|May 2000 and After||John Tyndall examines the prospects and tasks facing the BNP in the wake of last month's elections|
BRITISH NATIONAL PARTY results in the local government elections held on the 4th May were enormously encouraging. A quotation from a spokesman of the Jewish Community Service Trust printed in the Jewish Chronicle on the following Friday said it all:-
It is worrying that in London there are nearly 80,000 people who would be willing to see a far-right candidate as the capital's first mayor.
The spokesman was referring to the fact that in the London mayoral election contest the BNP candidate Michael Newland obtained 33,569 first-preference votes and 45,337 second-preference ones. The BNP's party list vote averaged 7.1 per cent over the whole of Tower Hamlets, Newham, Barking and Dagenham - a huge area in population terms. Elsewhere in the country some very impressive results were achieved in some areas, while in no area were they bad. Two candidates topped 20 per cent of the poll while another obtained 16 per cent. All in all, votes averaged over 10 per cent.
The same CST spokesman said that the "extremist constituency" had benefited from the refugee issue and anti-European sentiment. While I have some doubts as to whether the latter factor greatly influenced the voting, the former most certainly did. It is noteworthy that in last month's local government elections the BNP completely reversed the outcome of last year's elections to the European Parliament. In the Euro elections the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) obtained easily the superior results, getting three MEPs elected. Then asylum-seeker and race issues were not prominent and UKIP, specialising as it does on the Euro issue, had the advantage. This time the BNP decisively outperformed UKIP, exceeding the latter's vote in every constituency in the London mayoral election and in all but two of the 14 constituencies in the party list contest for the Greater London Authority.
UKIP's fall from its high point in last year's Euro elections was predictable and was indeed predicted. Last July, immediately following those elections, I wrote in Spearhead that UKIP had "a strictly circumscribed future - unless it plucks up the courage to address other issues, not only which generate public concern but also place clear water between the party itself and those of the mainstream." This, of course, UKIP would not and did not do. In the election address of the party's London mayoral candidate Damian Hockney there was not a single word of reference to the asylum-seeker crisis, or indeed to any issues connected with race or immigration. This was not only a cowardly cop-out, it was not even politically sensible. The one avenue whereby a minority party, lacking the campaign resources and big media backing of the leading parties, could make an impact on Londoners was to face the race and immigration issues - particularly in respect of the asylum-seeker emergency - boldly and squarely. This the BNP did, while UKIP did not. The former's superior results were just reward.
Eric Milton, writing in Spearhead only last month, understood the requirement, saying that...
... in the long run, no powerful mobilisation of the British people against the parties of globalism will be possible except through harnessing the massive discontent existing among the urban lower middle and working classes against immigration and multi-racialism, now reaching new levels of intensity over the issue of the asylum-seekers - an issue which UKIP, with its terror of being labelled "racist", is in no way equipped to exploit.
The BNP might indeed have been even more successful had not Tory leader William Hague, no doubt at the bidding of his party's "focus groups", made a last-minute jump onto the bandwaggon of popular discontent over the asylum issue. Hague's blatant opportunism was pinpointed in our 'What We Think' column last month. It succeeded to some extent but it was far from succeeding completely, as BNP results indicate.
As far as the BNP is concerned, recent votes give grounds for great satisfaction. Politics are very often a question of patience in the face of frustration. There are times when parties simply have to stick to their guns, continuing to proclaim the beliefs they know to be right, while waiting for events to vindicate them. The BNP was saying much the same things in this May's local government elections that it was saying in last year's. The big difference was that times had moved on: the Blair Government had - as was inevitable - undergone considerable loss of popularity, while public anger over asylum-seekers had intensified a great deal. This, plus energetic work on the part of BNP activists, reaped the dividends the party had been waiting for.
