Mayoral stage show

It may have passed you by – or like most sane individuals you’ve decided to spend more constructive time contemplating how paint dries on different surfaces – but this May the good burghers of London are choosing their next Mayor.

One aspect of the contest which has turned the event into a Grade A Disaster is the attraction of all the candidates towards farce. There’s an argument in a lift or a Lord mouthing off on Twitter or the like, and all in the glare of camera lenses and very few actual voters.

That British National Party nominee, Carlos Cortiglia, represents a party that has been in long-term decline. In the aftermath of Nick Griffin’s disastrous appearance on BBC Question Time, the party has seen a collapse in its membership numbers and willing candidates to stand in elections. At the 2010 General Election, Griffin himself finished third in the Barking constituency, with no other candidate coming even close to matching that result. As a consequence of the perceived lack of direction within the BNP, this year’s festival of democracy across the UK, incorporating local elections in Scotland, Wales, hundreds of councils in England and inaugural mayoral elections in Liverpool and Salford, the total number of candidates standing under that party’s label is reportedly down by 80%.

That doesn’t mean the fight against the far-right has been defeated. A clump of micro-parties and grouplets have sprung up across England and Scotland as a result of the BNP’s terminal decline. From Britannia in Glasgow to the British Freedom Party in Liverpool, there are still fights to be had against the ignorance and idiocy of racial prejudice. The BNP are bust, their message is not. Such groups as the English Defence League and their touring circus of tracksuited clowns through the provincial high streets of the country, continues to attract support amongst the on-line hoards of anti-everything types.

Granting these micro-parties credibility is a stretch of anybody’s character. The BNP has not been defeated solely by protesters and campaigners: they’ve done it to themselves, too, infighting over scraps and breadcrumbs amongst themselves like so many children left alone to their own devices. Griffin was not brought down solely by Unite Against Fascism or Hope Not Hate; the slow puncture of his career has been that way out for years.

This week we got the latest twist in the London Mayoral election – an orchestrated no-platform exercise led by the struggling Ken Livingstone. As the tweets below indicate, there has been almost universal support of the no-platform decision:

I am not so full of congratulation and praise. There is something about “no-platform” which irks and annoys. Not that I’d agree with the BNP about anything usually – I’d argue against Griffin that grass is green and water is wet if I had to – it’s just the first word that comes to mind is the same one they’ve used; ‘childish’. Are we really still convinced that the BNP is such a credible threat that we have to empty chair them at every possibility? Does this not allow the remaining rump of that party to claim ‘victimhood’ and campaign on that basis?

The words “democracy” and “freedom of speech” are not merely scrawled terms on flashcards, they are precious concepts we need to fight for and cherish. Nothing good comes from making the case for a ‘better’ or ‘more valuable’ democracy on either side of the political spectrum. Jeremy Corbyn congratulates Ken Livingstone for refusing to share a platform with the BNP as though it is a triumph for democracy: if we discount the fact that this suggests the BNP have much credibility left in the first place, it still comes across as though Corbyn and Livingstone are proud of treating their idea of democracy as being purer than any other.

“We are more democratic than you,” is not a debating point, it’s masturbation.

There’s something about the way in which the BNP is treated that suggests people have not realised that the party has little selling power left. There are other threats on the far-right which are in danger of being allowed to flourish: the EDL marches and rise of the numerous grouplets show that there’s still battles to be fought across the country. All the BNP’s remaining living members can do now is point at the other candidates and ask “Who are those who threaten democracy if we are the only ones willing to have a debate?”

As the current Coalition is proving, having any kind of relationship with political rivals is difficult. There will always be awkward compromises and falling out. The “no platform” attitude amongst the Mayoral candidates shows that there remains an attitude against this political reality, one which takes the debate to rivals rather than hiding away through a misunderstood form of ‘pride’. The democratic thing to do – indeed, the mature thing to have done – is to have allowed Carlos Cortiglia to hang himself by his own words. We all know that the BNP and the micro-parties which its destruction has created have about as much credibility as Mark Lawrenson’s Premier League predictions every week, so why risk handing them publicity by having a strop in the name of ‘democracy’?

