Five of the Best: on the BNP

The top five comment pieces on the BNP and Question Time

In the Guardian, Gary Younge argues that New Labour enabled the rise of the BNP by failing to tackle racism head-on:

New Labour extinguished all hope of class solidarity and singularly failed to provide principled anti-racist alternatives, leaving a significant section of the white working class to seek cheap refuge in racism and xenophobia. In their identity they see not the potential for resistance against corruption and injustice, but only a grievance. They don't trust government and don't see any alternatives. The coming election simply provides the choice between two parties that share the intent to slash public spending, after the gift of billions to bankers.

Over at Spiked, Tim Black says the belief that Nick Griffin's appearance will trigger a rise in racism is condescending to the public:

It implies that we the public are not capable of dealing with freedom of speech and open debate. We need to be protected from certain arguments and points of view, the merest hints of which will send us racist. The public here is viewed as a childlike mass, incapable of resisting the sinister adult advances of people like Griffin. Could we be more condescended to? The idea that the two million people watching Question Time will suddenly go Nazi because some whites-only crank is on the panel is as absurd as Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg hoping two million people will suddenly go Lib Dem because Chris Huhne is sat there too. Monkey see, monkey do, goes the thinking.

The Independent's Steve Richards warns that the BNP has an unexpected chance to benefit from record political discontent:

These are unusually febrile times. I speak to a lot of MPs who worry about the impact of the BNP in their constituencies more than virtually any other issue. A cabinet minister also said to me recently that the simultaneous political and economic crises are bound to have tumultuous consequences, so far ill-defined. There is still a dangerous gap in the market. The BNP shows few signs of filling it, but now an opportunity has arisen from nowhere for its leader to perform.

In the Daily Telegraph, Mary Riddell says the government must stand up for immigration in the face of the BNP:

Government should champion the transformation wrought by incomers and uphold the British tradition of welcoming, from the Huguenots onwards, those fleeing persecution. It should applaud Europe's open borders while stressing that EU migrants, many of whom do not stay long, have boosted the economy. In 2008-9, new arrivals paid 37 per cent more in taxes than they cost in welfare payments and public services.

The Times's David Aaronovitch offers a ten-point plan for the panellists to defeat Griffin. Here's number four:

Ditch the indignation -- you have to earn the right to be angry in front of viewers. Don't describe his views as abhorrent, hateful or evil or declare yourself shocked, appalled, sickened or disgusted until he's said something to justfy such a reaction. Abstract fury just looks incontinent.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: Theresa May and the resurgence of the state

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years.

Theresa May entered office in more tumultuous circumstances than any other prime minister since 1945. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was a remarkable rebuke to the political and business establishment and an outcome for which few had prepared. Mrs May recognised that the result was more than a revolt against Brussels. It reflected a deeper alienation and discontent. Britain’s inequalities of wealth and opportunity, its regional imbalances and its distrusted political class all contributed to the Remain campaign’s ­defeat. As she said in her speech in Birmingham on 11 July: “Make no mistake, the referendum was a vote to leave the European Union, but it was also a vote for serious change.”

When the financial crisis struck in 2007-2008, David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, was caught out. His optimistic, liberal Conservative vision, predicated on permanent economic growth, was ill-suited to recession and his embrace of austerity tainted his “modernising” project. From that moment, the purpose of his premiership was never clear. At times, austerity was presented as an act of pragmatic bookkeeping; at others, as a quest to shrink the state permanently.

By contrast, although Mrs May cautiously supported Remain, the Leave vote reinforced, rather than contradicted, her world-view. As long ago as March 2013, in the speech that signalled her leadership ambitions, she spoke of the need to confront “vested interests in the private sector” and embrace “a more strategic role” for the state. Mrs May has long insisted on the need to limit free movement of people within the ­European Union, and anticipated the causes of the Leave vote. The referendum result made the national reckoning that she had desired inevitable.

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years. She has promised worker representation on company boards, binding shareholder votes on executive pay, improved corporate governance and stricter controls on foreign takeovers.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has set the ­Labour Party on a similar course, stating in his conference speech that the “winds of globalisation” are “blowing against the belief in the free market and in favour of intervention”. He pointedly criticised governments which did not try to save their domestic steel industries as China dumped cheap steel on to global markets.

We welcome this new mood in politics. As John Gray wrote in our “New Times” special issue last week, by reasserting the role of the state as the final guarantor of social ­cohesion, Mrs May “has broken with the neoliberal model that has ruled British politics since the 1980s”.

The Prime Minister has avoided the hyperactive style of many new leaders, but she has deviated from David Cameron’s agenda in several crucial respects. The target of a national Budget surplus by 2020 was rightly jettisoned (although Mrs May has emphasised her commitment to “living within our means”). Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement on 23 November will be the first test of the government’s ­fiscal boldness. Historically low borrowing costs have strengthened the pre-existing case for infrastructure investment to support growth and spread prosperity.

The greatest political ­challenge facing Mrs May is to manage the divisions within her party. She and her government must maintain adequate access to the European single market, while also gaining meaningful control of immigration. Her statist economic leanings are already being resisted by the free-market fundamentalists on her benches. Like all prime ministers, Mrs May must balance the desire for clarity with the need for unity.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she has repeatedly stated, underlining her commitment to end the UK’s 43-year European
affair. If Mrs May is to be a successful and even transformative prime minister, she must also prove that “serious change” means serious change and a determination to create a society that does not only benefit the fortunate few. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories