The one thing that has been worse than the BNP winning two seats in the European Parliament today has been the endless hand-wringing and excuses made on behalf of the electorate by mainstream politicians. Last night, the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour were queueing up to come up with excuses for why so many people voted BNP. It was a protest vote, they said, not a racist one. We need to listen more and learn to respond.
Bollocks. The time for a touchy-feely understanding of BNP voters is well and truly over. You could make this excuse in 2001 when the BNP vote first started to flare up in earnest (three months before 9/11 please note – remember Griffin’s ridiculous gag at the Oldham count?) but now is the time to – as Lewis Baston says (pace John Major) – “condemn a little more, understand a little less.”
If you wanted to make a protest vote on Thursday, it isn’t as if you didn’t have a wide choice. What seems to have emerged in recent years is that voters seem to have learned that voting BNP is the best way to get a reaction out of the mainstream parties. It is a form of dirty protest; the difference being that the voters are all supposedly over 18, not toddlers. And yet, like the most awful parents ever seen on Supernanny, the mainstream parties seem to fall for it every time.
Enough is enough. This has started to look like Weimar-era appeasement (note: Godwin’s law doesn’t apply when you are writing about actual neo-Nazis). Politicians have treated the electorate like children for years; we can hardly be surprised therefore that a small minority have now started acting like children. There isn’t a particular policy solution – we can hardly starve the North West and Yorkshire of resources to punish a mere 8% of voters – but we can change the language. We could start hearing mainstream political leaders openly criticise BNP voters rather than merely the party itself. Call them out; take them to task; challenge them. Make it clear that while they can ultimately vote for whoever they want in a democracy, we do not respect their decision.
Does all this sound patronising? Maybe, but then is it really more so than the self-flagelating alternative? No, not every BNP voter is a racist but at the very very best they are in deep denial about racism. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that a party which claims to not be racist yet bangs on about the indigenous white race and “racial foreigners” is simply engaging in doublespeak.
BNP literature is full of hate, spite, resentment and scapegoating. It offers simplistic, washing-powder-advert solutions to complex problems. You only vote for such things if you are already predisposed to lash out rather than really look for solutions. In that respect, I think the tone of the Hope Not Hate campaign is spot on; I just don’t see it reinforced by mainstream politicians (let alone the blundering antics of the far-left).
An extremely bad approach is the one adopted by Ian Dunt over on politics.co.uk. Apparently “there is a tiny fascist in all of us” – to the extent that nobody’s perfect, I suppose that may be true. But where does that get us? I didn’t vote BNP. Most people didn’t vote BNP. Why should we beat ourselves up about it? What will that achieve? Will our mutual hand-wringing suddenly make BNP voters see the error of their ways? I forget who came up with the idea of the “Oh Dear” factor in climate change policy – that being that the problem with talking about how dreadful climate change is that people feel disempowered and thus disengage from the whole debate. Why would we want to elevate something as eminently resolvable as the fact that minority of people vote for neo-Nazis to the same level?
I’ve helped organise several political events for schools over the years, and in particular question time debates in which a panel of MPs are asked questions by a horde of hormone-addled, smart-alec teenagers. In my experience such debates follow the following pattern: the politicians come on stage and mouth a load of platitudes about how important it is that young people get involved in politics; a series of kids ask clever-clever questions designed to “prove” that all politicians are self-serving liars; the baying mob scents blood and the politicos suddenly realise that they can’t get out of this by simply sticking to the script. At that point, something truly wonderful typically happens. At least one politician gets annoyed at their antagonists and starts to tell it like it is; explaining that the kids who are both pro-war and anti-war, both green and climate-change sceptic and both anti-racism and anti-immigration simply cannot have it both ways. Suddenly both baying mob and platitude-spouting politico connects in a way neither were expecting. The atmosphere changes completely. I’ve seen this happen on numerous occasions and the lesson for me is clear: you don’t connect with the disaffected by telling them what you think they want to hear. You can only connect by being authentic and frank with them – even disagreeing with them and challenging their prejudices.
Ultimately, there are just two types of BNP voter: scum and idiots. The scum we can comfortably leave to one side. The rest need to stop being told that their idiocy is some cunning act of tactical protest; they’ve started to believe it now. Idiocy is an eminently curable disorder, but the first step to stop being an idiot is to realise what you’re being. With that in mind, indulging BNP voters is an form of cruel and inhumane treatment.