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.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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