Londoners have a choice of seven candidates, all of whom can appear on television, radio or through leaflets at any given hour of the day. There is no greater or lesser chance of Cortiglia making his message heard by ‘no platforming’ a single debate. If the other candidates believe in their own policies for the next four years, they should be willing to take that debate to the airwaves regardless of who they might be close to in a studio or near to in a lift (even if that threatens to get Boris and Ken in a tizz again).

Let’s not celebrate an unwillingness to debate with political enemies as a success for democracy. In the wider context, it makes those who stay on the stage appear more credible than those running for the door.

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EDL – home grown terrorists

Despite and in the face of the ban on marches, the English Defence League took its circus tour of provincial high streets to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Symbolism abounded – the East End has dealt with this sort of thing before.

The EDL have always had a lot of explaining to do – what they believe, and why, and how they would progress from slogans to action. Their ‘manifesto’, such as they have one, drips with hatred, fear, prejudice and ignorance, handicapped by paranoia. At the start of this year, the group was viewed as the knuckle-dragging wing of the British National Party, to be viewed with distrust and disquiet, protested against, though not given much more attention. National Front, British National Party, English Defence League – eventually, history tells us, all the far-right groups fail. The explanations which are presented crack and fissure under the weight of mis-explanations, omitted details and spin.

And then July 2011 happened.

Anders Behring Breivik, an extremist Christian who had deep-seated distrust against Muslims specifically, immigration policy generally, left-wing policies in the round, massacred members of the political party he blamed for changing his country in ways he would not accept. His name is etched into history – the three words “Anders Behring Breivik” as a symbol of Norway’s darkest days in modern times.

We know the Breivik admired and supported far-right and racist groups across Europe and possibly further overseas. Links between Breivik and our own EDL are sketchy though those which exist utterly condemn the group and destroy their arguments about being “peaceful”. Breivik himself wrote about meeting EDL members; he spoke on their messageboards, he met members in person. His much quoted statement, taken from his manifesto reads:

“I used to have more than 600 EDL members as Facebook friends and have spoken with tens of EDL members and leaders. In fact; I was one of the individuals who supplied them with processed ideological material (including rhetorical strategies) in the very beginning.”

One infamous photograph of Breivik, amongst the thoroughly unsettling profile images that resemble perverse spoofs of L’Oreal adverts, shows him posing with a weapon ready for action. “This is how I will be remembered,” the photograph says. “This is my legacy.”

Such photographs are not exactly uncommon on-line. There are probably hundreds of thousands of images showing teenagers flexing their muscles in front of bathroom mirrors, women pouting in nightclubs, and housewives throttling their kittens.

The “posing with guns” imagery is common too, and can be traced to plenty of ”wannabe” headline providers from across the social and geographical classes. In the UK, the imagery always appears tinged with parody, mockery, as the consequence of our national attitude towards carrying guns makes showing off with them appear ludicrous, unreal. Running counter to this is the imagery from Northern Ireland, where for generations the violence and counter-violence developed into a cottage industry for photographers. Imagery from The Troubles appeared on television and newspapers with all the expected elements – balaclavas, pistols, flags, shotguns, military uniforms, portraits of the fallen and avenged. Attached together, these images and photographs developed into a lurid backdrop for the history of Britain – the running commentary by the armies formed by consequence and necessity.

Whatever your opinion on the specifics of Northern Ireland and its history, the images that conflict produced has provided blueprints for future generations who have the misguided assumption that they, too, can nominate themselves as guardians of their own self-confirmed truth. The EDL and its offshoots are misinformed if they believe they can form their own ‘army’, their own twisted form of ‘loyalism’ to a cause they were not invited to join. The images I remember from my youth, channel flicking through the news headlines, hearing my Dad complain about the “never ending” “problems” in Ireland (as he politely put it), these are the images which have convinced the far-right of 2011 that they represent a long-held British tradition of armed resistance and responsible vigilantism.

Simply put, supporters of the EDL are potential terrorist threats. Like Breivik, they believe only in armed resistance against an enemy – a target they have incorrectly identified and wrongly convicted, but an enemy to them all the same. Their nationalism is as extreme as that of Breivik – the use of Nordic and Gothic typography, their obsession with nationalist images, their subservience to a flag. And their hatred of political parties which they blame for the situation which exists only in their mind – “force feeding Halal meat”, as one EDL member told me in a messageboard; “forcing Islamic laws in Parliament” as another assured me was happening on the comments section to a newsstory. Obsessed, violent, angry, isolated, paranoid – the characteristics we are told must be looked out for, the “if you see anything suspicious” warnings on railway stations.

If we are to accept freedom of expression, as any democracy must, then we must remember that the rule of law exists to keep that freedom sacred and valued. We are told by the mainstream media, with suspicion and cynicism, that we must be aware of the ‘danger’ in immigration, the Muslim family down the road, the Mosque planning application, the use of Urdu in schools.

We should remember not to be ‘race blind’ to the terrorist characteristics of the self-appointed army of tracksuited, shaven haired nationalists, whose iconography, language and behaviour would ordinarily instigate tabloid campaigns and government action. The distinction with the BNP (which should not be banned, not least because they appear to be falling apart all by themselves) should be obvious.

We were told to be vigilant against possible acts of terror on British soil by Irish dissidents for generations. Our media asks us to treat Muslims as outsiders who could be priming bombs and suicide vests as we speak. But what of the EDL? Yes, they’re idiots and football hooligans and bored married men wanting to revisit their former youthful glories – but look at the images below, taken from Hope Not Hate’s collection, and wonder if the link between Anders Behring Breivik could turn into something more serious, more horrific.

If the threat exists whereby members of the EDL or their offshoots go from photographs to shooting spree, what steps do we take now? Against all terrorist threats on this island of ours, we have to be prepared.






Britain First, elections second

Some months ago, Richard Desmond’s Daily Star splashed across its pages the super-soaraway exclusive that the tracksuited clowns of the English Defence League would be announcing their launch as a political party.

If you follow your far-right fringe parties, you’ll know that the English Defence League (EDL) are a touring party of hooligans and anti-everythings, who don’t care about issues so much as -isms, and mostly negative, prejudiced -isms at that. Every one of the provincial town marches descends into violence and arrests, including the chant of “You’re Not English Anymore” at anybody who dares question their shallow logic. Here in Preston, which hosted the assembled masses of EDL members in early summer, fireworks were thrown through the windows of takeaways.

The political party which the EDL is most closely associated with is not Nick Griffin’s British National Party (BNP), a group they regard as being traitors and state plans, but rather the less well known Britain First Party (BFP). This microsect has obscure beginnings – if you search the Register of Political Parties for all entities including the word “First”, you won’t find them. There’s “BPP – Putting Britons First”, and “British Jobs First”, and even “England First Party”. You’ll even find that the BNP have registered “Because We Care” as an official ballot paper alternative to having “BRITISH NATIONAL PARTY” next to a candidate’s name, though maybe that’s by the by.

Links between BFP and EDL are not easy to find. Links exist, though, and are hinted at across every line of a three-page email sent to supporters – and, as it happens, the email proves very useful for fans of the development of the anti-everything nutjob brigades in what is surely the “post Griffin age”.

The email ends with requests for money and funding; it begins with denouncing electoral politics with all the fervour of a libertarian on heat. “Virtually the only difference between a campaigning organisation and a formal political party,” it says, “is that the latter places all emphasis on fighting media-rigged ‘elections’ (most of which end in embarrassing failure), whilst our movement will focus on campaigning in all its forms to highlight the many injustices suffered by our people.”

It could not be clearer what jibes are being thrust here. Griffin’s BNP has been an electoral flan-in-a-cupboard for years, collapsing in former heartland areas such as Barking & Dagenham, and failing to make a breakthrough in any recent general election. At local level elections, the BNP barely register at all, hurtling into obscurity. No candidate for the BNP, not least Griffin himself, made any serious dent in the electoral chances of the far-right at the 2010 election.

The next paragraph sticks the boot into Griffin once more – “…[N]ationalists need to move away from pretending we are going to romp home to power in this country, and that our leaders will soon be in Downing Street”.

They go on to say “This failed approach channels our energy, willpower and determination into an ineffectual ‘dead end’ that usually ends in failure and disappointment…”

In a surge of hyperbole, it continues, “If you want to get native cultural parades reinstated, if you want to hold corrupt politicians to account, if you want to campaign against the encroachment of Islam into your neighbourhood, if you want to form community groups and take charge in your patch, and if you want to be part of a professional baggage-free organisation that will grow to great size and depth {sic}, then Britain First is for you.”

Putting to one side the definition of “native cultural parades” – morris dancing? flogging suspected witches? – this paragraph should ensure any links between them and the EDL are formally agreed as clearly existing. This “non manifesto manifesto” approach typifies the new approach by the far-right; they are politics for those sick of politicians. They will approach anyone who has shown, or has the propensity to show, exhaustion with the establishment model. Students? London rioters? Long-term unemployed? The vulnerable who believe that non-politician politicians offer the only true chance for change?

Despite what we, on the left and centre-left of politics hope and believe, the far-right remain a real, true, and stubborn force. The EDL marches are well attended, though just as high numbers oppose and often in-fighting does most of the good work for us. Their threat remains very high – we cannot dismiss their marches as mere side-show comedy acts. Where there is a threat, there must be a counterstrike.

Though the BNP are collapsing into themselves, what comes from them must be kept under scrutiny too – what is Andrew Brons BNP doing with the newly registered Freedom Democrats? How strong is the English Democrats Party, and what links do they have with the BNP? How serious an electoral threat is the far-right, and is there a strong enough opposition from within the mainstream parties and the traditionally election averse harder Left?

Nationalism across Britain has always suffered from its own malaise – its message confused, its audience violent and often criminal, its policies bizarre, self-defeating, ridiculous. It is to Britain’s credit that no national parliament has elected a member of the far-right, and that opinion polls consistently wallop their grouplets with derisory totals of support.

That does not mean we should remain complacent. The BFP email is confident, assured, and professional. It is also laced with danger. No ballot box for us, no establishment games, only direct action and street-by-street reconnections. It’s the recipe for success which mainstream parties count as their strongest asset. If the BFP are serious – they aim to stand candidates in Westminster by-elections to take advantage of the free Royal Mail mailshot available to all candidates – there is a period which opens today, right now, during which they could be persuading the disenfranchised or apathetic that only BFP candidates can offer an alternative to the same-old politicians.

The BNP is fading. Let us try and extinguish the next flickering lights of fascism. On the streets, at the ballot box, and in the here-and-now forever.

paradigm of enemies/friends

Almost every morning, Nick Griffin sends me an email. Styled “Chairman Nick Griffin” – maybe other titles for far right leaders didn’t work through the focus groups – these emails are usually donation requests or tirades against various equality groups and broadcasters. The most recent email, pushing the British National Party’s ‘troops out of Afghanistan’ policy, asks for £7,500 to help “expand” the policy for next year’s elections in Wales and Scotland. Any “generous gift” has to be submitted to the Party within the next seven days…

Griffin dragged the BNP from no-hope sloganeers to the European Parliament, and yet the Party finds itself today with all the splits and internal strife of a Student Union council. The only electorally successful far-right party this country has known has been rolling downhill like a cartoon avalanche, with all the high-profile expulsions and suspiciously organised party leadership elections characteristic of Cold War communist rulers.

