The BNP vic­tory is a calamity

The elec­tion of the BNP to the Lon­don As­sem­bly threat­ens clear think­ing across the po­lit­i­cal board


‘BLIMEY.” I sent this one-word text mes­sage to a mem­ber of the Tory high com­mand as the re­sults from the lo­cal elec­tions came in and it be­came ap­par­ent that what had seemed al­most im­pos­si­ble a few months ago had come to pass — Boris John­son would be the next mayor of Lon­don.

“I think you mean cripes!” came the re­ply.

I have to ad­mit it. It doesn’t re­flect par­tic­u­larly well on me as a hu­man be­ing, but there it is. I took plea­sure in Ken Liv­ing­stone’s de­feat the other night. I was de­lighted to see him go down.

I read Jonathan Freed­land in this pa­per a cou­ple of weeks back mak­ing a case for Ken, and you can’t read Freed­land with­out at least paus­ing. But I must say that, ahem, I didn’t pause as long as I have done on other oc­ca­sions.

Ken Liv­ing­stone spent my money — my money — wel­com­ing Yusuf alQaradawi to City Hall as an hon­oured guest. He knew what he was do­ing. He did it largely to an­noy Jews. From play­ing foot­sie with the Work­ers Revo­lu­tion­ary Party, to his in­volve­ment with the fiercely anti-Zion­ist Labour Her­ald news­pa­per, an­noy­ing Jews has been a big theme of Liv­ing­stone’s ca­reer.

Well, con­grat­u­la­tions, Ken. You suc­ceeded. Good­bye.

But even with Liv­ing­stone’s de­par­ture, I couldn’t fully en­joy the re­sults from City Hall. For along­side Boris’s tri­umph there came dis­as­ter. A mem­ber of the Bri­tish Na­tional Party was elected to the Lon­don As­sem­bly.

The com­bi­na­tion of their scor­ing 130,000 votes and gain­ing of­fice is a gen­uine and un­prece­dented calamity. In the early 1970s, of course, the Na­tional Front be­gan to make ad­vances. Yet even at their peak — be­fore col­laps­ing due to an in­ter­nal dis­pute over which of them should be Führer — they did not win of­fice like this.

It is true that be­ing a party-list mem­ber of the Lon­don As­sem­bly is not like be­ing a mem­ber of the Se­nate of the United States of Amer­ica. The pow­ers are ex­tremely lim­ited. In nor­mal cir­cum­stances, it is hard for an as­sem­bly mem­ber to com­mand at­ten­tion of any kind. So why do I be­lieve this BNP vic­tory to be a calamity?

First, be­cause the new mem­ber can act a ral­ly­ing point for neo-Fas­cists.

On Lon­don’s Carl­ton House Ter­race, there is a tiny grave marked “Giro”. It con­tains the re­mains of the dog that had be­longed to the am­bas­sador from Nazi Ger­many. It is the only Bri­tish soil the Nazis man­aged to con­quer. Now there will be a space in City Hall too. You can ex­pect the BNP to make full use of this.

The sec­ond rea­son that it is a calamity is that the new post will pro­vide a ral­ly­ing point for ex­treme op­po­nents of the BNP.

Since the 1930s, op­po­si­tion to Fas­cism has been a re­cruit­ing tech­nique for the far left. Along with the BNP, ex­pect to see the So­cial­ist Work­ers Party (who have time on their hands af­ter their hi­lar­i­ous split with Ge­orge Gal­loway) with their plac­ards out­side City Hall.

One might be tempted to wel­come the pres­ence of such doughty fight­ers ex­cept for this — their aim is not to fight Fas­cism so much as to ad­vance their own cause. They want an at­mos­phere in which vi­o­lent up­heaval is pos­si­ble. One tool will be to press for re­stric­tions on free speech, os­ten­si­bly aimed at the BNP but in fact de­signed to re­strict the free­dom of ex­pres­sion of ev­ery­one who dis­agrees with them. Par­tic­u­larly Jews. This may seem an odd thing to say, but par­ties like the So­cial­ist Work­ers Party have made sup­port­ers of Is­rael a par­tic­u­lar tar­get. Over the last 30 years, the ex­treme left has been at least as big a threat to our com­mu­nity as par­ties like the BNP, es­pe­cially af­ter their al­liance with ex­trem­ist mem­bers of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity.

The third rea­son it might prove a calamity is that it might pre­vent clear think­ing on mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism.

In the 1970s, three things de­stroyed the Na­tional Front. The first was the way the Thatcher gov­ern­ment tack­led Bri­tain’s eco­nomic prob­lems, the sec­ond was the Na­tion­al­ity Act that closed down the im­mi­gra­tion is­sue, the third was the way that peer pres­sure was ex­erted by cam­paigns like Rock Against Racism. Un­der this pres­sure, the NF col­lapsed.

If the rise of the BNP de­ters the main­stream par­ties from dis­cussing im­mi­gra­tion in a mea­sured and sen­si­ble way, and makes them fright­ened to ar­gue that peo­ple who come to this coun­try must make an ef­fort to in­te­grate, then the ex­trem­ists will gain.

For some time it has been pos­si­ble to be­lieve that the BNP was not a real dan­ger to the Jewish com­mu­nity. Yes it was bad, but it wasn’t a se­ri­ous force.

I don’t think we can take such a re­laxed view any more. Daniel Finkel­stein is As­so­ci­ate Ed­i­tor of The Times

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