But pleasure over these very welcome results should be tempered by caution. It is easy to jump to the conclusion that such gains are the prelude to a really big "take-off". Some nationalists thought this when the BNP got a councillor elected in East London's Millwall in 1993 - only for disillusionment to set in when this result was reversed some months later. We should be pleased at the results of May 4th but we should at the same time keep our feet on the ground. There are still vast mountains to climb and we are still a very small party, with tiny resources by comparison with those of the mainstream. Above all, what we should keep our minds on is the fact that we are still very much in the stage of recruiting and organisation-building, and that these remain for a long time our principal goals. Favourable election results are very welcome when we achieve them but they should not be seen as ends in themselves; where at the moment they serve the most useful purpose is in giving an added boost to our recruitment prospects and enhancing our credibility among the increasingly disenchanted British public.
There are two essential ingredients of growth for a party like the BNP. The first and most obvious one is that we should be identified with issues and campaigns which strike a real chord with the British public, that we should offer policies which many want to see carried out but the other parties will not adopt. The other is that we should carry with us the hallmark of growth and progress, that we should not be identified as "losers" - a turn-off for a great many people who, ordinarily, would support us and join us on the basis of commonality of beliefs.
Nationalist organisations have come and gone in Britain over the years which perpetually had the label of "loser" stamped upon them, and the result has been that, despite the theoretical soundness of their ideas, they failed to attract anything more than a "loser" following - people of the type lacking in any serious political commitment but just looking for a hobby to pursue. In a different category have been the National Front of the 1970s and the BNP in the 1990s, but even these parties were sometimes condemned, through no fault of their own but only through the circumstance of dwelling in an unfavourable political climate, to bear the "loser" label at particular times.
Better times - when the aura of success surrounds a party - can result in a superior type of recruit being attracted. Even here, however, caution should be exercised. After Millwall, for several months the rate of recruitment of new members was extremely high. After the loss of the party's council seat in May 1994, it tailed off considerably. We had, in effect, created our own bandwaggon; when the bandwaggon appeared to have come to a halt, or at least slowed down, people who wanted only to be on a winning roll rather lost interest in us, while many of those who had joined for this reason let their membership lapse the following year.
What change in the political temperature is likely to follow this year's elections? One of which we can be virtually certain is that the Tories are going to undergo at least the appearance of a shift to the right. In that respect they will simply be following the example of what happened under Margaret Thatcher in the run-up to the general election of 1979 and its aftermath. Then, noisy though shallow postures over Europe, law and order and - particularly - immigration seriously stole the ground from under the feet of the National Front, which in the preceding years had been making spectacular progress. Hopes of election success which in the case of many members had been unrealistically high were shattered; demoralisation set in; quarrelling post-mortems broke out, followed by a series of disastrous splits from which the party never recovered. It took a further decade for the pretence of the Tories' "right-wing" and "nationalist" stance to be exposed for what it was, and that decade proved to be a lean one for genuine nationalists.
Opinions are divided as to whether May 4th constituted a day of success for the Tories or not. They made huge gains in the local government elections but did badly in the parliamentary by-election in Romsey. Whatever the verdict in this respect, however, there can be little doubt that Hague's last-minute postures as a "right-wing hardliner" earned him many brownie points and considerably raised his party's fortunes. A statement advocating asylum-seekers being confined to army barracks, while totally empty in substance, came across to many voters as "tough" - precisely its intention. At about the same time Hague came out as a champion of popular anger over the life sentence given to Norfolk farmer Tony Martin for shooting dead a burglar on his property. Willie then made a claim that if by these declarations he was upsetting the "liberal establishment" he would be very pleased - just what a lot of voters wanted to hear! A number of press commentators, including some Tory ones, admitted this to be pure opportunism but went on to say: "So what?" If the Conservative leader was responding to public alarm on certain high-profile issues, that was only what politicians are elected to do. Opportunism, in other words, is quite OK. Actually putting into practice the things one speaks in favour of - that's entirely different, of course!
