Rise of the British National Party
Matthew J Goodwin
New British Fascism comes in the guise of an objective academic study, replete with tables and charts and a fair dollop of dry analysis. But that is camouflage for the author’s liberal-left prejudices, although it is probable that Goodwin, as with so many of the left, is self-deluding enough to be unaware of his bias.
Goodwin gives the ideological game away in the book’s title by attaching the arch pejorative “fascist” to the BNP without making any attempt to explain what he means by this complex word (hint: “far right extremist” does not equal fascist) and follows this up in the introduction with “This book follows political scientist Elizabeth Carter in considering right-wing extremism as a particular form of political ideology that is defined by two anti-constitutional and anti-democratic elements: first, right-wing extremists are extremist because they reject or undermine the values, procedures and institutions of the democratic state; and second, they are right wing because they reject the principle of fundamental human equality” (p6).
The author’s acceptance of Carter’s definition taints the book. If you do not adopt the liberal internationalist’s view that human beings are just one big happy indistinguishable and interchangeable family you are a right-wing extremist. When Carter writes of undermining the “values, procedures and institutions of the democratic state”, she does not mean that right wing parties refuse to play by the democratic rules as they are commonly understood – free elections, universal suffrage, parliaments and governments being accountable to the law. Rather, for her being democratic means that any person regardless of origin – in principle the seven billion people currently alive – must be treated equally because to do otherwise would constitute the rejection of “ the principle of fundamental human equality “. That means any election which produced a decision that failed to accord with the idea that all human beings everywhere should be treated equally, for example, a government in favour of an end to all further mass immigration and the expulsion of all those without citizenship, would be classed as undemocratic .
Then there is the label of “extremist”. By assiduous propaganda over decades, politicians of all the major mainstream British parties have assiduously been placing in the public arena the idea that to support or advocate any political views which diverge seriously from those of liberal internationalism is to be extreme . The erasing of the traditional political vocabulary from mainstream British politics means that any group or individuals outside the narrow ideological confines of what the British political class now represent as being the only legitimate democratic politics may be described as extremists and hence dismissed as of no account or dangerous and in need of suppression through laws such as the Race Relations Act.
It is also a very strange thing to define parties and individuals as being right-wing simply on the grounds of being opposed to immigration, which is what Goodwin effectively does . The idea that being resistant to immigration is inherently right-wing is historically false. Not only is it a natural human response to territory being invaded, political parties of the left and trade unions have until quite recently been opposed to mass immigration. Unions in particular have a long history of opposing immigration primarily on the ground that it increases competition in the labour market and reduces both wages and conditions. The Labour Party for most of its existence qualifies as extreme right wing under Carter’s definition, because not only did it in practice stand against mass immigration because of union hostility towards it, but it also believed in the nation state. It is worth remembering that the Labour government of Harold Wilson passed an immigration Act in 1968 which considerably tightened immigration rules for those from the new (non-white) Commonwealth after the Tories had done very little in 13 years to stem immigration. It is also telling that Goodwin himself mentions that only four out of ten BNP voters think of themselves as right wing (p107).
Goodwin acknowledges that the BNP has gone far beyond simply relating issues to immigration and have under Griffin developed a fully- fledged political agenda. Indeed, much of its recent manifestoes could sit comfortably within the those of the mainstream political parties and even more in the manifestoes of twenty or thirty years ago. He also spends considerable time examining how the BNP have in the past decade or so greatly softened their rhetoric about race and immigration, more or less dropped anti-Semitism, produced a broad political platform which deals with all the major areas of political debate and adopted the strategy of building the party from local roots in much the same way that the LibDems have done. Indeed, to look at the official literature of the BNP is to see a party which in many ways is aping the political antics of the major British parties. But for Goodwin this is not a sincere change of heart merely the BNP attempting to “rally Britons by downplaying its toxic brand”. It is difficult to see how the BNP could ever, in Goodwin’s mind, escape from the locked cell of Carter’s definition because whatever they did or said Goodwin would still say they should be classified as “extreme right-wingers” because the change was not genuine.
As for the BNP’s success or failure, Goodwin acknowledges that they have done considerably better than any other party he brackets with them, for example, the National Front, but less well than similar European parties. This fact has little force because the comparative BNP failure is readily attributable to the widespread use of electoral systems on the continent which contain some element of proportional representation while Britain retains first-past-the-post for Westminster elections.
