Immigration not important to the BNP? The facts suggest otherwise

A surprising manifesto launch - plus Nick Griffin's theories on chimpanzees and ethnic conflict.

Backed by a man in St George-themed fancy dress, the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, launched his party's manifesto in Stoke-on-Trent today. Perhaps surprisingly, Griffin was keen to play down the importance of immigration to the party, preferring to focus on a call to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and a pledge to restore manufacturing. (You can hear how shaky Griffin's grasp of economics is in this interview with Today's Evan Davis.)

"There's nothing new about immigration in this document," said Griffin, waving a booklet titled Democracy, Freedom, Culture and Identity. "There's a whole different emphasis in this manifesto."

In fact, the manifesto offers "voluntary repatriation" to ethnic minority Britons and promises to review all citizenship grants awarded since 1997. But the change of emphasis is part of Griffin's ongoing drive to present his far-right party as a non-racist, legitimate political choice.

The trouble is, Griffin appears to have forgotten to tell that to his supporters. A study by academics at Manchester university (PDF) of what drove people to vote BNP in the 2009 European elections found that racial prejudice is "the strongest driver of BNP support, while anti-immigrant sentiment and populist hostility to the political mainstream are also significantly correlated with BNP voting". Tellingly, 31 per cent of BNP supporters agreed with the proposition that black people were "intellectually inferior" and 45 per cent said that non-whites were "not really British".

Griffin, who was convicted of incitement to racial hatred in 1998, is aiming to gain power by attracting a broader coalition of voters but, despite his protestations to the contrary, ethnicially divisive politics lie at the heart of the BNP's project. Here's what he told the New Statesman in an interview last year, when asked why a multicultural society couldn't work:

Almost every era of horror and bloodshed and brutality in human history has been because different groups don't get on. Thirty to 40 years ago, the scientists studying chimpanzees thought that they basically eat fruit, sit around all day, chase each others' wives and have a great time. What they now know is that chimpanzees launch genocidal wars against neighbouring bands of chimpanzees, which would suggest that my rather more suspicious view of human nature is right . . . Immigration has to be stopped, things have to be undone. If my vision of Europe is the one which ran from now, then no-one is going to get hurt in the future. If your way runs, you run the risk of your idealism having created the next Rwanda, the next Bosnia.

Another aspect of the manifesto Griffin chose not to highlight was its attack on Muslims, under a section headed "Countering the Islamic colonisation of Britain". (If you read my report on the BNP's election campaign in Barking, you can get some idea of how this anti-Islam message is going down on the doorstep.) Here's an extract from a speech Griffin made to party activists at a branch meeting in 2006 (quoted here by Peter Oborne), which suggests the focus on Muslims, rather than other religious or ethnic groups, is merely a pragmatic choice:

We bang on about Islam. Why? Because to the ordinary public out there, it's the thing they can understand. It's the thing the newspaper editors sell newspapers with.

Meanwhile, over at the Expose the BNP blog, Dominic Carman, Griffin's unofficial biographer -- and Lib Dem candidate for Barking -- has a list of ten questions for Nick Griffin.

UPDATE: the Nothing British about the BNP blog has expertly dismantled the manifesto.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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