Fooling the peopleUS President Lincoln once famously said that one cannot fool all the people all of the time, but he did so in reference what was probably a more intelligent and politically informed electorate than that of Britain in the year 2000. The extent to which today's British public will be fooled by Hague's cheap postures as an opponent of the liberal establishment - after the evidence of Mrs. Thatcher's similar deception two decades earlier - is as yet unknown. Many will perhaps recall Master William's quite puerile attempt to ingratiate himself with that very same establishment immediately on becoming Tory leader in 1997. There was the ostentatious visit with Ffion to the Notting Hill carnival and the photo-calls with the two cosying up to the local ethnics. In addition, there was his declared support for "gay" marriages and the lowering of the homosexual age of consent to 16. He also proclaimed in a magazine article that "The Conservative Party needs a new vision of our nation in the new global society," and that "we must not allow ourselves to be caricatured as a narrow, nationalistic party that is somehow hostile to foreigners."
Nevertheless, voters' memories tend to be short, and in today's political culture a spectacular turn-around in a politician's public stance, instead of demonstrating a lack of character and core beliefs, is deemed to be "smart" - as long as it achieves the intended effect of greater popularity.
We must not forget the words of Frank Johnson in The Spectator of the 26th February, quoted before in these pages: "The Conservative Party is the best protection against a British Haider. It embraces, and therefore tames, the radical right." If, as they could well do, the powers that be begin to anticipate, in the wake of May 4th's election results, that there is again a threat on the "radical right", we can expect to see yet more Tory posturing on Europe, on law and order and on immigration issues calculated to win the straying voters back into the fold. And we can also expect both the Tory and left-wing press to do their part in the maintenance of this pretence, the former by approving it enthusiastically and the latter by attacking it vehemently - all to the same intended effect.
What can be done?
What then can the BNP do to counter this deception? In terms of influencing millions of voters, there is a strict limit to what it can do with the resources at its disposal. It will have - as the National Front in the late seventies and eighties did not have - the facility of the Internet, but fast though this new medium is growing we have to recognise that the majority of the people we most need to reach at electoral level are not yet tuned into it.
But this should be no cause for despondency as long as we do not lose sight of the larger picture of the battlefield on which we are currently fighting. In that picture, election results are never more than ephemeral. They will be up and down in accordance with rapidly changing, and often quite unpredictable, movements of the political wind. We must also understand that they correspond to no genuine logic. The recent mayoral contest in London provides a perfect example of this.
The election of a clown and freak like Ken Livingstone to be supremo of the nation's capital city simply demonstrates that serious politics in Britain have come, if not to an end, at least to a state of indefinite suspension. The farce of the whole business was further demonstrated by the fact that many people who gave their first-choice votes to Livingstone cast their second-choice crosses against the name of Michael Newland of the BNP! Thus was democracy's essential principle - that the will of the people prevails by their making an informed selection of candidates in accordance with the latter's stance on the issues of the day - reduced to final mockery and ridicule.
In such a state of funfair politics, little account can be taken of the fact that voters will support one party one moment, an entirely different party the next moment, and then a serious radical-right candidate simultaneously to a far-left nutter. Such mercurial swings, and such fantasy-land logic, can only at the moment be influenced by public media that are vehicles more of entertainment than information. And this is a world in which the BNP at the present time simply cannot compete.
So to remind ourselves of where we currently stand we need to take stock of that section of the public at which we are currently aiming. It is useful at this point to look at the various categories into which the public can be placed in political terms. For the purpose of simplicity, and with resort to a certain amount of generalisation, I will describe them as: (1) the couch potatoes; (2) the élitists; and (3) the altruists.
In the first category there is the broad mass of voters (and often non-voters) in their many millions. They are the people who see no inconsistency in voting both for the BNP and Ken Livingstone, who mostly abhor the things Red Ken stands for politically but still choose him because he is "a bit of a character," because they don't like the way the Labour hierarchy selected Frank Dobson - and quite likely because they haven't the faintest idea of Ken's real political intentions anyway. They are people who quite obviously have not given five minutes' serious thought to what is going to happen to London with Livingstone and his toytown revolutionaries in charge. They are the couch potatoes who think the outcome of the next instalment of Coronation Street far more important than who runs our capital city and how. They are the legions of weak and apathetic idiots who constitute democracy's voting fodder. We should no more be down in the dumps when they do not support us than we should be over the moon when they do.
