BNP success: failure of democracy, or failure of the electorate?

Jack Lewars 3 November 2009

Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time has raised awareness about the BNP, its recent successes and the messages of discrimination and intolerance which it spreads.However, it has also led to much self-flagellation from the major political parties, as they look inwards for the causes of the BNP’s accomplishments.

That this attitude is shared by the public was demonstrated by the question to Jack Straw about Labour’s apparent responsibility for the situation, as a result of their immigration policy.

Whilst there is no doubt that it is beneficial for mainstream politics to ask such questions of itself, I believe that blaming those in moderate politics for the rise of the BNP is to ignore the responsibility of the electorate in voting for such a party. I see the election successes of the far-right not so much as a failure of centralist parties, but as a damning indictment of the British electorate’s political literacy.

To vote for the BNP is to vote for a party of racist thugs. This is fairly indisputable: their members speak privately (and all too frequently publicly) in terms of Nazi, fundamentalist Christian and/or openly racist ideologies; they associate with the KKK and with groups of organised football hooligans; and their leader proposes policies that include manual labour “chain gangs” for convicts, the abolition of the Human Rights’ Act and the killing of women and children refugees at sea.

There are thus, it seems, two reasons to vote for the BNP: that you yourself are of the same opinion, and are an extremely right-wing racist; or that you don’t know the full extent of the party’s views, or don’t understand the significance of your vote. In either case, I would strongly contest that the conduct of Labour, the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats is really to blame.

When questioned, a large number of BNP supporters either admit to or demonstrate their ignorance of the full implications of the party’s policies. This is also reflected in the number of BNP voters who say that a stance on one issue, such as immigration or unemployment, has secured their vote, whilst appearing unaware that their vote endorses and gives political space to all the party’s views, even those with which they may disagree.

This is clearly a case of poor political literacy. A good understanding of the democratic process (and the importance of one’s vote) would surely not condone voting a BNP representative into the European Parliament based simply on the fact that both he and you oppose immigration; a moderate and discerning voter would realise that, however strongly they share this goal, they must consider and reject (as a moderate) the methods that the party will use to achieve it. Whilst I accept that voting for a party whose views one entirely agrees with is virtually impossible in partisan politics, there is a clear distinction between, for example, compromising on Labour’s education policy to support their social agenda and compromising on racist violence to support the abolition of top-up fees.

Not realising the full extent of the BNP’s views is also a poor excuse, given how easy it is to come by information about the party. Anyone with basic critical thinking skills can see the propagandist and inconsistent nature of the writing upon the party’s website; and there are in addition countless organisations including the mainstream press who consistently document, analyse and refute their manifesto and the actions of their members.

If you vote for the BNP and don’t know what they stand for, you evidently haven’t done even the most basic research, which I again feel is to your shame, rather than that of alternative parties.

It is true that a large number of BNP voters claim that they cannot find any sort of adequate representation in mainstream parties and so feel driven towards more extreme views.

However, I feel that these people are either voting for a party they don’t really support (based on the arguments above) or occupy a political position that should never be represented by the traditional parties. As the representation that ‘genuine’ BNP voters require is a party proposing an immediate cessation of immigration, the return of capital punishment and the declaration of war on the IRA, I’m glad they don’t feel represented.

Anyone who really thinks such things is manifestly constructing their views based on fundamental and widespread ignorance – not to mention a total lack of humanity.That there is an expectation for central politics to pander to such voters strikes me as crazy; they should be on the fringes and not in the debate.

The above may seem to clash somewhat with Democratic politics and to seem elitist; in some respects, it is. However, my passion on this subject should not be misconstrued as a suggestion that we condemn BNP supporters and disregard them.

My argument is more that we should recognise where the root of the problem lies, which is in poor political literacy. If one accepts this, then effective political education and possibly democratic reform is seen as the solution, rather than expecting Labour or the Conservatives to encompass the BNP support base or pander to its message of fear and hate.

Political illiteracy is no more the fault of the voters than illiteracy is the fault of someone who has never been taught to read; but it is also not the fault of equivalent policies from mainstream parties.

Identifying this as a cause undermines much of the misguided criticism of central politics and British democracy that the BNP has provoked.  It has been said frequently since the European Parliament Elections that the BNP’s success is a failure of the democratic system, both in giving moderate voters a voice and in reassuring the voting public on issues of identity, foreign policy and immigration.  I think it is in fact a failure of the electorate to discern adequately the party, what it stands for and the consequences of those views.

Jack Lewars