Nothing indicates the bankruptcy of what passes for mainstream politics today more than the substantial votes polled by the BNP candidates just about every they fielded candidates. As ever, the political classes proclaimed a moral victory in that the BNP had actually failed to win more than the odd seat. They convinced no-one but themselves.
For years the major parties have only got away with their abject lack of any intellectual argument against voting for the extreme right because, first, they had been represented by singularly unattractive skinheads and, second, because the Thatcher Conservative era was just about sufficiently nationalistic to keep the distant reaches of fascism at bay. It will not work any longer.
All the previous artifices are now clearly not just redundant but are counter productive. Denunciation by national political leaders? Add on 5%. Warning by a Bishop? Worth at least 2%. Ostracism by existing Councillors? Definitely at least an extra 4%. Demonstrations by the left outside the local town hall? Probably another 2%. All the parties ganging together to "take the issue out of politics"? At least a couple of percentage points. Prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred? Perhaps 3%.
One can of course argue about the figures but the fact remains that, for want of persuasive arguments against voting BNP, a substantial number of local electors agree with its brand of nationalism and with its with its subtle promotion of white racial supremacy. What is more, there is a significant minority of the electorate that is cynical about all the mainstream parties and is now prepared to vote for a party, however extremist, that articulates that feeling of a "conspiracy against the ordinary voter".
Complacency about declining electoral turnout, combined with naÃ¯ve assumptions about the "inherent decency" of the entire British electorate, has left a huge political vacuum into which the BNP has skilfully driven. It can certainly be dislodged but there are no shortcuts. It will take a level of intellectual commitment and consistent campaigning that have been absent from British politics for at least twenty-five years.
Amongst those struggling to survive in twenty-first century Britain there is very often a feeling of estrangement from the community values of the previous generation, coupled with a feeling of impotence about the possibility of being able do anything about it. Even the respectability that characterised the social status of Yorkshire working class families has been fatally eroded. It does not take too much of a leap, particularly when fuelled by the far right, to identify the decline in a sense of well-being amongst the "indigenous" population - whatever that means - with the arrival in their midst of those from other countries and of other races. The flames were there to be fanned.
There are buzzwords such as "Christian civilisation" which evokes a picture of tranquil parish Sundays now threatened by Muslims with not only an alien religion but also a propensity to terrorism. The reality is far distant from this mirage - indeed it is far easier these days to find a full Anglican church in the heart of Africa than it is in England, and it is Muslim youth that is often even more disenchanted with apostate and materialistic Britain than their white neighbours.
Extremist arguments based on race or history simply will not stand up. There is no sustainable definition of "black" or of "white", just as there is no pure race. To one degree or another each of us is the product of invasion and assimilation at some point in history, whether it was the Vikings or the Normans long ago, or the Jamaicans and Yemenis more recently. Individuals fall in love and marry without regarding colour or race as any inhibition. One catalyst for the fall of apartheid was the nonsense of a legal ban on inter marriage between races and the vain attempts to classify individuals into one or other category. Nationalism relies on claiming a common identity within national borders which are themselves artificial and changeable.
In Britain the government has, of course, been supine. Left to its own devices no focus group would ever produce enthusiastic support for integration or for assistance to refugees and other incomers. Consequently they do not climb rapidly up the New Labour agenda. There is a programme, of course, and a Minister, since 5 May, Hilary Armstrong, who rejoices in the curious title of "Minister for Social Exclusion". One might have expected it to be against social exclusion, or even for social inclusion, but no matter, the malaise at the heart of our society is not going to be resolved by throwing money at it. It needs political commitment, not financial conscience money.
There always has been, and still is, is a positive pragmatic case for immigration but to espouse the idea that we palm off menial jobs to immigrants so desperate that they will take any job, is hardly a morally uplifting argument. Even to extol the obvious benefits of the corner shop valiantly continued against all odds by Asian entrepreneurs, does not of itself constitute an argument.
The need is to make the principled case for mobility and for the many benefits of a plural society, but for those who feel threatened by such concepts, they are currently too difficult to accept. We are back to the essential building block of the strong community and the secure neighbourhood. Without them the opportunity to blame other groups for feeling ill at ease and for having no apparent prospect of improvement will flourish and this is the recruiting sergeant for the BNP. There is no quick fix available but a commitment to support community groups, housing associations, job creation schemes and the return of professionals to "difficult" neighbourhoods would be a key beginning.
What is the alternative? A politics based on division, with parties based on sections of the community, is inherently dangerous. A BNP that recruits on a thinly disguised white supremacist ticket will provoke an inevitable response from those it stigmatises as inferior and unwelcome.
Violence is the inevitable result of the politics of prejudice. The history of the consequences of anti-semitism is too recent and too vivid to be ignored. We know with bitter clarity here in Europe what happens when political forces are allied to a section of the electorate whose worries and concerns are then blamed on a vulnerable minority. This year's local elections have spelt out the danger. No politician can say that he or she has not been warned.
15 May 2006