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James Bethell: The Centre-Right must take on the BNP - and not let the Left off the hook for its role in Britain's neo-fascist revival

Picture 3 James Bethell is Director of Nothing British.

It’s sad to lose, but how are you meant to feel when your team just doesn’t turn up to play?

That’s how it felt after another no-show by the Right when a handful of the English Defence League provoked a bottle-throwing riot in Harrow and a weekend-long tummy-button analysis by observers of extremism.

There seemed enough airtime for anyone with an opinion. John Denham MP, the Communities Secretary, spoke thoughtfully about his fear of Mosley-style provocations that lead to the 1930s Cable Street riots, and then quickly replaced his sensible observations with nonsense after the Left accused him of pandering. Tony McNulty, the local MP, struggled to keep a straight face as he denied that Britain’s struggling working class have a legitimate grievance against the Government and defended multi-culturalism. Searchlight called for politicians to stop talking about immigration so much. A trendy-specs-wearing Martin Smith from the UAF was filmed (35 seconds into the clip) milling with the rioters with a big grin on his face.

The only thing missing was a contribution from anyone on the Centre-Right, let alone the Conservative Party. A request from Nothing British to CCHQ for a quote after it was all over on Sunday night got the response, “we’re waiting to see what happens”.

It was a typical example of the Right’s heads-down strategy that is rooted in the age-old but out-of-date “deprive the BNP of the oxygen of publicity” philosophy. After the BNP’s two wins in the European elections and nearly one million votes, this has become a convenient but dishonourable excuse for those wary of toxic subjects like immigration, social cohesion, Islamism, Europe and Britishness.

This silence has its dangers. If the Right does not step up to the microphone, they leave a vacuum that is quickly filled with a misleading liberal consensus: that the rioting in Birmingham and Harrow are caused by the Rothermere-ite press and manipulative British-jobs-for-British-workers political rhetoric; that the best way of restoring peace is to close down the debate about issues like immigration, integration and the competition for jobs; that these protestors are just dangerous yobs preying on the misguided fears of foolish people; that Britain’s ruling class doesn’t have a case to answer.

The truth is that the economy might be cheering up in London’s micro-economy and the High Street, but in Britain’s agricultural and manufacturing heartlands the competition for jobs, particularly amongst the semi-skilled, is increasingly vicious and many have given up any hope that our politicians have the answers to the impact of globalisation on those least equipped to cope. With the EDL planning events this autumn in Leeds, Luton and Manchester, our silence is giving them an open goal.

There are important messages that Centre-Right politicians should be communicating.

Firstly, the Centre-Right should not let the Left off the hook when it comes to the causes of Britain’s neo-fascist revival. The legitimate feelings of many white working class people is that they’ve been left behind in the competition for jobs and public services because of sloppy policy-making and political cowardice in areas like border control, skills training and our addictive, politically-distorted welfare system. They are rightly angry that our history is denigrated, our national flag is marginalised and our institutions are vandalised (not least the British Army).

The Centre-Right has the answers to many of these issues. Politicians need to give hope back to people losing the competition for jobs by offering new skills to those who want to work and the right sort of encouragement to those who don’t. Britain needs to celebrate patriotism, so fringe parties cannot hijack the emotions of pride we feel for our country. We need to be clear about the reasons for fighting in Afghanistan, and give our troops a fair deal. We need to be clearer about the difference between religion and unacceptable/violent extremism.

Not only is there a strong moral case for taking on the BNP (and the Conservative Party has recently committed to standing camdidates against the BNP wherever possible); but addressing these issues makes good politics because it puts Labour’s record on the rack in a fresh, counter-intuitive way and it gives running space to Team Cameron’s front-row forwards like Pickles, Davis and Grayling. Caring about the losers in Britain’s recent prosperity spree should sit perfectly well with love-bombing the Liberal Democrats.

Unless the Right makes this case more energetically, journalists will default to a cozy but misleading liberal narrative that leaves the door open to nationalist demagogues like Nick Griffin to pedal the politics of racism, intolerance and segregation to an angry and frustrated British public.

The Centre-Right has stood aside from the anti-BNP campaign for too long.  The scale of the challenge is immense and we need to engage now.


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