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.

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My £5 banknote suggestion

The series of banknotes known as “Series F” was launched two years ago with the distinctive purple/blue redesign of the £20. This features Adam Smith, economist and so-called “grandfather of capitalism”.

Last month, the Bank of England announced the new £50 will feature, for the first time, two Britons on the reverse; James Watt and Matthew Boulton. To keep the conspiracy theorists amused, the note will have the quote “I sell what all the world desires to have… POWER” on the reverse, ellipsis and capitals included.

This timetable suggests the Olympic year of 2012 – oh, now there’s a subject for discussion – will be the next launch date, possibly for the fiver currently showcasing Elizabeth Fry. Having considered the number of people it would be appropriate to highlight – and clearly Brunel is going to have to wait his turn for the high value denominations he deserves – I have found someone who could be the perfect “new face”.

Ignatius Sancho is the composer, writer, and actor I had never heard of before: indeed, the reported first ever black voter in an English election, a claim I had never been made aware of before either. My brief understanding of his life – with a hat-tip to Wikipedia – suggests the kind of life celebrated and enjoyed by Britons before and since. The specifics may be unique to him, but for a symbol of struggle, hard work, and achievement, he is just as proud and fine a figure than most. As the “African Man of Letters”, his representation as the first Black Briton on a Bank of England banknote would be a superb moment in history.

Let the BoE allow banknotes to be a tool for education in addition to spending; let Ignatius Sancho feature on a redesigned five pound bank-note.

Proud to be British. Hate the BNP.

The view from my bedroom window is quite beautiful this morning: a uniform blue sky, flickering leaves reflecting the milky dawn sun, a warmth despite of the early hour. It’s fate happily allowing candidates and canvassers an early start to the final days before polling day, potentially a day in history for British democracy.

There are few ways to describe how good Preston has grown as a city without sounding like the archetypal Guardian reader. Our covered market has traditional butchers next to Caribbean fruits and Indian spices, while the walk home through town is a journey similar to many living in university cities and places of arrival for immigrants over the generations. Groups of people outside places of worship can be as commonly Catholics outside St Ignatius’ church as they could be Muslims at the copper-domed Mosque on St Paul’s Road. Of course Preston is not a shining example of multiculturalism, but nor is it torn by strife on the verge of Oldham-style race riots. The division between people here is no more unusual than anywhere else you could identify, a fact supporters of the far-right British National Party tend to ignore. In the country occupied by the BNP, every town is as strictly divided as Baghdad.

History shows that the extreme prejudice espoused by the BNP has been rejected by Prestonians at every opportunity. The 2000 parliamentary by-election saw the appearance of their first candidate on a Preston ballot paper. Result – 1.1% of the valid votes cast, “NAZI SCUM” shouted by members of what was then the Socialist Alliance. Local candidates from them and the similarly far-right England First Party have been thrown out without hesitation. This encourages me; the shadows of their policies are dark and frightening and cold.

The BNP do not represent anything like the best intentions of the country. Their party election broadcasts are confused – sounding over-eager to underline how far away they are from racism while underlining their ignorance on asylum and immigration with every assurance to the contrary. Repatriation of “non-Britons” is a recipe for economic disaster, while nothing is said about the cost of forcing hitherto “oppressed” underclass Britons into work. However else you describe their policies, I suppose the BNP clearly want work to set us free.

Nick Griffin, their current leader, wants to stress how much the party have changed, but the truth is not hard to find. Just scratch the skin to find the racism beneath. Candidates for them who find the truth are even asking voters not to vote for them.

The North West region elects on June 4th. There will be eight seats elected, the final most likely to be the tight, close fight between BNP, UKIP, Green, and Liberal Democrat. When all votes are counted across Europe, I hope with all sense and reason that the BNP have been defeated.

My country is a proud island nation, its language formed by immigrants and international influences, its people as accepting of fish ‘n’ chips as lamb bhuna, as likely to sprinkle through their language words from black America or Hindi as they are the Oxford English Dictionary. The United Kingdom is a nation which helped defeat the kind of enemy who slaughtered millions of people, including their own, for reasons of extreme and absolute prejudice and hatred. We can be a nation which defeats such bile again. On June 4th, I hope any other choice is made to help defeat the British National Party. The good of the nation will come from the defeat of their reckless and offensive racism.