Mike Ion is right to post over at his blog about the Guardian's undercover operation inside the BNP which revealed that the BNP is increasingly targetting Middle Class areas within London and hopes to get a seat or two in the London Assembly. Some of what the report portrays- codes for accessing emails, secret names, people hiding their proffessions is very interesting- for a supposedly democratic party, the BNP seem very hesitant to confirm either who they are or what they really think.
Mike proposes a grand alliance to sweep away the BNP between the democratic parties and anti-racist groups. He wants the BNP isolated and exposed for the incompetent nutcases that they are. BNP councillers have been singularly inefficient wherever they've got into power: being accused of committing benefit fraud, a council candidate has been arrested for explosives offences, five councillers have been accused of electoral fraud and at least one of assault. In Barking and Dagenham, Dan Kelley a BNP counciller resigned admitting that
There’s meetings that go right over my head and there’s little point in me being there
The BNP quite clearly are incompetent when elected and do not serve the communities they aspire to serve. It isn't difficult to work out that this is a party of morons and fools- who will never serve the whole community and barely disguise an ugly fascist and racist past.
But is Mike right about the way to deal with the BNP? The BNP's main strength seems to come out of a vague xenophobia, the kind of anti-immigrant feeling the Tories occasionally play to and a sense that foreigners or "ethnics" get the best resources. BNP members also have a sense of anti-establishment feeling, that everyone is out to get them, that the mainstream condemns their point of view and that the establishment is hiding some nefarious and illusory plot to destroy Britain. Their online newspaper for instance is called "The Voice of Freedom" and their website at present calls upon readers to send a card to "political prisoner" Kevin Hughes (arrested for a racist attack in a pub on a Kurdish asylum seeker).If we are looking for a means to weaken the BNP we are looking really at a means to weaken their support, to diminish their attraction.
There are arguments that condemnation works. The BNP is attempting to get into posh London council boroughs- the Guardian mentions Chelsea and Kensington amongst others- and those are just the kind of places where social stigma really matters. Where the tactic of making BNP support unthinkable has a real effect upon people. Where politics is partly a matter of fashion, isolating the BNP has an impact in pulling people towards the Tories and away from that kind of logic. It also makes the arguments that the BNP espouse unsayable in certain circles and again that makes the arguments less strong- one of the things about politics is that as soon as you express an argument you become anchored to it and you have to think it through and provide it with cohesion. Making supporting the BNP something you can't do in company actually weakens the political resolve of those who might think about supporting it.
On the other hand social stigma means that the minority who do support the BNP become even more fervent. There is a case for the Tories and major parties keeping up their attacks on the BNP (and incidentally moderating their attacks on each other, when Tony Benn labels the Tories racist he diminishes the shock value of that accusation when played against the BNP) but there is also a case for the rest of us concentrating on calmly exposing what the BNP say and what the press often report about say asylum seekers which buttress the BNP's claims. If members and supporters of the BNP beleive that they are oppressed, then shouting at them and coalescing against them won't neccessarily persuade them of anything. But demonstrating that the general climate of fear about immigration is exaggerated, that Islam is a religion containing both peaceful and violent factions and that most Muslims in the UK are of the first not the second persuasion, destroying some of the historical illusions- the ideas of unique Western civilisation, those are the ways forward. Sometimes a reasoned discussion can obtain more success than a denounciation- lets see people like Blair and Cameron with their legendary charm get out and do some public speaking, do some debating against Griffin and his cohorts of hate.
There is plenty of fantastic work being done to expose the BNP and its faulty ideology. But we are faced with a situation where the BNP seems to be gaining votes and support. I've reflected on some of the more sociological reasons before here but there are real actions that we can take. Condemnation can work but it must be accompanied by reasoned explanation. If we just condemn we feed into the fantasy that there is an establishment hiding a truth about Britain, we must take on and expose the ideas and the fallacies. Particularly we must defend the idea that there are many Muslims, a vast majority, who are non-violent and perfectly ordinary- indeed just like Christians or atheists who care much more about their children's school than the state of the world and who have political views that they attempt to acheive with peaceful means. We should also make more of the links between the British and American far right and terrorist groups, Daniel Pipes, a blogger with whom I often disagree has documented some cases here.
The BNP can be defeated- they lie far more than they tell the truth and are incompetent when they get in. But they won't be defeated if all we do is yell insults at them- we must expose and persuade- show that they are wrong about the facts, inadequate when in power, have no answers to the problems that Britain and the world face and fail at the base to understand the fundemental equality of all human beings. We must expose their attempts to become respectable and show they are still racist, we must also show why racism is a self defeating and obnoxious outlook upon the world.