At the very opposite end of the spectrum are those we are accustomed to calling the "élite" - a term referring not to their innate quality and value as people but solely to the power and influence they hold. In healthy societies the two go together to a large extent of course, but that is not the kind of society we presently inhabit in Britain.
We might account among the "élite" not only those who presently belong to it but also those who aspire to do so, for they are of similar type. They are people either utterly lacking in any real convictions or who, if they have such things, will always subordinate them to their own ego and ambition. They are people who are interested in power and position for their own sakes, not as vehicles to get something worthwhile done for their country and people. They are determined to be at the top of the pile - whatever a dungheap it might be. They will say anything and do anything to acquire and hold on to the jobs they seek. In the context of politics, their interest is in acquiring as much power and as high rank as possible, quite regardless of the purposes to which such things are used.
When they make public proclamations about matters of national concern, those proclamations reflect little or no genuine personal conviction; they are calculated carefully to caress the backsides of whatever group, lobby, faction or interest they currently reckon will best further their careers.
This "élite" comprises the few tens of thousands among the population who hold national and local political power, but it also includes those at the top of the key professions of journalism and broadcasting, the armed forces and police, the law, teaching, the civil service and the world of art and entertainment.
And this élite is a section of the population which we do not have the faintest chance of recruiting at the present time of our status as a minority political movement. Even where its members may harbour some private sympathies towards us, their careers come first. They have too much to lose. They may be considered as a possible source of converts only at such time as we are seen to be on the threshold of political victory and likely to offer them positions and jobs. For the moment, we can write them off.
The people we seek
Between these two poles of the spectrum is the third group. It might be numbered at the moment in a few hundreds of thousands, possibly half a million, but these are very arbitrary figures. All we know is that such people are much more numerous than the "élite" and much less so than the couch-potato voting fodder who decide the outcome of elections.
These people are found in all social classes, from all educational backgrounds and in most kinds of occupations. They constitute a wide variety of age groups and both sexes (although between the latter males will usually be larger in number). They have one thing alone in common: they think and care seriously about political issues, about issues that affect their society and their country, and they want to do something - though many of them do not yet know quite what - to change things for the better.
These people do not necessarily have nationalist views at this particular time, but they are open to persuasion along those lines. If their views are at the moment different from ours, they are nonetheless sincerely held; they do not hold them and proclaim them merely for personal advantage. They are all people who feel affected by national and social developments, even if those developments do not have any bearing on their own personal welfare. They are society's altruists.
It is this element in the population that the BNP must target. It is the only one that is worth targeting. Not least, it is the only one that at the moment we have the slightest hope of winning over in any lasting way.
The "élite" will not touch us. The couch potatoes may vote for us in one election and then vote against us in the next. Of course their votes are important, but there are times when there is really very little we can do to determine the way they'll vote.
By far the best way to ensure that we exploit the voting power of the couch potatoes to the very maximum is to have very large numbers of people belonging to the middle category - the "altruists" - in close contact with them, calling on their doorsteps, talking to them constantly, getting them to the polling stations and persuading them that supporting the BNP is the best way to protect their own entirely selfish and short-term interests - in other words, what all the other parties do!
But we must do it much more thoroughly because we do not have TV and the press to back us up.
Profit from elections
All this brings us back to what we must regard as the most important gain from the recent London mayoral and other local government elections - and from last year's Euro election - and from the 1997 general election before that. All these occasions provided us with the facilities and opportunity to win the interest of the "altruist" section of the population and to recruit from it - thus building up our organisation, our active cadres and our pool of future national and local leadership.
In this respect, the votes that we have won from the ordinary mass of people, very welcome though they are, are of less importance than the prospective new members and activists who will be recruited by our campaign literature. For these will determine our vote-winning potential in the future.
I have examined the BNP candidate's election address in the booklet of election addresses sent out on behalf of all London mayoral election contenders. Not only in content but in presentation, it is one of the best. Ken Livingstone's, incidentally, was one of the worst but he had other forces working for him which more than made up for it.
Let's hope that this and other literature used used in these elections bring in the new members and help the process of building the active cadres which are our vital need in the coming years of growth from minority party to mass movement.
For that is what electoral activity is all about.