16 thoughts on “Can Nick Griffin Survive?”

  1. What’s Searchlight like these days? I gave up on it during the “Combat 18” days when it seemed pretty clear that the editors had got a big dose of (what I unfairly and retrospectively refer to as) “David Rose Disease” – the constant and uncritical recycling of bollocks from security agencies.

  2. I enjoy it, but I’ve only been a subscriber for the last couple of years, so don’t know much about the various permutations it’s been through over the years. And I was very impressed with Nick Lowles when he came to speak at the Oxford Labour Party (doing his double-act with Jon Cruddas), and in the Searchlight / UAF spat my sympathies are with Searchlight.

    I don’t think too hard about where the sources of their articles might be coming from, but these days its mostly about the BNP, and I don’t think you need MI5 to write about that. I think they can feel pretty vindicated by the current crisis in the BNP “BNP has severe internal problems” has been a drum they’ve been banging for a while now.

  3. Their electoral analysis is very good, and their campaigning literature is very well targeted and effective, unlike that of UAF.

  4. Well, I tend to hold the unpopular point of view that a healthy BNP is good for British politics (because the fascist electorate of the UK won’t stop being fascists just because there’s no BNP to vote for, and it is much better to have them out in the open as an unelectable bunch of weirdos than having them hanging round as unattached voters, with the “proper” political parties trying to court them), so I’m not sure I agree. Some of the things that Labour Party MPs with white constituents have ended up saying in an attempt to “address the very real concerns” are every bit as disgusting as, say, Roy Hattersley’s pandering to his Muslim constituents during the Rushdie affair. Cruddas is usually quite good in not doing this, but neither am I a fan of his own Chicken Littleist way of building up the BNP threat to simultaneously frighten wavering protest voters into voting for a Labour candidate they don’t really support and push a policy agenda within the Labour Party that doesn’t have any real support there either. If the BNP is collapsing under its own weight then I’ll certainly yuk it up with the rest of us because that’s intrinsically good news but I have all sorts of problems with simple anti-fascism as a substitute for politics (I am aware that this is one of my many unpopular and borderline loony views – Dan H has told me so at length).

  5. But are you so confident that the BNP are an unelectable bunch? The threshold for election to the GLA or the European Parliament is pretty low, and the big anxiety is that in a low turnout election, they’ll snag one of the seats to one of those bodies. If you don’t have a problem with that kind of (still fairly marginal) BNP representation, or think that they’re such a bunch of clowns they are never in fact likely to get such representation, I can see why you might want to ignore anti-fascist politics. (And one plausible outcome of the current ructions is the emergence of a far more professionally run nationalist outfit, with no obvious Nazi presence.)

    I agree that anti-fascism on its own is no kind of adequate politics; and I wonder whether Searchlight’s turn to the Labour Party over the last couple of years is in part in recognition of that.

    But the message I took from Cruddas when I heard him speak (I haven’t read much of his writing on the subject, or, if I had, it didn’t make much impression) wasn’t so much Chicken Littlism but an argument about how if all the Labour Party’s resources are sunk into chasing middle-class votes in marginals, and if the party doesn’t even bother to canvass a lot of low-income areas on the grounds that the people there’ll probably be voting Labour anyway, and if you have maniacs like Margaret Hodge saying the kinds of things they say, then don’t be surprised to get a result like Dagenham. One point he made (I don’t know if it’s true or not) is that the BNP barely had a campaign going in Dagenham; and the reason they only won a dozen seats or so is because they weren’t running candidates in all the different wards.

    So I’m not sure I buy your interpretation, which seems to be roughly that there’s a certain percentage of the British electorate who are basically fascist, and they might as well be able to cast an honest vote for fascists. Rather, I think that after three decades of dealignment from the old class model of voting and after the Labour Party’s long march away its old vocation as the main political representative of poor people’s interests, we’ve got a very unattached and quite volatile electorate in poorer areas, who will swing behind any party that makes the right kind of populist noises. And in the parts of East London with the cheapest housing, that’s the BNP.

  6. Personally I’m not especially bothered about small numbers of people voting for the BNP, but I am worried about significant numbers doing so that they actually get councillors elected, because that means we have to give them several thousand pounds of public money a year in allowances, and we have to deem them the legitimate representatives of wards which sometimes include substantial numbers of ethnic minorities, and by gaining formal respectability in town halls they become formally respectable to increasing numbers of voters, and so on.

    Searchlight certainly worked closely with Labour in Sandwell this year, but that was because Labour were the only party who had any chance of beating the BNP in the three wards where they had won the previous year.

