How Labour legitimises the BNP

People don’t vote for the BNP: they vote against New Labour and the rest.

The BNP gets a staggering amount of press coverage: columnists queue up to prove their liberal credentials by pasting them, while Nick Griffin is rarely off our screens. Yet he's the leader of a small, poorly financed, internally divided party that is never going to be a major force in a first-past-the-post political system. So what's going on?

What is going on is the betrayal of the British working class and a political symbiosis disguised as opposition. The Labour Party no longer pretends to represent working-class people: it's far too busy fluffing our spectacularly incompetent City elite. And into Labour's old role is stepping the BNP, promising not only local jobs, services and communities, but that the party has changed its old racist ways.

The liberal reaction to this is disastrous. I've written a play about the rise of the BNP, called A Day at the Racists, during which I debated Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking (where of course Griffin is challenging her). I was shocked at her argument -- basically that the BNP are a bunch of simple racists and therefore any decent person should vote Labour. That kind of patronising disrespect for the legitimate frustrations of her constituents also gives the BNP legitimacy -- it makes them seem like they have something important or original to say, something that mainstream society doesn't want you to hear.

Everybody wins -- except the disenfranchised working class, whose real needs remain conspicuously unmet by any political party.

The thing liberals fail to see about the BNP is that they are a repository for ordinary working people's desire to get their dignity back. (In that sense, they have a lot in common with Islamists. Both see liberal mainstream society as misrepresenting and exploiting them, and so they hit back in a way calculated to cause maximum offence to liberal sensibilities. Maybe they should get together.)

People don't vote for the BNP, they vote against New Labour and the rest. And those people feel treated unfairly by the unequal free-market society that not only Westminster politicians and corporate flacks, but also liberal media types benefit from. They are angry at you.

What makes the BNP important is not that they are going to win seats, but that they show the limitations of liberal capitalist democracy. In that sense, they are an outrider for the hypothesis of my play -- a post-racial, "tolerant" nationalism, a neo-fascism that anyone can join, embodied by a mixed-race Asian character who becomes a BNP candidate.

In real life, the BNP themselves are so besmirched with racism, not least in the public eye, that they will never be the party which makes that argument credibly. But somebody will, and liberal capitalist democracy right now doesn't have an answer.

Anders Lustgarten's play "A Day at the Racists" has a one-off performance at the Broadway Theatre in Barking on 16 April.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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