last night's Question Time can't pass without comment here. After a little thought and some discussion, I watched it with Debs and Jono, as we all wanted to see what would happen.

In a democracy, if a political party is legal, and commands a certain level of support, it is allowed a degree of coverage. BNP party political broadcasts have happened, so the QT appearance was inevitable. If you ban parties because you don't like them, you begin to compromise the very freedoms you are seeking to uphold.

On balance, I felt that given the BNP have MEPs and councillors and 1,000,000 votes, they need to be scrutinised in the same way as conventional political parties. In fact the panel did a very good job of ensuring that Griffin had to deny a number of things he said, and fall back on homophobic remarks and an argument about indigenous people. The problem was that everyone tried to talk at once, and Jack Straw was so angry and emotional, he verged into incoherence.

It seems to me that we shall have to take the BNP on with different kinds of arguments in the future. I think they are best thought of as heretics (to risk using a churchy word). It was once said that all good heresies contain a grain of truth, but then make it horribly distorted. What began to be acknowledged by mainstream politicians last night was that the BNP have put their finger on some real concerns. One is the pace of change that communities have experienced, and secondly they have also identified a sense of isolation in white working class people who have seen a lot investment in multiculturalism, but haven't felt it has been matched in their own communities. (In fact some investment is now being targeted)

Whatever the facts, that is how people are obviously feeling if they are desperate enough to vote for neo-fascists with a random set of policies based on prejudice. The solutions aren't the BNP's, but we have to take seriously the causes of their support or the right-wing will gain momentum. Question Time won't necessarily help the BNP; neglect of the issues they are exploiting certainly will.

As for indigenous, well where do you draw the line? Comparing white British with native Americans or Maoris, as Griffin does, is ludicrous. They were swamped by an invading white colonization that was better armed and resourced, and they now live as minorities in the land they had settled for thousands of years relatively undisturbed. Britain has always been in flux, experiencing repeated migrations over the last 3 millennia (Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Norman... need I go on?) Furthermore, ethnic minorities today are still precisely that - minorities. The 'white mainstream' still dominates statistically and politically.

Th party also has a 'voluntary' repatriation scheme. One wonder how voluntary this would stay, but sending people 'home' is also a nonsense in a genuinely multi-ethnic society. What is home to a British-born person of Indian or African or Polish heritage? At this rate, I'll be encouraged to repatriate to Denmark because my ancestors came from Lincolnshire, so wee must all be descended from Vikings.

What Griffin and co mean is that they think they can rewind the clock to a Britain where the general ethnic mix of the previous 800 years or so (post-Norman conquest) created the settled establishment of Britain up to World War 2. Of course, in truth that was always a changing mix and received many migrants from Europe and beyond, but this debate is not about logic and reason; emotion and prejudice rule here. We can't wind the clock back, and we shouldn't even think of doing so, as Griffin's portrayal of a 'better' ( and of course whiter) past is a deception, a fantasy and an illusion. Worse, it is precisely the kind of rhetoric that creates division, suspicion and demonises the 'other'.

I hope Griffin lost support by his performance on TV, but the argument won't be won by ignoring him and hiding him. He and his cronies need exposing for what they really are.

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