It should not be an offence to belong to the BNP
The furore over the leak of the British National Party’s membership lists ‘reveals’ some home truths about democracy as well as the far right.
The leaked publication of the details of 12,000 members of the British National Party (BNP) appears to have created almost as much fuss and front-page news as the British state’s recent losses of data on millions of people. This confirms the misplaced political obsession with the BNP, and the peculiar place that this small far-right party occupies in public life today. Many of those who were outraged by the authorities’ loss of disks containing personal data seem almost gleeful about the way that this leak has ‘exposed’ the BNP’s membership.
On spiked we have little time for the anti-immigrant politics of the BNP (in fact we have none at all). Amid the overnight furore, however, a few things are worth remembering about living in a democracy.
Anybody should be free to join any political party they wish without legal impediment, or we risk turning the clock back to a time of state repression and secret societies. And they should be free to keep that matter of political conscience private should they so wish – even if they are embarrassed to be members of the Labour or Conservative parties.
Nobody should fear the sack for their political opinions or affiliations alone. Those anti-racists crowing about the discomfit of BNP members today might recall that such measures have more often been used against the left. Back in the Cold War days when I edited a revolutionary newspaper and Living Marxism magazine, some people in sensitive jobs and public positions felt obliged to write for me under pseudonyms. In the past, victimising a left-winger for his or her politics would be called a ‘McCarthyite witch-hunt’; now doing it to a BNP supporter would apparently be deemed fair play.
Any racist behaviour by a policeman or any other public servant is obviously unacceptable. But being barred, fired or punished for a personal political view is a different matter. Even police officers should not be subjected to the thought police.
And while we are on the subject, Britain’s trade unions should drop their attempt to change the law so that they are able to ban BNP members from membership. Private clubs and political parties should be free to decide who they want as members. But trade unions are by nature meant to be organisations representing and open to the entire workforce.
Behind all of that, the publication of these membership lists and the reaction to them might also remind us of some facts about the BNP and the mistaken way in which it is often perceived.
The publication confirms that it remains a relatively small and ineffective organisation, riven by the sort of petty disputes and power struggles that have long characterised the far right in Britain – which is presumably why some disaffected individual leaked the information via the internet.
But, as the BNP leadership has pointed out, the list also confirms that the party membership is not entirely typified by ‘a skinhead oik’. Despite what its opponents claim, it is not the National Front of the 1970s and early 1980s, with whom some of us are old enough to recall exchanging blows rather than views. The BNP members include professionals and other respectable types, such as the ballerina, Simone Clarke, who was previously exposed as a BNP member.
Even more than its members, BNP voters today are quite different from the way they are often depicted. The mainstream parties have sought to demonise the BNP as the fascist symbol of evil in British political life, the one thing against which all decent people must unite. Yet in reality support for the BNP today reflects above all the widespread feeling of alienation from the political class. It has become an all-purpose symbol of disaffection amongst white voters, rather than an endorsement of any of the party’s specific (and specifically grim) policies. That is why its votes can go sharply up and down from one election to another, almost regardless of what the BNP does or says.
What our established political leaders fail to grasp is that the more they try to censor, bar or put down the BNP and its members, the more they risk reinforcing its reputation as a protest movement for free speech and against the discredited old politics. The ‘exposure’ of its membership lists may well put some off joining for now. But the wider demonisation of the BNP, of which the reaction to this is part, is the best publicity it can get.
The only thing that really needs to be ‘exposed’ about the BNP today is its politics. That requires a commitment to democratic debate and free speech, not censorship, disciplinary procedures and blacklists.
Mick Hume is editor-at-large of spiked.