The very real rise of the BNP

Daniel ‘Dsquared’ Davies has written an article on what he calls the ‘Mythical rise’ of the British National Party: it is witty, intelligent, thought-provoking and entirely wrong. UPDATE: Dsquared replies to my piece here, without (to my mind) rebutting it or properly understanding it; and no doubt he thinks the same of my latest post on the same subject, which (sorta) replies to his.

Of course, one type of BNP alarmism is equally  wrong: ReichsFuhrer Griffin will never raise a pudgy hand to salute a hundred thousand goose-steppers on Whitehall, as Parliament’s ruins smoulder in the background. There will not be a BNP-ruled Britain. There will not be a BNP presence in a British Coalition Government. In fact, the party will never win a Parliamentary seat: I’m prepared to take bets on this.

So Davies and I agree, don’t we? If there will be no BNP MPs, then there’s no rise of the BNP, and therefore no need to worry. Right? No, wrong; deeply and dangerously wrong.

The rise of the BNP is occurring and it may well harm this country very deeply. At the moment, it clearly affects only some communities, in some places: that is why the rest of us are finding it so easy to ignore, and that is precisely why the BNP will find it all the easier to poison the political atmosphere that everyone must breathe.

 Davies makes three arguments which I want to deal with here.  (There are two others: that BNPers lose seats the first time they face re-election- which I need to check, but which I think was 100% true of their first electoral breakthrough, in 1993, but is now decreasingly true; and that any policy of limited immigration is either racist or appeals mainly to racists, which is  a form of argument one hears a lot and which greatly worries me.)

First, that local election results don’t matter since only weirdos and party hacks vote.

Second, that local election results don’t matter since even if a party gains power at a local level, it is more or less impossible for it to exercise power in any meaningful way: it’s Whitehall what runs things, sonny. 

Third, even if General Election successes for the BNP also show some success, that doesn’t matter: it is simply that the national proportion of fascists is now voting for an openly fascist party, rather than assuming that the Tory Party will faithfully, if shamefacedly, represent its interests.

Let’s deal with these three points in order. It makes sense to run the first and second points together, since they are very likely to be related: there is no point in voting for a tier of government which has little or no effective power, and local councillors who are voted for by a small proportion of the electorate are in too weak a position to demand more autonomy from central government.

(Parenthetically, this prompts one interesting reflection, which doesn’t invalidate Davies’s argument. If we do see a movement to grant more powers to local government- something which the Tories are beginning to promise, particularly on policing, and which any sensible leftwinger is likely to advocate when contemplating Whitehall’s failure to regenerate the ex-industrial regions- then will it be resisted in the name of anti-Fascism? Probably, but then there is a ready-made counter-argument: if local government matters more, a greater number of people will vote and fascist nutters will cast a smaller proportion of the ballots.)

But Davies’s arguments on the triviality of local government are wrong, for these reasons. Firstly, local government administration can affect your life once you go a bit further down the income ladder. It matters for those who are so poor that they can’t rent or buy in the private market, and must instead rely on the dwindling stock of ‘council houses’. There is already a lot of local controversy, which only rarely reaches the national press, on the allocation of council houses, with too many said to be going to this or that ethnic group- the key factor, as it happens, in igniting protests in Northern Ireland in 1968.

But beyond low-rent housing- trivial for a City of London banker like Davies, rather more important for a large number of Britons- local politics  still exist, even if local government has been almost completely emasculated. Local voting does count, even if local councillors don’t. The French language makes it clearer: their word for vote is ‘voix’ – voice.

Consider how ‘voice’ works at the level of a particular locality with a strong degree of ethnic separation- and tension. Conditions in (say) Burnley, Bolton or even Barking are very different from those in Surrey, Cheshire or North London: crises can and do erupt in areas populated by a few hundred thousand people. There is already a limited degree of contact, and hence a limited degree of knowledge, among ‘whites’ in, say, Bradford about the local Asians, and vice versa. Limited knowledge is likely to lead to limited rationality. 

So what does a strong ‘white’ vote for the BNP do in a place like Bradford? It sends out a strong signal to Bradford Asians: lots of local whites hate you and you don’t know which ones, so best to treat them all with suspicion or even aggression. And of course that will likely make young Asians more aggressive towards whites, and no doubt local young whites will respond in kind and probably up the ante… Don’t we have a delightful spiral starting?

Voting is a signal even where it doesn’t really affect policy, and voting BNP is a massive signal of hatred towards your Asian neighbours. All the more convincing in that the BNPers can’t or won’t run anything, so you’re doing it purely for symbolic effect: and symbols matter like hell in tense situations.

The implication of Davies’s thesis that ‘BNP voters are just the people who used to vote Tory when it was a crypto-racist party’ is that the vote should either be uniformly distributed across the country, or distributed in a way that would correspond to the strength of the Tory vote. This does not correspond to the facts on the ground.

BNP support is very highly regionally concentrated: mainly in the North West of England and the West Midlands (areas where large working class white populations live near by large Asian populations) and in Essex- where a great many white working class people set up when they left the East End of London.

As noted above, we don’t have anything like the threat of a national takeover by the BNP, or even BNP participation in a coalition. But the BNP are still a threat, because their presence is both a symptom of and a cause of increasing ethnic polarisation in a number of British regions.

Davies thinks there is nothing to worry about in the recent electoral success of the BNP. I think it could be one half of the beginning of inter-ethnic conflict on mainland Britain. The other half, of course, is what is happening in the Asian communities, and there too Davies seems to think there’s nothing very serious afoot.  Daniel Davies and I have had a great many arguments. This is one row where I would love it, really love it, if I lost.


3 Responses to “The very real rise of the BNP”

  1. p0neill Says:

    I comment partly from ignorance here but it strikes me that one irony facing the BNP is that they could get many more actual seats under the STV electoral systems used in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but the existence of actual nationalist parties in those countries maybe crowds out their appeal. So they’re effectively an ENP running in first-past-the-post electoral battles, which are very tough for them to win except in highly polarised council wards. But you’re right, that doesn’t remove them as a key dynamic of race relations in some cities.

    On a related note, I’ll be interested to see whether Sarko follows through on his hints that he might allow some PR type system for legislative elections, which would get a few FN bums in assembly seats. It might be a little experiment in what happens when you get a few of them sitting at the table making laws as opposed to ranting on a street corner.

  2. Redemption Blues » BritBlog Roundup 116 Says:

    […] dismissal of local politics. These concerns are picked up on in Dan Hardie’s judicious riposte The very real rise of the BNP, in which he retorts that “Davies’s arguments on the triviality of local government are wrong, […]

  3. danhardie Says:

    P, you seem right on the money again in yr first paragraph. Glasgow, for example, would seem to be a perfect hunting ground for the BNP whether one accepts my diagnosis of their support or Dsquared’s. But anybody in Scotland must accept that the word ‘British’ has about the same positive connotations as ‘Bubonic’, so…

    On Sarko my guess is that that was a ruse designed to sweep up FN votes in the Presidential elections and that in power he will do all he can to weaken the FN as a party whilst seeking to grab as many FN voters as possible. Given that Le Pen got 20% of the vote in 2002, that actually strikes me as good policy as well as good politics.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: