The Queen of England vs a pantomime fascist
The expulsion of Nick Griffin from a palace garden party shows how desperate the political class is to keep the BNP as their pet bête noire.
Watch out, Griffin’s about. Yep, that’s right: the far right’s answer to the reviled king of the practical joke, Jeremy Beadle, has been making mischief again.
Up until Friday morning, Nick Griffin, leader of the panto-fascist British National Party, had been having a whale of a time. Taking every media opportunity that fell into his sweaty hands, he couldn’t help but show off about being invited to one of Buckingham Palace’s garden parties. Perhaps it really shouldn’t have been such a big thing for Griffin – as an elected member of the European Parliament, he was fully entitled to an invite to a self-congratulatory event for the great and the mediocre of British public life. But excite Nick it did. This was not only because it presented a chance to swap racist anecdotes with Prince Philip. No, the embossed invite to Nicholas Griffin MEP represented something more, something he so desperately craves: recognition, acceptance. Too long looking in from outside at a political and cultural elite pulling faces back at him, this was his pass into their world, the moment when they said: ‘You’re not so nasty, Nick.’
Clearly chuffed to be potentially in shoulder-rubbing distance of respected public figures, he called his invite ‘a highly symbolic breakthrough’. He even asked BNP supporters to suggest questions he should pose to Her Majesty. Unfortunately, for Griffin, like an 11-year-old girl invited to a Justin Bieber soundcheck, he was perhaps a little too excited. In fact he was becoming a pant-wetting embarrassment to his hosts. Friday’s hammer blow was not unexpected: ‘Nick Griffin MEP’, announced a sombre palace statement, ‘will be denied entry to today’s garden party at Buckingham Palace due to the fact he has overtly used his personal invitation for party political purpose through the media. This in turn has increased the security threat and the potential discomfort to the many other guests also attending… We would apply the same rules to anyone who tried to blatantly politicise their attendance in this way.’
Quite how the great, big, white-is-right dolt politicised his attendance, beyond going on and on and on about it, is unclear. Did he threaten to turn up wearing just a pair of Union Jack boxer shorts and do his ‘Chalky White’ routine? Did he promise an overly fervent rendition of ‘Rule Britannia’? A duet with the queen, even? No.
However, what separates Griffin and the BNP from the rest of the rogues’ gallery, from Mugabe to Pinochet, is that opposing Nick and his cronies, declaring how much one detests them, has become the sport of choice for a British political class bereft of their own political visions. They need to hate him. They need his racist yin to affirm their official-anti-racist yang. And there’s the rub: such a highly publicised acceptance of Griffin, writ large in an invite from the queen, ruins the sport. By inviting Griffin not only into the grounds of Buckingham Palace but into the arms of the contemporary establishment, the crutch that BNP-baiting has become is kicked away. A would-be Manichean conflict between the mainstream forces of good and an extremely marginal force of racist evil collapses. Without ‘them’, there is no ‘us’.
In the wake of Griffin’s bathetic, ingratiating performance on BBC TV’s Question Time last October, Brendan O’Neill observed precisely this: the BNP, and especially its leader, has now come to perform a vital public function for a political and cultural elite wracked with uncertainty and doubt (see The new divide in British politics: Us and Him). Griffin, by simply existing, allows the elite to feel good about itself, to posture as if it really does have some moral authority. Much as the afterglow of anti-fascism provided Britain’s ruling class with a sense of postwar legitimacy, so being anti-Nick Griffin plays a similar role today.
No matter which institution, hating Nasty Nick has become the new Good War. It’s just so easy: politicians of all stripes can declare how abhorrent they find the BNP; the Church of England can ban BNP members from becoming vicars on the grounds that they have committed ‘the sin of racial prejudice’; even the British Army, that bastion of British interests in dark foreign lands, can attack the BNP for using images of Spitfires and Winston Churchill in its campaign material for the European elections. Any institution struggling to justify its existence or scrabbling around for something that looks like purpose can find a quick-fix in a spot of BNP-baiting.
That was the problem with Griffin’s much-publicised invite to Buckingham Palace: his potential presence threatened to dilute this heady moral brew. After all, it’s difficult to draw righteous succour from those glorious, ostentatious displays of being against-evil-Nick, if politicians and other public figures are then seen hob-nobbing with the BNP leader behind the railings of Buckingham Palace. Or as Ryan Parry put it in the Mirror, ‘the invitation opened up the horrifying prospect of the queen inadvertently meeting Griffin on the manicured lawns of Buckingham Palace’. No wonder Unite Against Fascism, the attack-dogs of the elite’s pseudo anti-fascism, were outraged: ‘The palace needs to understand and the establishment in general, who are giving these privileges, that the whole point of him being so excited about going is because it gives him the chance to legitimise himself.’
I’m not sure that living it up on a nice lawn with Liz and Phil will legitimise Nick Griffin and the BNP. The party probably needs some popular support for that. Sadly for Griffin, this is unlikely, given that the BNP currently numbers just a few thousand members, lost many of its local councillors in recent elections, and contributes, er, no MPs to parliament. But focusing on the BNP’s actual political insignificance misses the point. What Britain’s political class really fears is not the BNP gaining legitimacy at a royal garden party – no, what really frightens them, what really terrifies them, is losing the BNP and Nasty Nick to something approaching respectability. That would leave them to confront the real political problem in their midst. If not against the panto-fascists, then for what?
Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.