In June of 2009, the British National Party won 2 seats in the European Parliament and the UK Independence Party won 13 seats. The former being widely regarded as a party of skinheads, football hooligans and anyone else angry enough to read and believe far-Right newspapers like The Sun and The Daily Mail. The latter largely serving as an extension of the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party and a glossier option for Daily Mail readers everywhere. The recent success of the far-Right in Europe is mostly down to the financial crisis and the controversial bailouts. In Britain, we have also been witness to scandals surrounding banker bonuses and MP expenses. It is a wave of populism that rushed Nick Griffin and Nigel Farage into the European Parliament. Though, it has been pointed out that Hitler came to power during the Great Depression, it seems doubtful that voters haven't learned anything from the German flirtation with fascism. But the bailouts and MPs expenses, are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the reasons that some working-class people vote for the extreme right.
The facts are that the last 30 years have been pretty tough for the working-class and the under-class in Britain. Since the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, the gap between the rich and the poor has increased rapidly. The nationalised industries that were once the centre of the economy have mostly been privatised. This led to mass closures of factories and mines that had provided work for generations, but failed to generate profits. Which left many people out of work, because the skills they possessed were no longer necessary. The Thatcherites also succeeded in "smashing" Britain's trade unions, which led to massive wage cuts in the early 1990s which even topped the wage cuts that had been devised by the Reaganites in America. It wasn't until 1997 that a Labour government was triumphantly elected again, but by then the damage had been done and Thatcherism had become an orthodoxy in British politics. The white working-class was left in tatters, desperate for answers, but the media only has praise for the Thatcherite orthodoxy and the only answer given came from papers like The Sun and The Daily Mail. Such media outlets had an answer, the wrong answer, it's the fault of immigrants, single mums, yobs and the welfare state.
Nick Griffin was clearly elated by his victory and posed for pictures giving the peace sign with both of his hands, as the other political parties refused to stand with him, as he delivered his victory speech. He opened by claiming that the other candidates, who left the room as he began his speech, were turning their backs on democracy. The rhetoric he spewed over the audience included references to a "liberal elite", "unelected bureaucrats in Brussels" and "private profit centres for giant corporations". The kind of anti-liberal and anti-capitalist rhetoric he espoused may sound to some like a breathe of fresh air. But his rhetoric is not original, and it is indicative of the ideological tradition Nick Griffin represents in modern Britain. The tradition I am referring to is, of course, fascism - as characterised by centralised control of private enterprise, extreme nationalism and repression of all opposition. The fascists of the 1920s and 30s also claimed to oppose liberalism and free-market capitalism. But the anti-democratic and anti-socialist rhetoric used by those fascists, that is neglected by the fascists of today.
As previously stated it is a wave of populism that the far-Right, and the Right a like, have ridden into office. But what is it that has attracted voters specifically to the British National Party since Nick Griffin came to power? It is doubtful that Griffin's "solutions" to immigration, sinking boat loads of illegals and repatriating the rest, are what has attracted over 1 million voters. The same tune is sung by all far-Right political parties. Perhaps, there is a tendency in British society of course Griffin's rhetoric addresses. His attacks on the political class and the economic system sustaining it, single him out from most politicians. He proposes an oddly isolationist foreign policy, which again marks him out from other politicians. This rhetoric is no doubt mere imagery which Griffin is using to mask his true intentions and exploit to gain a greater mandate. Nevertheless, it has clearly spoken to a tendency in British society. It is clear from the anti-demonstrations throughout this decade, that there is a large proportion of people who are opposed to the "interventionist" approach to the world taken by Blair and Brown. It is clear from the level of outrage over the recession and the subsequent bailouts, that there is a large proportion of people who oppose "welfare" for the rich.
Despite public protests organised by the Socialist Workers Party and Unite Against Fascism, Nick Griffin has appeared on Question Time. He accused the anti-fascist demonstration of consisting of "yobs" and of "attacking" his right to freedom of speech - as he snook into the BBC via a side entrance. Depending on who you believe, the demonstration varies in size from around 500 people to over 1,000. What is agreed upon, is that the majority of people present were locals from Sheppard's Bush and White City. During the demonstration there were few arrests, though around 3 police officers were injured. His fellow panelists included Jack Straw, Bonnie Greer, Chris Huhne and Baroness Warsi. Prior to his public appearance, the British National Party attacked Bonnie Greer and Baroness Warsi on the Party website. They described Warsi as a "product of Tory affirmative action" and Greer as a "black history fabricator", both descriptions appear to be references to political correctness and positive discrimination - favourite targets of slander on the Right.
On Question Time, Nick Griffin was grilled on his use of Winston Churchill in his political campaigns, his denial of the Holocaust and his links to violent groups among lots of other things. Griffin provided no adequate defence of his previous statements, all he could was smile nervously and claim that he had been "misquoted" or he would label the quote an "outrageous lie". Griffin claimed that David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, was the leader of a strictly "non-violent" KKK cell. And yet pictures of Duke can be found on the internet, sporting swastikas and promoting violence against the Chicago Seven. There is an interesting video of Nick Griffin, on the internet, in which he tells a crowd of white supremacists and separatists "British National Party isn't about selling out it's ideas, which are your ideas to." He said this before listing a few terms which are "saleable", terms like identity, democracy, freedom and security. On Question Time, Griffin also claimed that he travelled to Libya in the 1980s and spoke with government officials about cutting the flow of money and arms to the IRA. It is true that Nick Griffin was in Libya in the 80s, but he was actually there to try and persuade Gaddafi's government to fund the National Front. The Libyan government refused to fund Griffin, but he did not return empty-handed, instead Griffin returned with 5,000 books to distribute.
Jack Straw took the moral high ground, drawing comparisons between Griffin and Hitler, while ignoring the Labour Party's failures, such as the fact that over the last 5 years only 2% of houses have gone to immigrants. Not to mention the stance Straw has taken in the past on Burkas, which stirred up a furore in 2006. As well as the opposition of most politicians to Ghurkas becoming British citizens. Leaflets distributed by Baroness Warsi in 2005, that contained homophobic material, failed to come up. Although, when the homophobic article, about the death of Stephen Gately, in The Daily Mail came up and at that point Warsi expressed her view that civil partnerships should be allowed. Though, that should not be mistaken as an embrace of Gay Rights on the part of the Conservative Party. In fact, this episode of Question Time was a white wash, no pun intended, of the racist history of the Conservative Party. People often think of Enoch Powell as the quintessential racist Tory. But it was only in 2001 when then Conservative Deputy Leader Michael Acram sent out a memo to Conservative Party members, warning them not to "use language that is likely to generate racial or religious hatred."
The BBC also avoided criticism, which wasn't surprising, even though it well known that the institution is essentially representative of the white middle-class and that the presence of anyone "differing" from that criteria is a scarcity to say the least. It was good that Nick Griffin was not pandered to or given an easy ride by the BBC, though they may have been so hard on him that he'll look like a martyr to his supporters. However, the British National Party, a fascist political party, should not be the one focus of those of us who are opposed to bigotry and violence. We should not ignore the many prejudices and discriminatory beliefs embedded in public institutions. There are also plenty of bigots in the political class left for us to stamp out. We should not pretend otherwise. It is true that the British National Party are a fascist party that is exploiting the anger of many white working-class people. But people should be more preoccupied with settling the grievances of protest-voters and solving the problems of racism internal to public institution, than simply keeping the fascists quite and invisible.