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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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.