Nick Griffin’s performance on Question Time was abysmal. He looked like a school bully who’d been rounded upon. Smirking and sweaty, he failed even to land a blow on the issues that matter most to his Party. For the BNP, it must have been deeply embarrassing.
The BBC on the other hand seemed to have survived. With Peter Hain launching legal action to prevent them giving Griffin a platform, and hundreds of protestors vowing to prevent Griffin entering the building, the threat had passed. Britain was safe.
But the debate that preceded and followed the Question Time Special was frighteningly unsophisticated. At first, a staggering number of people demanded the suspension of free speech. In one moment of foolish hysteria, we came close to sacrificing the one sacred principle that distinguishes our country from so many others – just to keep one half-wit from the public glare. Had that happened, Britain would have taken a giant step backwards.
And it wouldn’t even have had the desired effect. Since when has banning an idea eradicated that idea? Has a German ban on holocaust denial prevented people buying into one of the silliest conspiracy theories of all time? Of course not. On the contrary, denial of debate has meant that an idea that could be dismantled in minutes has been allowed to flourish underground.
After the show, many of those same commentators were relieved by Griffin’s poor performance. They shouldn’t have been. The BNP has attracted nearly a million supporters, it has earned a place at the table and it has sent two people to represent Britain in Europe. All this, despite the sheer mediocrity of its leader. Can you imagine the danger they would pose if they found themselves a proper figurehead?
We need to understand why the BNP has any support at all. It’s just not good enough to recite the mantra as virtually every politician has done, over and over like mindless baying sheep – that “we need to expose them for who they are”. Anyone with half a brain already knows who they are. To pretend otherwise is puerile and patronizing.
People voted BNP because it offered them a way to punish the hated political classes. They wanted to do this because they are tired of broken promises, and they’re tired of failure. The expenses scandal didn’t help. In Richmond and North Kingston, where I am Parliamentary candidate, and where a shocking 1,600 people voted BNP in the Euro elections, I heard this on the doorstep time after time.
The complaints are building up. There’s Europe. Of all the major changes to have occurred in Britain in the past 1,000 years, the EU project is surely in the top five. And yet this has happened without consultation. Our politicians have never sought democratic legitimacy for the project. And when finally all mainstream political parties promised a referendum on further expansion at the last election, two of them reversed their position immediately after. People feel, as they have been, swindled.
Then there’s immigration, the cornerstone issue for most BNP supporters. Until very recently, if anyone questioned the number of people entering Britain, they were invariably accused of opposing immigration altogether, or worse, of being racist. The reality is that there are many people who can see the benefits of diversity, who believe a complete freeze on immigration would make this country a less interesting, less vibrant place to live, but who believe the sheer number of immigrants is greatly excessive. Newcomers are now arriving at the rate of about half a million a year – or nearly one a minute, and that is undoubtedly stretching our public services. Most people don’t want a ban on immigration. They want a properly controlled and balanced approach.
But instead of addressing peoples’ concerns, the Government pretends, as Jack Straw did on the Question Time special, that the BNP has simply imagined the problem. As a strategy for helping the BNP in its recruitment drive, there can be no better formula. And the sad irony is that if the backlash we are seeing against mass immigration grows stronger, it will be felt not by sheltered Cabinet members, but by immigrants themselves.
Immigration and the EU are two obvious drivers for the BNP. But there is also a more general feeling of dissatisfaction with mainstream politics. People no longer feel that the British state is on their side. They see the state closing in on them. 6,500 new laws, CCTV, ID Cards, crazy health and safety regulations. They read about the draconian new powers being handed to Councils and even unelected Quangos like TFL, which will be able to seize people’s property and assets if they engage in that grotesque crime of fare-dodging. Parents will have read that if they want to look after a friend’s children for more than two hours, they will need a state licence.
If we are to render obsolete the loathsome posturings of the BNP, we will need to address these issues. And it won’t be easy. Just as George Osborne laid out his brutally honest roadmap for stabilising our economy at the Conservative Party conference, so too did David Cameron describe the difficult route we’ll have to travel to restore balance to our society.
When he said; “We have to stop treating children like adults, and adults like children,” he recognised our need to reconsider the relationship between state and people. It is hard to exaggerate the scale of the task ahead if a Cameron Government is elected next year.