TOPIC GUIDE: BNP
"It is undemocratic to treat the BNP differently from other parties"
PUBLISHED: 01 Sep 2009
AUTHOR: Rob Harries
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The British National Party (BNP) has been one of the main talking points of politics in the last year. Starting in November 2008 with the leaking of their membership list [Ref: BBC News], ongoing debates about the banning of BNP members from public sector professions, Nick Griffin’s on-off attendance at the Queen’s summer garden party [Ref: Daily Mail] and BNP by-election successes have ensured that the party remain firmly in the public eye. In the build up to the European elections in June, politicians from all sides joined together in an anti-BNP alliance, warning voters that the consequences of their apathy could spell success for the far right. The winning of two MEPs would seem to prove their point, giving the BNP elected legitimacy. But some have suggested that we should treat alarmist predictions of a BNP advance with caution, arguing that the party is being used as a bogeyman to mask deeper political problems. Some go further still, suggesting that behind the clamour to ‘stop the BNP’ lurks a suspicion of popular power. Whether or not this is a flash in the pan or a real threat, it is a reality that the BNP do exist, work in a wide variety of professions, fight elections and win hundreds of thousands of votes. But questions remain about the place of the BNP in a democratic society. Should we defend freedom of political association to the hilt, or do the BNP pose too grave a threat to democracy and society to be ignored?
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BNP DEBATE IN CONTEXT
This section provides a summary of the key issues in the debate, set in the context of recent discussions and the competing positions that have been adopted.
Is the BNP a real electoral threat?
In the recent 2009 European Elections the BNP polled over 940 000 votes nationwide, leaving them with two elected MEPs in two Northern England constituencies. The BNP also have over 60 town, district, borough and county councilors across the UK. Some politicians and anti-fascist activists point to these facts and the BNP’s steady electoral rise as clear evidence that the BNP now pose a significant electoral threat, with a core racist membership and vote. Pointing to the growth and electoral success of far right parties across Europe, they warn that BNP gains become yet more dangerous when we consider the possibility of Pan-European far-right alliances and networks [Ref: Guardian]. However, others have been more dismissive of these successes and warn against misdiagnosing the problem. Underlining the small number of council seats currently held by the BNP (an estimated 0.25% of all councilors in the UK) and the still fairly insignificant share of the Euro vote, up from 4.9% in 2004 to 6.2% in 2009, they maintain that the threat is overstated. Arguing against the claim that the far right is on the rise, they suggest that the party have been the beneficiaries of a protest against the political mainstream, contending that it is a wider, more profound, political crisis that needs our attention, not the antics of a largely discredited fringe party.
“No platform for racists?”
There has been bitter division about tactics to oppose the BNP. Several groups such as Searchlight, Unite Against Fascism (UAF), and NUS support a ‘no platform policy’ for the BNP, which they suggest limits their scope and protects minorities from racism and abuse. Whether this takes the form of sabotaging the BNP’s summer ‘Red, White and Blue’ festival, or banning members of the BNP from speaking in public, the policy is one of zero-tolerance. But recently, there has been some opposition to these tactics, with a number of student activists challenging the NUS’s policy in particular. They make the case that ‘no platform’ is both illiberal and anti-democratic and that it is only by debating and exposing the poor politics of the BNP that they be defeated in public and at elections. Opponents of a no platform policy argue that tackling the BNP by denying the right to free speech is not only self-defeating, but might well make the problem worse by giving the party additional publicity and enabling members to pose as defenders of free speech.
Either you’re with us, or against us?
The leak of the BNP membership list earlier in the year also reignited the long standing debate of whether further bans on BNP members, such as those held for the police and prison service, should be applied in the teaching, nursing and civil service professions [Ref: BBC News]. Those favouring a ban, such as teachers union NASUWT and Schools’ secretary Ed Balls, argue that BNP members’ views are so opposed to a public service commitment to an inclusive and democratic society that they are unable to adequately perform their roles in the public sector. But some commentators are troubled by evidence of a creeping authoritarianism and intolerance. They suggest that sacking people because of political beliefs is not only antithetical to the idea of a free and open society but has implications for the democratic rights of us all. Once one group of people can have their rights taken away on the basis of their opinions, it is argued that the floodgates are opened to ban yet more groups [Ref: BBC News].
Is the BNP a threat to democracy?
Leading political figures, such as former London mayor, Ken Livingstone, and David Lammy MP argue that the BNP is heavily staffed by ‘members with openly racist, fascist and Nazi pasts’ and that some have been involved in racial violence [Ref: Guardian]. Others argue that BNP policies for the repatriation of non-white Britons are racist. Many more suggest that the BNP is using democracy to gain power and influence in order to destroy it. Responses to this threat, they say, must therefore be steadfast and uncompromising. But others oppose such measures, arguing that the BNP has become a red herring. They suggest that attacking the BNP is a cheap shot for mainstream parties , allowing them to stand on the moral high ground and avoid their own lack of popular support and indeed some anti-democratic and anti-immigrant policies of their own parties. In this respect, they warn, avoiding debate about politics and scarring voters into voting by stating ‘vote for anyone but the BNP’ is a greater threat to democracy than the BNP itself.
It is crucial for debaters to have read the articles in this section, which provide essential information and arguments for and against the debate motion. Students will be expected to have additional evidence and examples derived from independent research, but they can expect to be criticised if they lack a basic familiarity with the issues raised in the essential reading.
Andy Newman Index on Censorship 5 June 2009
Claire Fox Index on Censorship 3 June 2009
Rob Lyons spiked 8 June 2009
Nick Cohen Observer 24 May 2009
Kenan Malik Bergens Tidende 5 December 2008
The Times 20 November 2008
Mick Hume spiked 18 November 2008
Chris Keates Guardian 20 June 2009
Esme Choonara Socialist Worker Online 16 June 2009
Peter Hain Guardian 29 April 2009
Sabby Dhalu Guardian 23 February 2009
Ken Livingstone Guardian 16 February 2007
Nick Lowles Searchlight Magazine July 2009
Rod Liddle Spectator 10 June 2009
Fraser Nelson Spectator 27 May 2009
Shirley Dent spiked 15 January 2007
Definitions of key concepts that are crucial for understanding the topic. Students should be familiar with these terms and the different ways in which they are used and interpreted and should be prepared to explain their significance.
Useful websites and materials that provide a good starting point for research.
Matthew Goodwin New Statesman 21 May 2009
Vengeance and Fashion 10 April 2009
Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford Guardian 19 February 2009
Jon Cruddas MP and Nick Lowles New Statesman 19 June 2008
The Times 19 April 2007
Ian Cobain Guardian 22 December 2006
Gerry Gable Searchlight Magazine November 2005
Kenan Malik Independent 4 May 2004
Far Left Watch
Links to organisations, campaign groups and official bodies who are referenced within the Topic Guide or which will be of use in providing additional research information.
IN THE NEWS
Relevant recent news stories from a variety of sources, which ensure students have an up to date awareness of the state of the debate.
BBC 22 July 2009
BBC 8 July 2009
Guardian 6 July 2009
Guardian 21 June 2009
BBC 16 June 2009
BBC 9 June 2009
Telegraph 9 June 2009
BBC 8 June 2009
BBC 5 June 2009
Daily Mail 22 May 2009
Guardian 12 May 2009
Independent 21 February 2009
Guardian 10 February 2009
BBC 19 November 2008
BBC 5 November 2008
BBC 21 May 2007
The Times 10 November 2006
Daily Mail 14 July 2006
BBC 27 July 2004
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