Show Hide image

All white on the right

Jon Cruddas reviews Daniel Trilling's book on Nick Griffin and the BNP, Bloody Nasty People.

Bloody Nasty People: the Rise of Britain’s Far Right
Daniel Trilling
Verso, 240pp, £14.99

Why bother with the BNP? It’s heading into oblivion through factionalism, financial disintegration and assorted membership problems. Sure, the EDL (English Defence League) has its militia-style street politics but why write a new text on the growth of the far right? Isn’t it in free fall? Maybe the New Statesman’s Daniel Trilling should have not bothered and just kept busy at the day job.

In the warm afterglow of Olympic triumph, we’ve been pretty busy congratulating ourselves on the nature of modern Britain. Team GB’s successful multiculturalism defines a positive national story, in strict contrast to one anchored in loss, anomie and far-right extremism. That is all to the good. Why, then, a new history of the BNP and assorted far-right crews?

There is a central pivot to this book that alone is worth the asking price. Hit the rewind button and think of another Olympic year – the late summer and early autumn of 2000, following the Sydney Games – and one of the great missed opportunities of the last government. Twelve years before the London Games of Danny Boyle, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah, there was an opportunity to forge a new, confident national story. Trilling’s book hinges on this often forgotten moment and the damage that political indecision inflicted on the character of the country.

In 2000, the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain signalled that Britain faced a fork in the road. Would the country push forward and define itself as a “community of communities . . . at ease with its place in the world and with its own internal differences” or would it squander this opportunity and accept emerging resentments? Fearful that this opportunity might be missed as a result of the toxic climate around race and asylum, the commission implored the then Labour government to make a formal declaration that Britain was a multicultural, multi-faith society.

Following leaks in the Daily Telegraph, the government swerved around the question of modern national identity and triangulated instead between the nationalist right and the liberal left. What followed over the next decade were successive attempts at a much vaguer, defensive notion of Britishness. In short, the Labour government lost a decade in this debate, much to the dismay of Bhikhu Parekh, the commission’s chairman. Trilling’s book joins the dots and works through the fallout.

In August 2000, Nick Griffin’s leadership of the BNP was in crisis: the Conservatives under William Hague were making the running on asylum and immigration. Yet within a year of Labour’s body swerve on the commission’s report, the BNP was on the move and a decadelong battle was taking shape.

By the spring and summer of 2001, communities off the radar of the middle-England focused political calculus – Bradford, Oldham and Burnley – were rioting. Griffin learned from Bruno Mégret, the principal strategist of the French Front National, that the party founded by John Tyndall had to forge a new identity politics; that the old left/right fault line was withering away and the real conflicts were “between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, between identity and internationalism”. The attacks of 11 September 2001 soon followed and the climate of fear and suspicion intensified, playing into the hands of the BNP and its new emphasis on “freedom, security, democracy and identity”.

Bloody Nasty People walks us through the various sites of contest across England. It offers sharp portraits while also keeping an eye on the increasingly harsh tone of political language driven by fear, polling and press dynamics. However, the book is by no means all one-way traffic. While all the political parties are criticized for pandering – for example, at different times, each of them deployed ruthless “sons and daughters” populism on housing issues – light is also shone on successful mobilization and forms of political resistance (though this is a long and painful war of position that has left plenty of wreckage by the roadside).

One might take issue with some of Trilling’s conclusions or with the slightly reductive class component to his analysis, and more discussion of the various strategies, as well as the tensions, inside the anti-fascist movement would have been desirable. But these are second-order points. This is a cracking book that respectfully weaves together testimonies and stories – of people and places – with national political formations, examining them alongside the deeper economic and cultural questions posed by globalisation. Especially strong is the analysis of the cross-currents at play in the 1993 Isle of Dogs council by-election victory of Derek Beackon.

Despite our post-Olympic glow, Trilling’s book is a useful reminder of our Balkanised political landscape. It places him alongside other young, left-wing writers such as Owen Jones in the front line of political and cultural debate, to which I don’t see a downside. I just keep thinking back to 2000 – to the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain and what might have been.

Jon Cruddas is MP (Labour) for Dagenham and Rainham.

Jon Cruddas is Labour's policy review coordinator and MP for Dagenham

This article first appeared in the 17 September 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Who comes next?

Show Hide image

Why Theresa May is wrong about immigration

The inconvenient truth: migration helps Britain.

Immigration is a disaster. Well, Theresa May says so, anyway.

May’s speech to the Conservative conference is straight out of the Ukip playbook – which is rather curious, given that she has held the post of Home Secretary for five years, and is the longest-serving holder of the office for half a century. It is crass and expedient tub-thumping (as James Kirkup has brilliantly exposed). And what May is saying is not even true. These are saloon-bar claims, and it is striking that she should unleash them on the Conservative party conference.

“When immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it’s impossible to build a cohesive society,” May says. Yet, whatever she might say, racism is on the decline. The BNP’s vote in the general election collapsed from 563,000 in 2010 to just 1,667 in 2015. Research by Rob Ford has revealed that the nation is becoming far more tolerant to marriage between races: while almost half of those born before 1950 oppose marriage between black and white people, only 14 per cent of those born since 1980 do. And between 2011 and 2014 (when the figure was last measured), the British Social Attitudes Survey reported a decrease in self-reported racial prejudice, from 38 to 30 per cent.

May also said: “at best the net economic and fiscal effect of high immigration is close to zero.” This is another claim that does not stand up. An OECD study two years ago found that the net contribution of immigrants is worth over £7bn per year to UK PLC: money that would otherwise have to be found through higher taxes, lower spending or more borrowing.

May also asserted that “We know that for people in low-paid jobs, wages are forced down even further while some people are forced out of work altogether.” This ignores the evidence of her own department, who have found “relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives from the labour market in periods when the economy is strong.” An LSE study, too, has found “no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages, housing or the crowding out of public services.”

The inconvenient truth is that rising net migration is both proof of, and a reason why, the UK economy is doing well. As immigration has increased, so has growth; employment has risen, including for Britons. This is no coincidence.

To win the “global race”, a country needs to attract skilled immigrants who work hard and put in more than they take out. That is exactly what the UK is doing: net migration has just risen to 330,000, a new record. As a whole these migrants “are better educated and younger than their UK-born counterparts”, as an LSE study has found. In the UK today there is a simple rule: where immigration is highest, growth is strongest. The East Coast and Cornwall suffer from a lack of migration, while almost 40 per cent of a immigrants live in the thriving capital.

Lower immigration would make the UK a less dynamic economy. Firms in London enjoy a “diversity bonus”: those with an ethnically diverse management are more likely to introduce new product innovations, and are better-able to reach international markets, a paper by Max Nathan and Neil Lee has found.

Puling up the drawbridge on immigration would have catastrophic consequences for UK PLC. The OBR have found that with zero net-migration, public sector net debt as a share of GDP could rise to 145 per cent by 2062/63; with high net-migration, it would fall to 73 per cent.

So May should be celebrating that the UK is such an attractive place to live, and how immigration has contributed to its success. By doing the opposite, she not only shows a lack of political leadership, but is also stoking up trouble for the Prime Minister – and her leadership rival George Osborne – during the EU referendum.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.