openDemocracyUK

The BBC was right on BNP - it is our political class who have been complacent

Stuart Weir's letter to the Guardian
Stuart Weir
26 October 2009

OurKingdom on Nick Griffin and the BBC: What is the BBC's game? Anthony Barnett >The BBC and the BNP, Anthony Barnett > After Nick Griffin and Question Time, Gerry Hassan> Get over it, better to flush out the whole affair, David Elstein > This post

The current panic over support for the BNP, and the extraordinary wish to blame the BBC for raising Griffin's profile, has to be put into a context that shows how unwilling the political class was to take the wretched party seriously five and more years ago and its absurd over-reaction now.

Back in 2005 and 2006, Democratic Audit published the findings of a State of the Nation poll and other psephological and focus group researches in an article in the New Statesman and then a full Audit report, The BNP: the Roots of their Success, now provided online by OurKingdom. We warned then that up to one in five people ‘might' vote for the BNP in the future, rising to 24 per cent in London. Saturday's polling evidence suggesting that 22 per cent of the electorate would consider voting BNP, therefore, reflects an underlying pattern in British politics and provides further, worrying, confirmation that the party has entered the mainstream but not evidence of a new surge in support caused by Griffin's BBC appearance.

In 2005, Helen Margetts, Peter John and I were fiercely attacked for drawing attention to their electoral support, most especially from political scientists who were ‘experts' on far-right extremism in Europe. ‘Don't talk them up' seemed to be the basic objection; our right-wing extremists were nothing by comparison with their mates on the other side of the Channel.

Now the BBC is being blamed for the same sin, plus the additional folly of making Griffin a scapegoat and thus making people feel sympathetic over his distress. Let's subject him to forensic one-to-one interviewing, or ban him altogether. I suppose some people may have felt sympathy for the pathetic cringing and dishonest man who was demolished, let it be said by some forensic questioning from the chair but far more by the contempt and anger of an audience that was as ever carefully balanced. If such a reaction may be thought typical of the British public, then we are in deep shit anyway. I think most people are capable of judging Griffin accurately - and fairly.

But my basic point is that the BNP are in or near the mainstream in British politics and that the BBC acted correctly, first in inviting him onto Question Time; secondly, by informing the debate that ensued with intelligent and well-researched questioning; and thirdly, by enabling members of the public to engage with him. The BNP will not be out in its proper place by denying its existence and current place, but only by honest political engagement and (hopefully) by the Labour Party's withdrawal from neo-liberal domestic policies that ignore their impact on the working class people of all colours and its shifty position on immigration control.

Jack Straw was great on outrage, weaselly on the one substantive issue that was raised: namely, immigration. Of course, concern with immigration is infected by racist attitudes, but there is a wider and more general concern among most people, black and white, whose security is felt under threat in all the basics of society - homes, jobs, schools, medical care, their immediate environment. And this is the second and equally significant area where Labour MP Jon Cruddas and others have long been warning their party that they can no longer afford to neglect their working class constituencies. The BNP's claim to have taken over the role of the Labour Party is far more damaging to the party and nation than its posturing over Churchill.

Two final points. Denying the legitimacy of the BNP and decrying its racist attitudes probably does far more damage than engaging with it, because a large number of people feel anxious about their own attitudes to the issues which the BNP so adroitly manipulates and may feel that their concerns too are being written off as ‘racist'. Secondly, the BMP may well get a poll boost in the days to come. That is the challenge that the mainstream parties will have to meet - if they can. For they were in the dock on Question Time too.

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