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Hype, Hope and Hysteria: UKIP And The BNP Roil Britain's Euro Election
[Also by Derek Turner: Nation-Breaking in the U.K.]
Sensational news in a recent poll carried by London's Daily Telegraph: of the Britons "very likely to vote" in tomorrow's elections for the European Union parliament, more were plumping for the insurgent United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) than for the Liberal Democrats, Britain's media-favored goo-gooish third party.
The Conservatives ("Tories") came first, with 31 percent, followed by Tony Blair's Labour with 23 percent. Then came UKIP with 18 percent and the Liberal Democrats with 15 percent.
The poll has sent shockwaves throughout the main parties and the Tories into panic mode. As its name suggests, UKIP campaigns almost entirely on the policy of quitting the EU—a policy towards which many Tories feel deeply but secretly sympathetic.
European elections, because of low turnout by the bored British (24 percent in 1999, the lowest in the EU) and the proportional representation system, have become increasingly interesting. Small but motivated parties have a real chance against large but complacent ones. In the 1999 elections, the UKIP surprised all the soothsayers by winning three European Parliament seats—their first elected posts. (Turnout is typically low in the many local government elections also held tomorrow.)
This time, UKIP is fielding 74 Euro candidates. Its best chances are in the South West, where existing Member of the European Parliament Graham Booth and party chairman Roger Knapman (a former Tory minister) are among the candidates; the Eastern region, where candidates include Jeffrey Titford and the well-known pro-hunting writer Robin Page; and in the East Midlands, where the former broadcaster Robert Kilroy-Silk (sacked by the BBC for allegedly anti-Arab remarks he made in a Daily Express article) is heading the list. The support level indicated in the Telegraph poll would translate to 12 seats.
This is almost certainly not going to happen. But Tory leader Michael Howard was so rattled that he saw fit to denounce the UKIP as "extremist" (upon which a delighted Labour published a document detailing some of the many links between UKIP and Conservative politicians. Conservatives were instructed to attack UKIP as "cranks and political gadflies" (Sarah Hall, Guardian, May 31 2004).
The UKIP was founded in 1993 by London School of Economics historian Alan Sked and colleagues from the anti-EU Anti-Federalist League. Sked is a good historian but a poor politician, and he was unable to exert control over his party. He quit, denouncing his former colleagues as, guess what, "extremists". He is still brooding: in a letter to the Daily Telegraph (May 27, 2004) he said the UKIP's "often intellectually low caliber candidates…are in effect standing for the money", and that on immigration there was little difference between the UKIP and BNP manifestos. (See below).
Sked was replaced by businessman Michael Holmes, who became one of the UKIP's three MEPs in 1999. His colleagues were Jeffrey Titford, a former undertaker, in Eastern England and Nigel Farage, a commodities broker, in the South East. But Holmes, too, fell afoul of the party, and resigned in 2000—naturally denouncing his colleagues. He was replaced by Graham Booth, an hotelier. But soon the party 'loyalists' were fighting among themselves again. Most recently, the party has been tearing itself to pieces about whether or not the party's HQ should have been moved from London to Birmingham.
UKIP's internal relations are uniquely venomous. (See ukipuncovered.blogspot.com for a fine example.) The party contains many clever and cultivated people, but a vocal minority has always been conspiracy theorists and monomaniacs, who believe that the EU is a device for world domination dreamed up by the Germans, French, Trilateralists, Bilderbergers, Freemasons, Jesuits etc.
It is to the great credit of the party's present leaders that they have managed to turn an amateur, slightly dotty, single-issue fringe group into a highly professional organization. They have wisely consulted external experts. The present heightened interest in the UKIP must have something to do with the publicity-generating skills of Bill Clinton's former adviser Dick Morris and the British publicist Max Clifford.
But UKIP's surge probably also has to do with the current controversy over the proposed EU constitution, and the public endorsement of UKIP by celebrities like the actress Joan Collins. (She complained that since the introduction of the Euro, the rent of her St Tropez apartment had increased!). Five Tory peers—Lords Pearson of Rannoch, Laing of Dunphail, Stevens of Ludgate and Willoughby de Broke, and Baroness Cox of Queensbury—issued a statement supporting UKIP. They promptly had the Tory whip withdrawn (in effect, were expelled from the party). They have now been joined by a sixth peer, the Earl of Shrewsbury. Two former Conservative MPs – Piers Merchant and John Browne—are standing for the UKIP in the Euro elections, while two others—Sir Richard Body and Christopher Gill—have publicly endorsed the party. Gill's public statement (see the May/June edition of Freedom Today [PDF]) was especially embarrassing: he is Chairman of the Freedom Association, a highly-regarded conservative-leaning pressure group.
Yet another reason for the UKIP surge: it has finally adopted a robust policy on immigration. The UKIP manifesto says Britain is "bursting at the seams." It goes on: "We cannot sustain this increase, which compares with a city the size of Cambridge coming into Britain every six months". . One of the party's candidates in the South East, Ashley Mote, has written an excellent book on immigration, called Overcrowded Britain, and his influence is clearly felt in this new-found policy.
But, significantly, immigration reform carried in the teeth of some ferocious opposition from within the party. Roger Knapman said recently on this subject: "There's a climate laid down by a Hampstead liberal establishment which has been accepted as the norm, and any view other than this is somehow a bit quirky or rightwing or extremist" (Nicholas Watt, Guardian, 2 June 2004). This view is still extant within his own party, even at senior levels.
