Immigration and the BNP
How do you beat the Far Right? (Not that I approve of that term). It's a question asked by Catherine Mayer within the cover story of the latest issue of Time magazine. She overviews the strategies...
- "Deny far-right leaders the oxygen of publicity? Tricky — they have a democratic mandate.
- Confront them? That risks casting them as martyrs, victims who tell unpalatable truths.
- Expose the racism that often underlies professions of patriotism? Well, yes, but that assumes voters choose far-right parties in ignorance of their views, rather than because they strike a chord.
- Steal their nationalist thunder by taking tough lines on issues such as immigration? This smacks of capitulation to the very ideas critics seek to defeat."
I completely disagree with Catherine on strategy (4). Of course we don't match the BNP etc's policies but they are succeeding - in part - because they are addressing issues ignored by the main parties.
Tory Chairman Eric Pickles is quoted in the article warning against the neglect of doorstep campaigning on the estates where the BNP is beginning to thrive:
"You've got a kind of [mainstream politician] representing those estates who didn't grow up on them, doesn't know them well and visits like a political tourist." Mainstream parties have "got to re-engage the population," he says. "You can't write the people off who voted BNP as all being Nazis. It's neglect... The only way to deal with [the far right] is by local politicians championing their neighborhoods and being very proud that they represent their electors."
I agree with that but he then continues:
"I don't think you can beat the BNP by pandering to their views on immigration, though there are some siren voices."
I'm not quite sure what Eric means here but I do think part of any anti-BNP strategy means addressing popular concerns about immigration, access to housing and championing people's patriotic instincts... while ALWAYS attacking their racism. Catherine Mayer notes Sarkozy's success with this approach.
One of the reasons James Bethell and I established the still embryonic Nothing British About The BNP is the need to establish a distinctively centre right response to the BNP. Extremists thrive when the mainstream ignores issues that don't excite focus groups in marginal seats. Politicians who say we won't talk about the issues raised by the BNP are only going to help the BNP to flourish. Fraser Nelson put it brilliantly in his News of the World column a few weeks ago:
"Thatcher killed off the National Front in the late 70s by taking the issue immigration head-on. But David Cameron won't. He thinks the subject scares away voters in the marginal seats he needs to take power. This is the problem. Westminster only cares about swing voters in swing seats - so millions are forgotten. As an MEP, Nick Griffin is entitled to use the Commons bars and dining facilities. The MPs' response? Ban him. Pathetic. If I had my way, I'd base Griffin in Westminster so MPs would see his smug face walking past every day. He is a reminder of THEIR failure to reach out to forgotten voters. Their failure to grapple with difficult subjects. Griffin's BNP have had more votes than Mosley's blackshirts, or the National Front could ever dream of. And the silence from Westminster suggests that its shocking success story is far from over."