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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France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt