Online shop reveals the true BNP

The BNP's Excalibur stocks a "Golly Collection". Need any more proof of the party's racist nature?

The BNP's attempts to adopt a mask of respectability are proving ever more effective. From winning its first seats in the European Parliament to Nick Griffin's infamous appearance on Question Time, the far-right party is edging its way into the political mainstream.

But how can we oppose the politics of race, fear and hatred and stop the "normalisation" of the fascists? The answer, as demonstrated by the newly established Expose the BNP website, is to show the party's true nature, rather than lazily reporting its vision of Britain's doom.

This is remarkably easy to do. While party propaganda and Griffin's speeches carefully avoid racist references, such a deeply prejudiced organisation cannot conceal its core beliefs.

Potential voters should visit Excalibur, the BNP's online shop, which betrays an unhealthy interest in race and genetics (which, despite Griffin's denials, are obsessions the Nazis shared).

Four Flags: the Indigenous People of Britain is a booklet the BNP says "proves that the vast majority of the British people have ancestors going back to the last mini-Ice Age more than 12,000 years ago".

Although this may seem irrelevant in the context of the coming general election, it demonstrates the main appeal of the BNP -- especially when it is coupled with exaggerated claims about immigration. This is the party's technique for creating fear of an Immigration Invasion (the name of another book that Excalibur sells), which it says is destroying Britain.

Excalibur also boasts the "Golly Collection", a range of items based on the dolls now widely seen as racist, especially since a 12-year-old girl burned one at a BNP event. The party refused to comment on what place the dolls had in a shop whose stock includes DVDs on the Zulu wars and books such as Race, Evolution and Behaviour and Folk and Nation: Underpinning the Ethno-State (which Griffin co-authored).

The website also sells T-shirts bearing the slogans "It's cool to be white" and "British by birth: English by the grace of God" as well as one that warns asylum-seekers: "Don't unpack, you're going back."

Even with a small membership of about 14,000 and limited electoral support, the BNP is damaging to British politics and society, not least because two of its members represent us in the European Parliament.

To ensure that Nick Griffin joins Oswald Mosley as an unpleasant footnote in the history textbooks, politicians must challenge the view that the BNP is the only party with a clear immigration policy, addressing the concerns of people who feel that immigration is out of control, but without pandering to bigotry and intolerance.

Journalists must challenge popular myths, rather than repeat misleading claims that fuel the BNP's politics of fear.

What they fear is the truth -- that no one will vote for a party of hate. To see the truth for yourself, just visit their online shop.

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The TV stars MPs would love to be

Labour MPs dream of being Jed Bartlet.

In my latest book, A State of Play, I looked at the changing ways in which Britain’s representative democracy has been fictionalized since the later Victorian period. With the support of the University of Nottingham, we decided to turn the tables and ask MPs about their favourite fictional political characters. The results are intriguing.

All MPs were contacted, but with only 49 responding – that’s a 7.5 per cent return rate – I can’t claim the results are fully representative. At 22 per cent, women figured slightly less than they actually do in the Commons. But the big difference is in party terms: 71 per cent of respondents were Labour MPs – double their share in the Commons – while just 20 per cent were Conservatives, less than half their proportion in the Lower House. Maybe Conservative MPs are busier and have better things to do than answer surveys? Or perhaps they just don’t take political fiction – and possibly culture more generally - as seriously as those on the Opposition benches.

What is not subject to speculation, however, is that Labour MPs have very different tastes to their Conservatives rivals, suggesting they are more optimistic about what politics might achieve. At 22 per cent, the most favourite character chosen by MPs overall was Jed Bartlet, heroic US President in Aaron Sorkin’s romantic TV series The West Wing. Of those MPs who nominated Bartlett, every one was Labour. Of course Barlet is a Democrat and the series - dismissed by critics as The Left Wing – looked favourably on progressive causes. But it seems Labour MPs regard Bartlet as an archetype for more than his politics. As one put it, he is, "the ideal leader: smart, principled and pragmatic" For some, Bartlet stands in stark contrast with their current leader. One respondent wistfully characterised the fictional President as having, "Integrity, learning, wit, electability... If only...".

As MPs mentioned other characters from The West Wing, the series accounted for 29 per cent of all choices. Its nearest rival was the deeply cynical House of Cards, originally a novel written by Conservative peer Michael Dobbs and subsequently adapted for TV in the UK and US. Taken together, Britain’s Francis Urquhart and America’s Frank Underwood account for 18 per cent of choices, and are cross-party favourites. One Labour MP dryly claimed Urquhart – who murders his way to Number 10 due to his obsession with the possession of power - "mirrors most closely my experience of politics".

Unsurprisingly, MPs nominated few women characters - politics remains a largely male world, as does political fiction. Only 14 per cent named a female character, the most popular being Birgitte Nyborg from Denmark’s TV series Borgen. Like The West Wing, the show presents politics as a place of possibility. Not all of those nominating Nyborg were female, although one female MP who did appeared to directly identify with the character, saying: "She rides a bike, has a dysfunctional life and isn't afraid of the bastards."

Perhaps the survey’s greatest surprise was which characters and series turned out to be unpopular. Jim Hacker of Yes Minister only just made it into the Top Five, despite one Conservative MP claiming the series gives a "realistic assessment of how politics really works". Harry Perkins, who led a left-wing Labour government in A Very British Coup received just one nomination – and not from an MP who might be described as a Corbynite. Only two MPs suggested characters from Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, which in the past claimed the likes of Harold MacMillan, Douglas Hurd and John Major as fans. And only one character from The Thick of It was nominated - Nicola Murray the struggling minister. 

The results suggest that MPs turn to political fiction for different reasons. Some claimed they liked their characters for – as one said of House of Cards's Frank Underwood – "the entertainment value". But others clearly identified with their favourites. There is clearly a preference for characters in series like The West Wing and Borgen, where politicians are depicted as ordinary people doing a hard job in trying circumstances. This suggests they are largely out of step with the more cynical presentations of politics now served up to the British public.

Top 5 political characters

Jed Bartlett - 22 per cent

Frank Underwood - 12 per cent

Francis Urquhart - 6 per cent

Jim Hacker - 6 per cent

Birgitte Nyborg - 6 per cent

Steven Fielding is Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham. Follow him @polprofsteve.