Is the BNP a "normal" political party?

I worry about the BBC's attitude towards the far-right

Yesterday I took part in a Radio 4 discussion about the BBC's coverage of the BNP with the corporation's chief adviser on politics, Ric Bailey. You can listen to it here.

Bailey seemed to me to be a decent and intelligent man performing a delicate and difficult balancing act in a high-pressure job. But I was alarmed to hear him repeat, again and again, in response to my question ("Does the BBC consider the BNP to be a normal party?"), that the BNP is a "legal, elected party".

So? Hitler was elected.

It's my contention that the BBC, and various other media organisations, are contributing to the "normalisation" of the BNP through soft, context-free, fact-free interviews and through the corporate and editorial repetition of this nauseating mantra: "The BNP is a legal, elected party."

But it's not a NORMAL party, is it?

I mean, which other political party in Britain has racist, neo-fascist and neo-Nazi roots? Which other political party can be legitimately described as a "Nazi" party, as the Standard Boards for England ruled in 2005? (Describing it as Nazi is, the board said, "within the normal and acceptable limits of political debate".) Which other political party has a leader who is a convicted criminal and a Holocaust denier? Which other political party includes local organisers who have convictions for gang rape or racist assault? How many other political parties have, among their former members, a terrorist and convicted murderer and a man convicted under the Explosives Act? Which other political party has, as its MEP, a man who began his political career in England's National Socialist party? Which other political party believes that Islam is a "cancer" and that Jews run the media?

Does it really breach the BBC's impartiality guidelines simply to point this out to the viewers, listeners and readers of the corporation's output? Or do we have to be treated instead to a fawning interview with a man, Mark Collett of the BNP, who has said: "Hitler will live for ever, and maybe I will."

Thankfully, as a colleague has pointed out to me, the BNP's electoral triumphs remain limited -- check out this result at a recent council by-election in Hertfordshire.


Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage