Peter Hain’s attack on the BBC for allowing Nick Griffin on Question Time effectively sticks two fingers up at the hundreds of thousands of people driven to vote BNP by Labour disillusionment. Indeed, it’s a damning indictment of Labour’s democratic record; when democracy’s hard to work, ignore the people. Yet there is a less obvious culprit for the BNP’s success than Labour’s obnoxious decision making process.
Nigel Farage talked about UKIP’s ‘progressive’ agenda that marks it out from every other anti-European party, and threw the BNP out of UKIP’s party conference when they stormed in demanding a ‘pact’ in November 2008. Yet in the local council elections 80% of the seats the BNP contested were free from UKIP challenge and 85% of the seats UKIP contested were free from BNP challenge. It was, however, a north-south divide, and might be explained firstly by the middle-class policies of UKIP – bring back grammar schools, scrap inheritance tax, scrap progressive tax, and ‘reform’ welfare benefits – that appeal more to the Home Counties, and secondly a scarcity of resources best spent in these places.
But the inquest can’t stop there because UKIP voters, despite the differences between the parties, share a common trait with most BNP voters – an English identity. UKIP compete with the BNP for the same sort of voters so could contest them all over the country, but crucially they are the only party that could. No other party can take BNP votes without concessions on Europe or immigration. Both parties are protest parties at the same thing – an institutional rejection of English importance. For good or bad ‘Englishness’ is demonised as much as a concession to Europe and multi-cultural cohesion as its association with the far-right. But now UKIP are the second largest British party in Europe, and have the associated funding benefits, shouldn’t they shoulder more of the burden to fight extremism, and go face-to-face with the BNP in places like Manchester, and Leeds?
I like to think they would, if it wasn’t that they would have to play up their ‘English’ credentials, and the years Farage and UKIP have spent escaping from bizarre accusations of racism, fuelled by the stigma attached to the ‘drunken English chavs’ and any party who supports ‘Englishness’, will probably stop them. So the irony is if degrading the English partially led to the rise of the BNP who exploit damaged patriotic egos, it has also meant the best chance of stopping them is too scared to do so.