  7. I think there’s not just a small proportion of outright fascists who would, indeed, be relatively harmless on their own, but a much larger segment of the population, in general not poor, who are instinctively reactionary on more or less everything, but in particular ethnic minorities and trade unions. It’s when these people start voting for the far right in any numbers that you have a serious problem and I’d hazard that they’re more likely to do so if the BNP is allowed to settle down and become an accepted political party, its spokespeople appearing on Question Time, that sort of thing.

  8. On the fascist electorate of the UK: psephological data is not great here but I’d be surprised if we were any different from France or Italy – about 5% of the electorate, which means up to 20% in a low turnout election.

    And at the end of the day we have to say are we serious about democracy here; like Yellow Pages, proportional representation (if we’re serious about it and I hope we are) has to be there for the nasty things in life too. If the BNP can garner 5% of the votes, then it deserves a seat on the GLA and maybe even a MEP (albeit that this seems unlikely to me since the support here is drawn off by UKIP, the nationalist non-Nazi party). I am just not a fan of the way that people lose all objectivity when the BNP are the subject, and start agreeing to all sorts of fixes and gerrymanders which are bound to be used against minority parties in general.

    And if they get elected, then they should be given their state money and recognition even if it eats us up inside – one of my big reasons for being against state funding of political parties is that I’m pretty sure that fairly serious constitutional damage will be waved through under guise of “whatever means necessary to rook the BNP out of their state funding”.

    I don’t believe in the “increasing returns” dynamic that Simon and Justin are worried about – the FN and the various Italian fascists have both topped out, and this despite having undergone a multi-year political striptease of every distinctively fascist policy they ever had – the limiting case of this would be the Spanish Popular Party of course. UKIP got themselves an MEP, an MP, places on Question Time, the whole shebang and shooting match and see how much good it did them.

    On the specifics of Cruddas’ views, I think he’s extrapolating from Barking & Dagenham, which is a very atypical area of BNP support (as far as I can see, it’s basically their only electoral[1] power base in an urban area). He’s also taking for granted that the racist vote isn’t actually a racist vote but is motivated by a resource conflict over council housing. I really, really, don’t see this; we had the whole debate over “our children can’t afford to buy houses in the villages where they were born” ad nauseam in Wales and I thought it was pretty ridiculous then, but in effing Dagenham? He also seems to believe that the white working class population would thank Labour for removing right-to-buy, which I doubt.

    [1] Important point here that the electoral power base of the BNP doesn’t necessarily match up to the power base of fascists in the streets – frinstance, the BNP were able to start a race riot in Oldham a few years ago, but they’ve never had a councillor elected there. Similarly, they are strong in the streets in Bradford, but their electoral victories there have been in outlying semirural suburbs.

  9. 1. I’m not really talking abourt a fascist electorate, but the reactionary section thereof. People who would normally rather vote for a conservative party, but whose instincts would make it quite possible to vote for a fascist party where the conservative party was undergoing a crisis or was otherwise seen as ineffectual. (I’m not talking about one-off “protest vote” fascist votes here.) My guess is that in Western societies that would be rather more than 5% – perhaps a fifth or more? Hard to say of course.

    (Did UKIP have an MP? I’m not sure. Mind you I was living in Thame during the last Euro-election but one and it felt like a one-party state where UKIP was the party.)

    I think you’re likely wrong, to a degree, about housing. Perhaps it impacts on me because it was a major factor in my emigrating, but the inaccessibility of housing is very serious in contemporary Britain, and just because it’s not remotely logical or fair for it to be connected with immigrants (like it’s immigrants who are buying all the houses in Norfolk villages!) doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I’d reckon it’s resource shortages which normally form the basis for the scapegoating of immigrants and minorities, even though they’ve usually got less of those resources than anyone else. Of course if there wasn’t a basis of racism in the first place then the scapegoating couldn’t happen.

    Not sure what you mean about the PP, could you elaborate? (For what it’s worth, from where I am they mostly look like a party of sleek rich kids, a bit like Justine Greening. Basically interested in low taxes and not much else, although quite happy to play the anti-immigration card if it helps them get elected.)

  10. “I think he’s extrapolating from Barking & Dagenham, which is a very atypical area of BNP support (as far as I can see, it’s basically their only electoral[1] power base in an urban area).”

    Not especially true, depending on how you define urban. They have six councillors in Epping Forest, all in the ex-LCC estate area of Loughton which is reminiscent of Becontree in B&D. Then there’s the seven in Stoke, and they were very strong in Tipton until this year, though they appear to be dying off there now. In the north, they tend to do well in the urban-rural periphery – chunks of ex-industrial town which happen to be surrounded by countryside.

