In the modern Anglican Baptism service, the congregation is warned to avoid “the glamour of evil”. No danger of that with Nick Griffin, is there? On Question Time on Thursday night, he resembled a disgruntled commuter on a late-night train from Liverpool Street–the sort who engages you in conversation with superficial, beery geniality and then inflicts his unpleasant opinions without a break until debouching at Romford. Not a bat-squeak of Nuremburg Rally glamour–only the drone of banality.
Yet the appearance of Mr Griffin on the programme produced the greatest coalition of the British establishment since the Yes campaign in the European referendum of 1975. The sledgehammer portentously cracked the nut.
Three state-funded politicians of the three main parties denounced the dismal Griffin. The state-funded millionaire, David Dimbleby, forsaking all chairmanly impartiality, even told the wretched man not to smile. The audience, much younger and more “ethnic” than the actual composition of the population, cheered each sally against him. Bonnie Greer, an American, spoke of the “good sense of the British people” in rejecting the BNP. But if Mr Griffin had not been so charmless, I think I would have felt another traditional British quality–sympathy for the underdog.
The message coming out of the programme, reinforced by the BBC’s self-congratulatory coverage, was: “Free speech triumphed. Vile Griffin was allowed his say, but we saw him off. Aren’t we all marvellous?”
No, we aren’t marvellous. We are smug. We are missing two important points.
The first is that we are slipshod in our definition of extremism. The BNP certainly is extreme, because hate is intrinsic to its message. But our Government has active links with people who are more extreme. There are Islamist groups which support Hamas suicide bombings, the killing of homosexuals (Mr Griffin merely finds it “creepy” when they kiss in public) and the killing of British troops in Afghanistan. These groups engage with the state, and even get taxpayers’ money. The Government justifies this with the weird theory that it is only the hard men who can hold back the even harder men from violence. So the hard men get the leverage.
In Northern Ireland, Labour has set up a system which permits and pays Martin McGuinness to be Deputy First Minister. Mr McGuinness was for many years Chief of Staff of the IRA, planning its terrorist operations. He has dropped this occupation, but never renounced it. He has proved the favourite terrorist argument–well-calculated murder wins you power. When Martin goes on Question Time these days, there is no Griffin-style bashing, just the solemn nodding of panel heads when he explains how to bring peace to our troubled world.
On Thursday night, Jack Straw fiercely engaged Nick Griffin on the subject of Holocaust denial. But when he was Foreign Secretary, Mr Straw led the attempt to appease President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who denies the Holocaust on the global stage and is trying to build a nuclear bomb to wipe out Israel.
When establishment figures say that the attitudes of the BNP help prepare the ground for violence, they are right. But they do not apply this logic to their engagement with Islamism–the only form of extremism which nowadays kills large numbers of our fellow citizens.
As for the BBC, it devotes hours of broadcasting to straining after links with racists among the Tories’ eurosceptic allies at the European Parliament. Yet it approvingly (I heard it on Today yesterday) reports Hamas without ever mentioning the anti-semitic libels which are in that organisation’s founding Charter.
The second error shown by the Question Time panellists–and by virtually all political leaders in this country–is to ignore the problems that are winning the BNP votes. Exposing Holocaust denial is worth doing, but easy. The hard bit is the real resentment on which the BNP can capitalise.
This week, a campaign called Nothing British (full title: “There’s Nothing British about the BNP”) launched. It draws attention to how the BNP steals British military symbols and tries to recruit among service families. I wrote the foreword to the manifesto. Focus-group research done by colleagues involved in the campaign finds certain common features among BNP voters. They are not all racists. Many have black friends or have intermarried with non-whites. But they all raise immigration straightaway as their biggest concern. They feel it diminishes their chances in life.
It threatens their jobs, they believe. Ten years ago, a self-employed painter and decorator in, say, Barking might have earned £120 a day, enough to get a reasonable mortgage and sustain a modestly secure family life. Today, after the Government underestimated the number of Eastern Europeans likely to come here by almost 20 times, he would get £70 or £80. If his ailing father pays regular visits to hospital, he may be denied a bed because so many foreign women are giving birth. If his child has special needs, he may find the local school neglects them because it is desperately trying to teach English to children who do not speak it at home. If his brother is a soldier, he may return from risking his life to be insulted on the streets of his country by people who hate it.
The strongest common characteristic of such BNP supporters is pessimism. They feel they are sinking to the bottom of the pile, and that people from other countries are being privileged over them by the public services. If they complain, they are told they are racist. It is not surprising that they say things like “My country is being taken away from me”. They are not completely mistaken.
Nick Griffin made one good point on Thursday night. After he had been mocked for speaking about the “indigenous” people of Britain, he countered that Jack Straw et al would not dare mock Maoris or American Indians for insisting on their indigenous status. Why shouldn’t British whites, he asked, do the same?
The answer, of course, should not lie in giving group rights to any race or tribe, but in offering a reasonable degree of hope to all citizens of our country. It shows how much that hope has been extinguished among poorer whites that twerps like Mr Griffin are now in with a chance.
There was only one good thing about Thursday night’s programme. Somewhere in among the baiting of Mr Griffin and his own confused and unattractive theories, a few people seemed to be searching for something unifying out of the history of Britain. They could see Mr Griffin’s version was all wrong, but they lacked their own. To use the current buzzword, they seek a “narrative”. To use an unfashionable phrase, they want to hear our island story. Until our leaders can give us one, it is broken Britain indeed.