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A Growing Acceptance of the BNP

by Ben Pitcher
9 May 2007 • Comment (0) • Print
Posted: General Issue [0] | Commons

While it is a relief to us all that the British National Party failed to make significant gains in last Thursday’s local elections in England and Scotland, it’s disturbing to find a growing acceptance of the Party amongst political commentators. Often hedging their discussion with Thatcher’s remarks on the ‘oxygen of publicity’ or misquoting Voltaire on freedom of speech, pundits of all political persuasions have scrabbled to find reasons to condone or excuse the BNP’s successes in 50 local wards, and their presence in over 700.

Take, for example, the argument of Nathalie Rothschild in Spiked, who suggests that attempts to challenge the BNP’s claim on the political mainstream are ‘a pretext to clamp down on liberty and democracy’, as if the rise in racist attacks that invariably accompanies BNP activity somehow provides a barometer of democratic freedom.

Or consider the position espoused by Daniel Davies blogging for the Guardian, whose perverse notion of ideological stasis (Davies suggests that the far-right’s success is down to the ahistorical truth that ‘5%-10% of the population of Great Britain are fascists’) leads him to accept the representative legitimacy of the BNP in some kind of idiot reflection theory.

Putting aside the libertarian fallacies of Rothschild and the studied controversialism of Davies, we are still left with a field of political debate in which the BNP is  – whether openly or tacitly – increasingly considered a legitimate presence in contemporary British politics.

Right-wing apologias for the BNP are longstanding, and quite predictable: such interpretations will point out an excessive liberalism in border control, the dangers of multicultural social engineering, the tyranny of political correctness, and all the other standard assorted perversions of truth and goodness. More disturbing, perhaps, are rationalizations of the BNP’s electoral rise that ostensibly derive from the left, and which involve some rather more novel justificatory contortions.

One of the more troubling of these is the notion that support for the BNP is some kind of ‘organic’ protest against the neoliberal dismantling of the welfare state. Invariably employing a highly romanticized conception of ‘the white working class’, such theses see far-right resurgence as a logical outcome of New Labour betrayal.

Of course, New Labour should indeed shoulder much of the blame here: their anti-immigrant scaremongering, their contempt for the economically unproductive and the racial politics of the War on Terror have all, inter alia, helped to create a political climate in which the rebranded BNP have certainly thrived.

Yet to follow a logic that gives the BNP some credibility – albeit only as a protest vote – is to give far too much credence to the notion that the Party does indeed represent the legitimate cultural and political interests of ‘the white working class’. Indeed, it is to come dangerously close to swallowing wholesale the Party’s very own pseudo-proletarian racist propaganda. To read the success of the BNP symptomatically may present a convenient means of illuminating New Labour’s failings, but it also risks conferring on the BNP a legitimacy it craves but does not deserve.

The BNP’s electoral rise can certainly be said to present a salutary lesson for mainstream political parties increasingly disconnected from their electorate, just as it can – conversely – be argued that their presence indicates a pressing need for the construction of credible political alternatives. Yet whatever causes we might champion for the reinvigoration of our politics, it should be clear as a first principle that there should be no room for a racist and fascist party like the BNP in a modern democratic society. We should accordingly refuse to carve out a legitimate space for them in British politics, for they do not represent a position that deserves to be represented. A vote for the BNP should not be explained or explained away; it simply should not have been possible for it to have been cast in the first place.

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Ben Pitcher writes about race, politics and popular culture. He teaches sociology at the University of Westminster, UK.
All posts by: Ben Pitcher | Email | Website

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