Thursday, 9 July 2009

The BNP need to be fought in the open

Unite Against Fascism (UAF) couldn't have picked a better day to release the analysis of their campaign against the BNP during the European elections. In an interview with a BBC reporter, BNP leader Nick Griffin made some utterly revolting remarks about "sinking immigrants' boats" as they try to make it to Europe. Such hideous views do a lot of the anti-fascist campaigners' work for them, revealing the BNP for the extremists they really are, no matter what kind of respectable veneer they may try to smear themselves in.

But looking at UAF's analysis document, you also can't help but wonder if the anti-fascists are making life difficult for themselves. Do not get me wrong, the UAF are doing important work, but it seems they are flirting with ideas that could well damage the anti-fascist campaign and undermine the hard work being done by the movement.

In the document, UAF hinted at their tactics for combating fascism in the elections by encouraging people to get out and vote:

"Throughout the campaign we put out 2.5 million leaflets and newspapers pushing a consistent message – that the BNP was a fascist party, that there was a serious danger of them winning seats, and that they could be stopped if enough people turned out to vote against them."

While this is undoubtedly vital it is only half the battle. What about the people who do and will vote BNP? Combating fascism isn't simply a case of winning more votes than the fascists, but engaging with those who, for whatever reasons, support the BNP. Focusing on winning more votes does nothing to tackle the existing racism, xenophobia and discontent. A lot of people still voted for the BNP, something the UAF do recognise, and these people are just as important as those who didn't feel inclined to vote at all.

More worrying however, is the belief UAF hold in restricting the BNP access to the media:
“Incidents such as these [racist attacks] highlight the fact that the BNP can¬not be fought on a purely ideological level but must be vigor¬ously confronted and excluded from our democratic culture. One vital aspect of this involves the media. The fact that there are now two BNP Euro MPs will lead to specific pressures on journalists and media workers to treat the party as if it were a legitimate political voice. This could mean interviews with leading BNP figures, invitations onto “Question Time” style panel debates, or even misguided attempts at “exposing” the BNP that end up merely sensationalising them.

“The danger is that the BNP will be allowed to worm its way into the media establishment. It will use any platforms it is granted to consolidate its presence in the political mainstream, normalise its racist arguments, pull the political spectrum to the right and build its organisations on the ground. And as the fascists grow, so do the pressures on people to capitulate to them. The danger today is that the BNP breaks through the “cordon sanitaire” to become a regular fixture in our media.”

How can you define a ‘legitimate political voice’? Is the working class man on a sink estate in the North-west not a ‘legitimate political voice’? Many of the issues they bring up, such as immigration, are ‘legitimate’ political issues and they have every right to air their beliefs.

We [apparently] have something called free speech in this country. As much as people don’t like it, this also applies to the BNP. As Noam Chomsky puts it: “If we do not believe in freedom of speech for those we despise we do not believe in it at all." The BNP have as much a right as the rest of us to talk about issues affecting Britain and if it strays too far and becomes incitement to racial hatred then they’ll be dealt with by the police.

The BNP need to be fought in the open.

Denying them space in the media forces the BNP ‘underground’ where it is harder to tackle the ideas they propagate and plays into the hands of the BNP rhetoric that talks of a ‘liberal conspiracy’ to exclude them from the political discussion in this country. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - let the BNP have their soapbox and then whip it away with reason, logic and well informed arguments. It’s not the medium that normalises the racist argument but the capitulation of a counter-argument.

Many of their policies are based on ignorance, such as the notion that migrants get favoured in social housing. People need to understand what exactly it is the BNP stand for and arm themselves with the arguments that can unravel the BNP. To deny the BNP a platform is to pretend the problem doesn’t exist and further reinforces the idea of a liberal conspiracy against their supporters. If we don’t win the intellectual argument, it vindicates their policies. However, if we do win that argument then we reveal them for the sham they are.


  1. Hi Jamie

    Excellent article and I agree with your points.

    Their (the BNP) arguments alone will ensure that they do not gain a sufficient foothold to deliver on their rhetoric nationally however, I would suggest that it is not the people of this country who can fight them, but the political process itself.

    What we lack (and have lacked for a long time) in this country is a distinct and noticable variation of politics between the three main protagonists. It has simply been the failure of the main stream political parties to deliver on the social contract that they have with the voter (diversity of views, freedom of choice, democracy in action) that has allowed the BNP to "flourish" in this way.

    A lack of political will to embrace and discuss subjects that may be uncomfortable but that the ordinary voter is (rightly or wrongly) concerned with has left the ground available for those willing to discuss it in ANY way.

    For too long the media in this country have been happy to portray the BNP (and any party falling outside of a narrow liberalist/conservative band of thinking) as being ("left" or) "right" wing, and we as voters have been too happy to swallow bland sweeping statements and call them fact or "honest" analysis. The main stream political parties have been happy to go along with this because they then have less work to do, to gain votes as we allow the "media" do our thinking for us.

    It is not that the BNP have been elected by non-thinking right wing nutjobs that is the issue, it is that our country has been democratically let down by parties who would put themselves forward as bastions of a democracy that is failing because of political laziness. I say all that as a card carrying Conservative voter.

    Denying the BNP a voice is as you say against our sense of free speech, we need to be confident in our arguments against them and not simply hide behind the "fascist" banner and seek to stop them speaking.

    IMHO the UAF is seeking to act in a way that exhibits the hallmarks of a fascist irony that is funny yet sad.

    I found this blog via twitter, bookmarked :)


  2. Hi Jamie, my name's Bat and I work for UAF. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on our analysis.

    I'll have to come back later to your arguments against "no platform", but in response to your first point: obviously we do want to win BNP voters away from the party as well as encouraging anti-BNP people to get out and vote. The question is what is the strategic priority during the European election campaign.

    The potential anti-BNP vote is much larger than the small minority of people who are attracted to the BNP. Added to that you have the fact that Euro constituencies are huge regions, making door-to-door work pretty ineffective (though it would be important in, say, a council byelection).

    That is why we argued that the best of stopping the BNP in this election was tapping into the huge pool of anti-BNP feeling and mobilising it to get out and vote against the BNP.

    Of course in the longer term you do have to win existing BNP voters away from the party. But to do that you need people who are confident and willing to argue with them. And that, again, requires mobilising anti-fascists and anti-racists.

    The stronger the anti-fascist movement is, the more confident people are to stand up against racist ideas, the more marginalised the BNP gets and the easier it is to argue with the minority of people who are attracted to the BNP.

  3. @KUTGW

    I agree entirely. I've said a number of times previously that, I believe, the BNP prey on ignorance, of both the electorate and the mainstream parties.

    You quite rightly point out that the main parties won't get involved with uncomfortable conversations; they seem ignorant of what really bothers some people. I don't align myself with any party, but I'm a staunch lefty and am aghast at the way Labour have not only neglected the more 'radical' left but even some of those only left-of-centre.

    You're also right to pick up on the media, who in my eyes have only fed this ignorance by either conflating and distorting some issues (immigration for example) or completely neglecting others.


    Thank you for taking the time to reply to my post, and for clearing up your campaign aims regarding voting.

    From reading your analysis it gave me the impression you were maybe doing as I said in my post, but as you say you are well aware of the need to win over current BNP voters. At least on that we agree.

    I am little concerned by what you mean by 'marginalised', as I fear 'marginalising' people could just strengthen their resolve if they feel the world really is against them.

    Though more likely I'm just being a bit of a pedant and you actually mean to reduce them to a more manageable section of society with which you can more effectively deal with!

    I look forward to hearing from you regarding the rest of my post.