Nick Griffin, BNP leader elected to European Parliament, June 7, 2009 (AFP)

BNP, paper bulldogs

The election of Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, to the European parliament has raised questions as to whether 30’s style fascism is rearing its head in the UK. Sunny Hundal in the Guardian argues, however, that the time for such “aghast, uncritical scaremongering” is over.

Published on 9 June 2009 at 15:45
Nick Griffin, BNP leader elected to European Parliament, June 7, 2009 (AFP)

“Britain has finally voted in a fascist leader,” writes Hundal. While warning against complacency, he hopes this changes the way we approach the BNP. Firstly, he points out, its vote has fallen since 2004, and that its success in the European elections is due more to the collapse in support for a Labour party that has too long ignored its working-class origins. Politicians who tell people to "vote anyone but the BNP", only reinforce its anti-establishment credentials “ensuring that people who want to vote "none of the above" vote for them.” Also, Labour MPs who sound tough on immigration “in the absurd hope that it will shore up their vote,” lack “an inspirational message that says, as Obama did, ‘your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams’.” He also attacks a section of the national media that blames Britain’s aging infrastructure on asylum seekers, rather than on lack of investment, while other sections in their elitist contempt for the BNP “only play into anti-establishment anger.” Most people, Hundal argues, have enough contact with someone of an ethnic minority to know how stupid racism is. This “will always override what the BNP says.” “Over-the-top scaremongering,” however, “plays into its hands.”

ANALYSIS

Not quite the time to panic (yet)

The Guardian has asked leading British historians whether fascism is on the rise in Britain and Europe again. Michael Burleigh, author of The Third Reich, A New History, argues this is not a re-run of the 1930s - “Hitler didn't Twitter,” he says. Also, far right parties change with power. The BNP remains hostile to the EU but increasingly plays down its more racist aspects. For Richard Overy fascism was a revolutionary imperialist movement promising a new social order, whereas the latter day far right has no such vision. David Stevenson of LSE sees less a parallel with the 1930s than with the success of Jean-Marie Le Pen in France in the 1980s. In the same way as Le Pen fed off a disenchanted Communist vote, the BNP has taken advantage of a collapse in Labour support. Norman Davies of Oxford observesn that while the BNP has allies among the far right in Europe, he believes they cannot form a mass European movement - “the one thing on which you can rely is that far-right parties will fall out with each other.” Britain’s most famous historian, Eric Hobsbawm, believes the most striking characteristic of these elections is rather the crisis on the left. “The European left relied on a working class that no longer exists in its old form, and in order to recover it will need to find a new constituency.” The real story, as Burleigh concludes, “is that the centre-right has done very well”.

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