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.