Reports of the British National Party’s disappearance are, regrettably, premature. It became an un-party when its own officials failed to meet the onerous conditions imposed on them by law – chiefly filling in a form and posting it to the Electoral Commission, alongside a cheque for twenty-five quid. Which turns out to be harder than it sounds.
However its role as a repository of votes from and for the hard of thinking will probably continue to be with us in the medium term; the administrative cock-up is no doubt being investigated by a BNP task force which will be on the case just as soon as they can find the bloke with the key to the meeting room. God knows what will happen when the cry goes up: “Does anyone have a stamp?”
Oh, how the mightily-obnoxious have fallen! Was it only a few short years ago, in 2009,when elections to the European Parliament saw former leader Nick Griffin and some other bloke in a suit win two seats in Strasbourg? The same polling day saw the BNP steamroll over every other party to win a staggering three – yes, THREE! – county council seats. Yet in that electoral triumph, so reminiscent of Hitler’s famous “Die Dinge können nur besser werden” campaign of 1933 (“Things can only get better”, according to Google Translate. At least I hope that’s what it means), were the seeds of its own demise sown.
Fast forward to the present day and the BNP have two fewer MEPs and three fewer councillors. The once-threatened deportation of Daley Thompson looks like it might have to be put on permanent hold…
So why has the party that once made mainstream politicians fulminate in the chamber of the House of Commons, and which provoked mass demonstrations by the Anti-Nazi League, been relegated to an organisation that is not quite as threatening as the East Sussex Women’s Institute (Knitting, Sewing and Fancy Pastries branch)?
I doubt it’s because of the general public’s enlightened and progressive views on immigration. But it is at least because there is something perversely, ironically and hilariously un-British about the BNP. The absurd and, frankly, gauche ravings of individuals like Griffin simply didn’t sit well at all, even with those elements of the electorate who would prefer cross-border immigration not to be necessary at all. Nevertheless, they’re sensible enough to recognise it is necessary.
The only question is to what extent.
One of the (I believe many) advantages of our first-past-the-post electoral system is that it encourages the two main contenders for government to poach each other’s supporters. By that process, Labour and the Conservative parties have developed into very broad churches indeed. And if you’re an extremist of either the Left or Right (and I am unclear about which category the BNP falls into) that is bad news indeed.
It means that down the years, concerns about immigration have not been monopolised, as they have been in some mainland European countries, by the extreme Right, but by the two mainstream parties. The extremes have been isolated and marginalised.
The corollary of that most welcome development has been that both Labour and the Conservatives have had to take immigration seriously, not always with great success: remember Prime Minister Cameron’s pledge in 2010 to get annual net immigration below 100,000? And Labour is still paying an electoral price for the impression that it opened the door to record levels of immigration from the Commonwealth in its first two terms of office.
Nevertheless, it’s always better when such a sensitive and vital issue is put in the hands of moderate, centrist politicians.
Where has that left the poor old BNP? No doubt someone, as we speak, is getting the blame for using that reminder letter from the Electoral Commission to stop the coffee table in reception from wobbling. But once the bloke with the meeting room key has finally turned up, the task force will convene to discuss the agenda:
“Taking Britain Back – item 1 (a) (i) Volunteer to go and buy a stamp.
Item 1 (a) (ii) Fund-raising activity to raise money to buy stamp (see item 1 (a) (i)).”
This article was originally published in the Daily Telegraph.