Another possibility: the media is talking up UKIP's chances because it is so anxious to avoid even thinking about the possibility of a breakthrough by much less respectable British National Party. (One Leftist writer, Gaby Hinsloff, wittily describes UKIP as "the BNP in blazers." (Observer, May 30, 2004)
Ever since May 2003, when the BNP got 17 local councilors elected in England, the keepers of the public conscience have been obsessed by the possibility that it might win seats the European Parliament. The party is fielding 75 candidates for European seats, its biggest-ever push and has also started to show up in national opinion polls.
The BNP thinks that the UKIP momentum is all a conspiracy. According to the party's website:
"This scam was agreed by the three main parties at their secret meeting in Halifax earlier this year, convened by the shadowy Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, at which they plotted various arranged schemes to prevent a BNP breakthrough at June 10th elections. Hyping up the UKIP as a viable 'anti-establishment' political party serving to create a safety valve for voters who are genuinely unhappy with the three old gang parties' stance on Europe, asylum and the Iraq crisis, was one of the main tactics discussed at that meeting and unanimously agreed" (UKIP Poll Plot Unravels, British National Party, June 2, 2004).
The BNP approached the UKIP last year, with a proposal for an electoral pact under which they would not compete for the anti-EU vote in their respective strongholds. Either these proposals were rejected out of hand (according to the UKIP) or they were carried on to a fairly advanced stage (according to the BNP); in any case, official relations between the parties are now exceedingly poor. The UKIP says that the BNP is a racist party. The BNP says, in a poorly-punctuated message, "Only cowards and fools vote for UKIP, it's time the British people saw through their facile charade of a party". There is no doubt that the BNP is seriously worried about the emergence of UKIP as a serious rival for disaffected Tory votes.
And there is no love lost between the Tory and BNP hierarchies (although there are often friendly links between BNP and Conservative activists). In February, Tory leader Michael Howard visited Burnley, where the BNP has seven councilors, and made a vitriolic speech describing the BNP as "a bunch of thugs dressed up as a political party" and "a stain on our democratic way of life." (Tom Happold, Guardian, 20 February 2004)
The BNP has devised one clever pitch: it makes great play of the fact that the electoral presence of the BNP in an area does deter some of the more foolish schemes of central government.
"No asylum seeker distribution centres are built in towns where BNP councilors are elected. Just the presence of ONE BNP councilor ensures no more bus loads of asylum seekers are dumped in local hotels. Inward investment from government floods in to the areas. Inward investment and regeneration money floods into the towns. Local housing stock is allocated on the basis of need once again rather than being allocated only to immigrants and asylum seekers. The local police start to listen once more to the voice of the people and tackle local crime" (Vote BNP - Save your home town. British National Party, 29 May 2004)
But despite leader Nick Griffin's recent attempt to rebrand the BNP, and the resultant increase and improved quality of members, it has no support whatever from the press, and rarely even gets objective coverage. The anti-BNP cause has united Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy, Labour yahoos in Glasgow and genteel Tory ladies in the Home Counties, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, Terry Eagleton and Peter Hitchens, trade union leaders and the church hierarchies, Muslim fundamentalists and militant homosexuals, in a spasm of righteous indignation. Ironically, the BNP is one of the very few things in today's Britain that can unite 'everyone'!
The extreme Left magazine Searchlight, an SPLC-type self-appointed political correctness enforcer, set up its own website (www.stopthebnp.com), and distributed newsletters drawing attention, in the most hysterical terms, to reprehensible things in the pasts of some BNP candidates.
But these efforts were overshadowed by those of Unite Against Fascism, which swiftly drew attention to itself by getting a lot of Labour and Liberal Democrat (and a few naïve Tory) MPs to sign its declaration, and with a series of meetings in the House of Commons, after one of which the singer Billy Bragg told a Guardian reporter that he was in favor of "beating up BNP officials, members and supporters in the street", for which he was reported to the police [Billy Bragg gets his collar felt!, British National Party, 8 March 2004].
In some northern towns, there have indeed been physical confrontations with the Left. Two BNP local election candidates have just been charged with assault. And Unite Against Fascism supporters were responsible for the disgraceful incident in April, when Nick Griffin and Jean-Marie Le Pen were set upon by a mob of fanatics ready to use fascist tactics to bring about the end of fascism.
The Commission for Racial Equality, a government-sponsored political correctness enforcer (no U.S. equivalent, lucky you), even posted "a guide to election law for local councils" on its website telling local councils that they were under no legal obligation to provide the BNP with meetings halls or other public places. Actually, under the 1983 Representation of the People Act, all parties standing for election have the right to facilities. The BNP quite rightly complained to the Electoral Commission, and the posting was hastily taken down. BNP election material has also been the target of a boycott by unionized mail workers.
Most serious of all, TV stations have made it as difficult as possible for the BNP to show its election broadcasts, although legally obliged to accept them. Channel 5 at first rejected the BNP broadcast footage on the grounds that it might provoke racial ill-feeling. Ironically, this broadcast had borrowed heavily from an unshown Channel 4 documentary, called Edge of the City, about a series of horrifying allegations from Bradford that gangs of Asian men were raping young white girls. Channel 4 had pulled the program after police advice that it might provoke racial discord, but says it will show the program at a later date. Eventually, the BNP broadcast was shown, with segments blanked out.
Unite Against Fascism agreed with this censorship. Joint secretary Wayne Bennett said that "I think that anything that negatively portrays the black and Asian communities would not help the process of creating a multicultural and multiracial society in the run-up to this election" (Secrets and Lies, British National Party, May 20 2004).
My emphasis. Truth, in short, is not a defense.
The reality is that that the BNP, and also UKIP, exist because the major parties have failed to address the genuine concerns of many thousands of people up and down the country—about immigration and also about the abolition of their political expression, the British nation-state.
No doubt the Establishment full-court press will prevail—this time. But whatever happens, in deferential Britain it's striking that these insurgent parties have got so far.