Politics doesn’t need the stamp of state approval
The BNP may be racist, but it should still have the right to decide who can join and what it stands for.
Last Friday, British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin, the panto season’s very own neo-Nazi, stood on the steps of the High Court in London, posing for all he was worth like some hero of the English Revolution. ‘We have won a spectacular David and Goliath victory for freedom’, he declared.
Even the BNP’s dozen or so supporters would have to admit that Nick Griffin is an unlikely freedom fighter. What he and his party – something better grasped as a self-help group for the socially inadequate – know (or care) about liberty proper could be engraved on a pinhead. It is their anti-freedom credentials that are impressive: since its inglorious inception in 1982, the BNP has been committed to separating the ‘indigenous British’ from their dark-skinned cohabitants and packing off the non-whites ‘back to where they came from’: ‘repatriation’ as the BNP would put it. Racist in principle and authoritarian in practice, the BNP would be a threat to freedom if they had any kind of substantial base of support – which, of course, they don’t.
But thanks to the state-funded-and-endorsed Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Griffin and the BNP have been able to pose as the voice of liberty. It’s an incredible reversal. The BNP and its chief henchman Griffin come over like Thomas Paine while its persecutor, the official vehicle of tolerance that is the EHRC, appears like a parody of autarchy.
And the reason for this reversal? That’s simple: the EHRC is autocratic. For over 18 months, the commission has attempted to dictate to a political association which principles it can organise around and who should be allowed to join.
The legal pursuit of the BNP has been jawdroppingly illiberal. It was back in June 2009 that the EHRC decided that the BNP’s racist ‘indigenous peoples only’ membership criteria might not only be racist, but ‘illegal’ under the Race Relations Act. With prosecution in the offing, the BNP – wily old beast that it is – decided in a meeting in February this year to change its constitution to allow non-whites to sign up.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough for the EHRC. Realising that non-whites might still be put off joining the BNP because they would have to support ‘the integrity of the indigenous British’ and resist any form ‘of integration or assimilation’, the EHRC obtained a Central London County Court order demanding that the BNP make further alterations to its constitution. All the BNP had to do was stop being so discriminatory against non-indigenous peoples, not just in terms of membership criteria, but in principle, too.
The whole point of the BNP is its ‘Britain for the British’ opposition to so-called non-indigenous people. Take the new-fangled, multiculturalist-sounding racism out of the BNP and there’s nothing left: nothing ‘British’ and nothing ‘Nationalist’. Clearly reluctant to rebrand the BNP as simply ‘The Party’, Griffin resisted the court order, and last week, after months of expensive legal wrangling, the High Court finally let the BNP off the hook.
Unpalatable as it may seem to those of us who hate racism, the BNP – as an association of like-minded individuals – should be free to discriminate against those who are not of the opinion that ‘non-indigenous’ peoples should be sent back to where they came from. No one would expect a traditional political party to accept members who are fundamentally opposed to its view of how society ought to be. Just because the BNP’s outlook is racist and promotes discriminatory policies does not mean that the state should forcibly change that association’s principles.
Everyone should be free to associate with whoever they choose, on whatever basis – even if the views of those involved are offensive to the majority of society. Equally, in an open, democratic society people should be free to judge political parties for themselves rather than having the judgement of a court or a quango imposed instead. Only then will the ideas – racist or otherwise – be properly interrogated.
If freedom is not universal, it is not freedom. It becomes something else, something particular, something partial. That is, it becomes a privilege dished out by the state to those with views considered acceptable, and withheld from those with views considered unacceptable. That is the most conservative idea of all.
Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.