What has the Green Party been up to this week? You probably don’t know because its opponents have not been breaking into BBC studios, writing letters to the BBC demanding its censorship nor has it had a high profile national campaign launched against it.
All this has befallen the British National Party this week but, far from hindering the Party’s fortunes, it has instead seen its best week since last summer’s European Elections. The BNP has been on the news every day, relying on the actions of protestors and the statements of self-promoting politicians to further its objective: getting into the news for absolutely anything in order to create momentum in advance of last night’s appearance on BBC Question Time.
Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain, attempted to censor Nick Griffin’s appearance on the programme by writing to the BBC to warn that it could face legal action. The saga continued until the BBC decided on Wednesday evening that the event would proceed as planned. Meanwhile, former military leaders launched the Nothing British Campaign, accusing the BNP of exploiting the reputation of Britain’s military for political purposes. In response, Griffin hi-jacked the news agenda by releasing a statement comparing them to Nazi war criminals. As Question Time approached, Unite Against Fascism protestors broke into the BBC Television Centre to voice their opposition to the upcoming broadcast. These were the same protestors who threw eggs at Nick Griffin outside Parliament last summer after he was elected in the European Elections.
What have the BNP’s opponents been trying to achieve? Are they genuinely attempting to ensure that in the long run, the BNP is not given a voice so that its chances of making electoral gains are minimised? Or are they instead satisfying themselves with short-term publicity stunts with no real thought for the long-term implications of their actions on the British political scene? I would suggest that, from what we have seen this week, it is unfortunately the latter.
Last week, my neighbour complained that I was playing the saxophone too loudly. I was perfectly within my rights so could have shouted at him or quoted the law - but where would that have got me? In the short-term I would have felt an adrenalin rush and possibly got a pat on the back for being a stout fellow from my housemate. But I would have set up a much bigger problem for the future. Instead, I allowed him to make his case, apologised and set out a number of things which I would do to make it less of a problem in the future. I assessed the long-term gains associated with an approach which made me appear to have lost the battle in the short-term, and sacrificed my public image for the greater good.
I wish our politicians would do the same. When the BNP made its electoral gains at the European Elections, Labour adopted one of these short-term, adrenalin-rushing approaches when it merely dismissed the BNP’s increased support as a ‘protest vote’. The BNP only has one policy: reducing immigration. Someone from the Government should have reacted by saying, “This is a problem, we do need to make changes and here’s what we’re going to do.” Tackle the BNP’s one issue head on, take it away from them forever and destroy their chances of re-election. Instead it went for a lazy and self-promoting attack which only addressed the short-term hurdle of needing to save face and say something to the papers. Griffin’s one issue could have been neutralised in advance of last night’s Question Time and Jack Straw wouldn’t have looked as foolish and evading on this issue as he did.
Why didn’t Peter Hain have a private meeting with the BBC in order to assess the likelihood of the BBC accepting his viewpoint? A private meeting would have allowed Hain the opportunity to put his case to the BBC without the glare of the public spotlight, making it more likely that the BBC might accept his argument. If he couldn’t persuade the BBC, he would have had to decide whether he was going to hire a set of lawyers to apply for a court injunction, or keep quiet about the meeting.
This approach would have helped to achieve the objectives which he talked about so eloquently, namely erasing the BNP from the British political landscape. Instead he pursued a quick, ill-conceived media hit without a care in the world as to the actual result.
If the protestors were really concerned about giving airtime to fascists, why did they create a leading news item, drawing everyone’s attention to the BNP? They accused the BBC of ‘rolling out the red carpet’ to Mr Griffin but they did something worse. Question Time allowed Nick Griffin to be held to account by the public and by other politicians. Protestors such as these bring the BNP publicity on its own terms and reinforce an image that the BNP is desperate to promote: that it is a victim.
When Peter Hain and the protestors launch into these short-term, publicity- seeking bonanzas, they bring the BNP publicity without ‘making the argument for people’ as Jack Straw said was imperative in advance of Question Time. This is counter-productive and must stop. We must engage on a policy argument with the BNP. This may not generate headline stories or get our politicians and protestors onto Sky or BBC, but it will help achieve the objective which these individuals profess to be so impassioned about: defeating the ideology of the BNP. Can our politicians and self-righteous protestors keep themselves away from the spotlight for the greater good? I hope so.
Edward Barker is a freelance political writer. He has worked as a parliamentary researcher in the House of Commons for two years.