    “And if they get elected, then they should be given their state money and recognition even if it eats us up inside”

    Yes, this is my point – if they get elected we are required by law to afford them a certain amount of legitimacy and public funding, which even if it doesn’t result in an accumulation of support, does have a damaging (albeit minor) effect on the body politic. This is why I support efforts to stop them getting elected. I wouldn’t favour gerrymandering or anything like that (although I do support the policy of all three main parties that they do not work with BNP councillors under any circumstances).

  11. [Did UKIP have an MP?]

    good spot – I erroneously believed that Kilroy-Silk got into Westminster on a UKIP ticket but he didn’t. With respect to the PP, their history is that they’re Franco’s party, but this has basically no practical relevance today.

    Simon – my mental definition of “urban” is “larger than Wrexham”, which Loughton and Tipton aren’t but Stoke is (although Stoke on Trent city council is quite an electoral oddity and low turnout effects are going to be even more pronounced here). I don’t think that any of the three of them is particularly similar to B&D, not least because they don’t really have the same housing issues.

    I think the real damage done to the body politic is done by the major political parties’ pandering to the BNP electorate, precisely because they regard it as winnable by dog-whistle politics or sophisticated electoral bribery. If the BNP was a mainstream party fighting elections on a similar basis to the Greens, there would be no point in trying to skim off their supporters with BNP-lite policies, and so nobody would have dreamed of anything like the preferential housing policies that Margaret Hodge has suggested, and the Tories wouldn’t have spent ten years flogging the “asylum seekers” issue – with genuine consequences for the people who got sent back as a result.

  12. “I don’t think that any of the three of them is particularly similar to B&D, not least because they don’t really have the same housing issues.”

    Again, this depends on the definition, I suppose. Tipton is not ‘urban’ per se but is a peripheral part of the West Midlands conurbation, with a roughly similar relationship to Birmingham that Becontree has to Central London. Stoke is a city consisting entirely of small towns, all of which (except perhaps Hanley) regard themselves as peripheral and all of which resent each other. Going beyond these examples, the BNP have also had a councillor elected in Chelmsley Wood, which like Becontree is a large white working class estate on the edge of a major city.

    I agree that the housing issue is not as important on a national level as Jon Cruddas thinks it is, but the BNP do court a similar demographic harbouring similar resentments wherever they go, and there are notable similarities between B&D and some of the other places they have done well, so while it shouldn’t be treated as symptomatic of the rest of the country nor would I really consider it a case to be taken in isolation.

  13. With respect to the PP, their history is that they’re Franco’s party, but this has basically no practical relevance today.

    Well, up to a point. It is an issue as far as the ongoing controversy is concerned with respect to the years of the Civil War and the dictatorship, and whether they should continue to be forgotten.

    I think the point though is less the party itself – regardless of Aznar’s political background, I don’t think it’s going to launch an uprising from Pamplona if PSOE win the next election – but its support, since the PP’s core support can without excessive unfairness be defined as “the sort of people who supported Franco”. There’s always a sizeable section of of people who would have no huge problem with a fascist party or government wwere one to emerge and for that reason I’m not sure we can rely on the considerable ability of British far-right parties to expose themselves as bumbling oafs.

    (The PP aren’t really “Franco’s party”, by the way, though their founders were people who had been Francoists. Whether this is any more or less relevant than the Stalinist background of East European post-Communist parties, I don’t really know.)

  14. If the BNP was a mainstream party fighting elections on a similar basis to the Greens, there would be no point in trying to skim off their supporters with BNP-lite policies

    I’ve just realised that as analogies go, this is about as counterproductive to the point I was trying to make as it possibly could be.

  15. Again, this depends on the definition, I suppose. Tipton is not ‘urban’ per se but is a peripheral part of the West Midlands conurbation

    Ah, Tipton. That scary bit between Brum and Wolves where I got lost on my way to work. I tend to regard everything on that train line – Smethwick, Sandwell, Dudley, Tipton, Coseley – as urban, squished as it is between two cities. No doubt they’d be furious and cling on to their neither-Wolves-nor-Brum independence, but since last time I was there they had posters saying “people like you vote BNP!”, I really couldn’t care less about their feelings in the matter.

    Regarding the Nick Griffin thing, what does this mean in practice? A more openly nasty leader? A less openly nasty leader? Amusing implosion with lots of factions and never getting organised enough to fight an election ever again? Cos #3 would be good, but I’m scared of #1.

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