I was angry and ashamed when the news broke that the British National Party (BNP) had won two seats in the European Parliament. Both BNP MEPs Nick Griffin (North West) and Andrew Brons (Yorkshire and Humber) were formerly involved in the National Front. I think this is a clear message to all those who care about fairness and equality that something is going wrong in our society and that as citizens we are obliged to pay attention and take action.
Why do I object so strongly to the BNP? I object because they are racist and xenophobic and neither of these attitudes deserve a place in a modern, educated society which is committed to human rights and equality, which is what I believe my country to be, or at least to be capable of. The BNP deny claims that they are racist but the evidence is quite clear on their website amidst their manifestos and rhetoric. Several excerpts from their mission statement make their racist agenda very clear:
The British National Party exists to secure a future for the indigenous peoples of these island [...] We use the term indigenous to describe the people whose ancestors were the earliest settlers here after the last great Ice Age and which have been complemented by the historic migrations from mainland Europe. The migrations of the Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Norse and closely related kindred peoples have been, over the past few thousands years, instrumental in defining the character of our family of nations.
The policies on immigration also make their discriminatory stance clear:
On current demographic trends, we, the native British people, will be an ethnic minority in our own country within sixty years. [...] we call for an immediate halt to all further immigration, the immediate deportation of criminal and illegal immigrants, and the introduction of a system of voluntary resettlement whereby those immigrants who are legally here will be afforded the opportunity to return to their lands of ethnic origin [...].
This is just abhorrent. Being British has nothing to do with superficial physical characteristics like skin or hair colour and it has nothing to do with where your parents were born or even where you were born. It is defined by choosing to make your life in the UK and participating in British society. That is, as far as you want to identify yourself with it. We must identify racism and xenophobia when we see it and challenge it. Racism and xenophobia have no substance and we can show this to be the case.
Fortunately, the evidence suggests that the number of people voting BNP has not grown larger. Instead, the other political parties have failed to gain the significant support which previously saw their candidate receive a greater share of votes than the BNP candidates. The Labour Party in particular has come under heavy criticism for this. This leads me to my second line of thought on this matter. A brief study of history or human psychology makes clear that in times of economic crisis or threats to national security people become scared and angry. This is when people start to panic and they start veering towards irrational biases like racism and xenophobia. This is my second call to action. We have to start participating in our democracy and our society and we need to start demanding that the needs of those who are worst affected and suffering most are met and support initiatives which do so. For example, four million children in the UK currently live in poverty. If people feel their needs are being ignored or not met, then they may well turn to alternate channels or ways of thinking. The current situation which has allowed the voice of racism to ring so loudly in our ears has arisen because a significant portion of the UK population feels powerless and has lost its voice. We need to address this.
While we’re on the topic, I highly recommend reading television writer and critic Charlie Brooker’s response to a recent BNP television advert. It’s actually quite touching.