The BNP had high hopes for this year’s General Election, with Griffin’s candidacy in Barking receiving the same early online bookies odds as Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion to win; Lucas did so, Griffin finished third. By the end of the week, all the BNP councillors on the Borough Council of Barking and Dagenham had been defeated, LBBD now consists of 51 Labour Councillors.

The General Election result was a complete disaster for the BNP, a failure to capitalise on the sense of apathy towards the mainstream parties, a ‘barn door with a banjo’ approach which Griffin has struggled to smooth over since. Council by-elections following the election – more adequate a guide to peoples opinions than YouGov polls – show a continued collapse in BNP support. Voter loyalty to the BNP brand is hemorrhaging at a time when their only specialist subjects of immigration and asylum remain contentious subjects. Invited onto BBC Question Time, Griffin was woeful, his prepared rants cut down and curtailed, his backpedaling became breathless, embarrassing, desperate. His credibility shot-to-pieces – by a Polish Spitfire? – Griffin has spend the subsequent months trying to piece together any remaining strips of credibility with the success of wallpapering with cling film.

Whilst the BNP undergo their internal Streit im Führerbunker it can not have been missed that the High Streets of many provincial towns have become meeting places for the English Defence League. The EDL are a throwback to a different kind of far-right protest group, where the BNP started out when electoral participation was considered the activity of ‘the establishment’ – a trait the far-right and far-left share. EDL supporters and their behaviour should fill older readers with nostalgia – the shaven haired drunken small town vandalism of yore was mistakenly believed to have faded out with SodaStream and dial-up internet connections. Chanting “You’re not English anymore” at anyone who dares question the ‘logic’ of the EDL is my current Favourite Punchline Of The Year.

Unfortunately, the EDL appears to have captured the imagination of the Professionally Disgruntled, more so whilst the Hamley/Gormenghast malaise infects the BNP. Consequently it has become far more difficult to measure and predict the next steps of the far-right – though it is easy to recognise the next steps, they’re usually very heavy and within knock-off Nikes. EDL supporters don’t do public meetings or electoral candidacies or reasoned debate. They prefer the 1980s Hooligan approach – turn up drunk, kick up merry Hell, scrap between themselves, leave on the next cheap coach home. There is no accountability for their actions, no justification for spreading untruths or subscribing to hyperbolic Islamophobia. Rather than “defending” England, the EDL promote an image of ignorance which is utterly alien to what it means to be English.

And this is why the BNP, with or without Griffin, needs our support.

Electoral democracy is the ‘tip’ of the activist iceberg. As any good Marxist will tell you, there’s only so much people can do within the constraints of democracy. From the ground up, that’s where you find people wanting action and results in their lives. But nobody can leave electoral politics to one side, it is within the fabric of our lives. BNP candidates within electoral politics provides a target for debate and discussion, however shallow and misinformed. If the trouble within the BNP splits the party into smaller, irrelevant splinter groups – look at the Left for what happens here from their perspective – the alternative is “debate by EDL”.

As ever with most things life, “be careful what you wish for”. Debate the occasional BNP councillor or deal with onslaught of bottles thrown by shaven haired drunk yobs with their faces covered by scarves? Deal with the BNP through public meetings, or suffer the violent rampages of the EDL’s ‘street justice’ ?

Battling and defeating the BNP should be the priority of anyone who considers themselves a democrat. There is nothing British about the BNP.

However, the demise of the Party has many negative consequences. They may have the credibility of a bunch of pub bores, but at least we know who they are and where to find them. Griffin could well be trying to herd cats at the moment, but the alternative is far-right mob rule and lynching justice.

So support the existence of the BNP. Keep enemies closer. The real threat – to Griffin and the BNP and to the wider strength of British democratic debate – is from the rabble who form and fester beyond them.