Sunday, April 23, 2006

 

Far Right on the March or a Flash in the Pan?

While delivering leaflets for the Labour Party -in desultory fashion- I was suddenly alarmed to see so many union jacks and crosses of St George. My God, I thought, the BNP have got one hell of a lot more support than I thought. Then a bulb lit up-Queen's birthday; then another, accurate one lit up too- St George's Day. That my first thought was of the BNP is indicative though of how much the far right have usurped ownership of the national flag; and also that they are suddenly right in there punching for seats in the local elections. Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking says she has met a lot of voters who say they are thinking of voting BNP; the Joseph Rowntree Trust say their survey shows a quarter of voters would consider voting that way.

Ned Temko's article in The Observer today(couldn't get it online, sorry) suggests that the dominant reason for this apparent surge is the feeling that immigrants receive favourable treatment in front of British people: 'My wife and kids have been waiting for a new flat, but the Kosovans are getting them all.' Middle class commentators in safe suburbia tut- tut at this deplorable racism but life in the inner city must look a lot different. Whether these stories are true is always the big question, especially as people on the right seem to have a fecund imagination for scare stories. I remember a Tory Councillor for Longsight in the early seventies telling me that an Asian family in his area had a big removal van parked outside their house in which workers would sleep in shifts all round the clock. I received no confirmation of that but have heard the story since from many others. Other stories- and there were quite a few- were truly revolting lies.

The key point is perhaps, that people who are living in hardship find it easy to believe such stories, that asylum seekers are receiving hundreds of pounds a week in handouts(in reality they get a fraction of this), that white girls are under threat from predatory Asian youths and much more besides. When one is suffering from low income and poor quality of life, it is easy to suspect others of getting free rides and it is emotionally satisfying to blame some other group for one's troubles.

Peter Kellner points out in an article on the same page that such surges for the far right are not uncommon but to date have been shortlived. Mosley's attempt to exploit economic hardship in the thirties was spurned by voters in the end and few occasions on which his heirs have garnered significant votes have quickly fallen away. According to the Telegraph the BNP commands 7 per cent support though Kellner thinks the racist proportion of that amounts to only 5 per cent. But the insecurities caused by globalised forces creating job losses, often to foreign workers; the breakdown of traditional party loyalties and trust in our leaders; the influx of multicoloured new comers to our inner cities plus the fact that the main political parties are now taking the same liberal line on immigration and much else has left a gap which the far right is eager to fill.

This is very worrying but I have some faith in the suspicion British voters have always displayed of political ideas which appeal crudely to hate and racism; other European countries have not shown the same instinctive distance from racist ideas. In the thirties our parents saw through Mosley's posturing and I hope the current spurt of support for this thinly disguised racist party will be similarily shortlived. But it will require a genuine effort by Labour and Conservatives to see them off. The upcoming local election results will be more than usually interesting from this point of view.

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