There is a frequent failure to query the overt message of statistics. For example Goodwin looks at Britons’ response to poll questions about who is British (chapters 3/ 5) which show that a majority say that race is immaterial in determining the question. What he fails to do is consider whether the polling results may significantly under-estimate concern about racial and ethnic difference because of the prevailing atmosphere of fear generated by the ever tightening grip of political correctness. This type of omission is all the more visible because Goodwin is more than happy to speculate elsewhere in the book, so such a failure is not the result of some self-denying academic ordinance.
The same lack of imagination shows when Goodwin considers the social shape of BNP voters. He compares them with those who vote for the major political parties and UKIP (p102). According to his statistics, there are fewer BNP voters in the professional AB category than those of the other parties, but there are still 11 per cent of BNP voters who fall into that category as opposed to 18 per cent for Labour and UKIP. Moreover, the general shape of the entire voting population of BNP voters is not wildly different from that of Labour which draws 57% of its voters from the two lowest social groups as against 70% for the BNP according to the figures Goodwin cites. Hence, there is nothing unreservedly abnormal about the BNP vote.
Goodwin also looks at the ages and sex structure of BNP Membership (p102). This shows most BNP members to be in the 34+ age group with a strong preponderance (69%) of male. Goodwin represents this as a sign of a failing party. The problem with this argument is that his own figures show that the major parties have a similar age profile. The age profile of the BNP is surely just a consequence of the ageing British population and the much greater propensity of older voters to vote.
Goodwin argues from the age profile of the BNP that racial hostility is a phenomenon of the older generations because younger people have grown up with an ethnically mixed society. This is contradicted by the race riots in northern England in the early years of the century and emergence of the English Defence League, but Goodwin dismisses such behaviour as a residual phenomenon of the young who have elders with “far-right” beliefs or who live in places with a “right wing tradition (p104)
As to motivation for supporting the BNP, Goodwin suggests that the BNP client base is essentially that of the “angry white male” who has had his security threatened by immigration and its ongoing consequences. . While this has an element of truth because it is the white working class man who has suffered most from competition from immigration, you could argue the same of the Labour Party vote.
The only stark difference between the BNP and the major parties is in sex. But there is probably nothing remarkable in that. To support the BNP requires a personality which can handle conflict. Men are almost certainly better able to do that. The fact that UKIP has only 40 per cent of female voters supports this interpretation .
Goodwin seems genuinely puzzled by the “extreme right’s” concentration on Muslims. The answer is that this is plausibly all part of the re-branding exercise such as that conducted by the BNP under Nick Griffin. Because of the intense grip that political correctness has on western societies, parties which wish to resist immigration and its consequences have been forced to play within the rules of political correctness. This means they take up causes such “Islamification” because that avoids directly engaging in the question of race.
The marvel of Goodwin is that he cannot see his own bias even though he accepts the massive constraints placed on any minor party under the British political system and describes well the intimidatory actions of both the political elite through laws such as the Race Relations Act (RRA)which prevents free debate on pain of criminal sanction and the all too ready willingness of politicians, public service organisations, unions, big business and the mainstream media to harass and penalise those who express their political views outside the permitted parameters of political correctness:
“The disadvantages of joining an extremist party might include official punishments, threats from rival movements and group reprisals for participating’ . In fact, those who have join have been shown to experience abuse, jeopardise employment prospects and damage relationships with friends and family. “ (p138)
Goodwin also happily describes the persistent harassment of the BNP by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) over its membership qualifications (p122); admits freely that the British electoral system is heavily weighted against parties without an established Westminster presence (p) and draws attention to the limited ability of national governments to govern because of their entanglement in international treaties and supra-national bodies such as the EU.
One might imagine that someone who understands the undemocratic restraints placed on unestablished parties in general and the additional undemocratic blocks placed before parties such as the BNP, would conclude that they are placed in a position in which they cannot meaningfully engage in the democratic process. Not Goodwin. He sees no discord between insisting that a party can only be considered democratic if it plays by the democratic rules ,whilst showing absolutely no discomfort when he acknowledges that those who set the rules of the political game do so in such a way as to preclude meaningful participation in the democratic process.
What Goodwin is saying can be reduced to this: any party (or person) standing for something which the vast majority of human beings at all times and places would consider normal and desirable, namely, defending the tribe, clan or nation against invasion by main force or stealth, is, in Goodwin’s eyes, part of the far right – he coyly implies (p178) that the BNP and UKIP are not a million miles apart on the political spectrum.
Can I recommend New British Fascism? I can but not for the reason the author would want. Read this book not to understand the BNP but that most curious of things the modern liberal mind.