The BNP is in disarray – but don’t pop the champagne corks just yet.
Who’s the most prominent fascist in the UK at the moment – leader of the BNP Nick Griffin or former Swindon Town manager Paolo Di Canio? Clearly, it’s the Italian, who’s just pitched up at Sunderland and caused David Miliband to resign, although that sort of thing happens all the time these days. For those of us with an interest in both football and politics – a Venn diagram intersection that may only include myself and Alistair Campbell – the Di Canio appointment was very much the equivalent of the return of Peter Mandelson, only with less of an air of latent venom and simmering mistrust.
Di Canio insists that he is not a racist or a fascist, deploying the well-worn ‘some of my best friends are black’ argument and refusing to discuss his political sympathies towards Italian dictator and railway-punctuality-enthusiast Benito Mussolini. It looks like he’s going to have a difficult April and May, though – Sunderland are in awful form, sinking rapidly, and their new manager will need to focus on football, not politics, if he’s going to keep the Black Cats in the Premier League.
However, Di Canio’s probably not got it quite as bad as Nick Griffin. Is his BNP dead? They’re certainly struggling, with only two district councillors (one in Charnwood, one in Pendle) and one county councillor (Lancashire), as well as one MEP (Griffin himself, for North West England). The local elections on 2nd May probably won’t provide much respite for the party either, following funding problems, internal strife and a leadership challenge to Griffin (which he won by just nine votes). The party’s much-hyped 2009 European election wins and Griffin’s appearance on the BBC’s Question Time later that year is now, rather than being a stepping stone to greater things, looking very much like the high water mark.
Why has the far right failed so dramatically in the UK? This is very much against the European trend. In the past few years, we’ve seen the French extremist, Marine Le Pen, performing strongly for the Front National in their presidential election (though elections for the assembly are designed to prevent a strong FN presence). Geert Wilders and his Islamophobic PVV have done well in the Netherlands. The sinister presence of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party have enhanced their standing in austerity-stricken Greece. The story is the same in Eastern Europe too (just Google Jobbik, the Hungarian nationalists, to find out). And yet here, the BNP is not the answer to any of the big political questions.
It’s been hypothesised that the UK is somehow impervious to the far right, or at least, less vulnerable than the rest of Europe. The BNP’s brief period in the sun, though, proves that this idea is a myth. There is still fertile electoral ground on the right – it’s just that the shambolic, poorly-run BNP wasn’t the right organisation to exploit it in the long-term. The mainstream parties are currently attempting to ‘normalise’ some of the traditional extremist issues – notice the increased talk on immigration, for instance – in order to outflank UKIP and diminish any far right threat. Even so, the freedom that will be given to citizens of Romania and Bulgaria to move to the UK from 2014 hurls another hot potato right into the proto-fascist ballpark. No-one knows how many will arrive, and until they do, they’re just a political football that the main three parties can’t deal with properly, as the UK’s immigration policy is mostly dictated to us by the EU and a large chunk of the population don’t like it, for cultural, economic and racial reasons.
The people who fear immigration aren’t – or shan’t be– listening to the figures that show migrants claiming less benefits than British citizens proportionally, or causing more economic benefits to the UK than they take out through public services and welfare. They haven’t been convinced, and the mainstream parties aren’t taking the time or effort to win them over. Therefore, they have to fear a new extremist movement, because there’s every chance that one can come along. Complacency following the BNP collapse is not the order of the day. Extremism must be fought at every opportunity. The major parties owe it to the decent, tolerant majority of people to make sure that the benefits of immigration are showcased and that the negatives are taken care of. On the weekend following May’s elections, the most prominent far right figure in the UK won’t be taking any council seat – he’ll be watching his team play Stoke City. The Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats should work to ensure that’s how it stays from now on.
Image Credit: Mrs. Logic