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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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.