Mythologising the BNP as the Gruffalo of British Politics will get us nowhere

26th October, 2009 4:26 pm

GruffasloBy Jack Scott

I have two daughters – aged 23 months and 6 months. They are very sweet together and love being read to. Their favourite book is the Gruffalo. For those of you not lucky enough to encounter this book on a twice-daily basis, I heartily recommend it, not least because of what it has to say about the power of reputation and fear.

The BNP seem to have become the Gruffalo of British politics: exceptionally thick, feared by many, seldom actually seen but universally recognised. To read the newspapers this week, you would think Britain was on the cusp of a fascist overthrow or Nazi landslide. It’s not. The British people have never been taken in by the false siren calls of fascism. We should remember that the BNP secured 0.7% of the vote in 2005, holding their deposit in only 34 seats. They secured over 5% in only 5% of seats. They contested 119 seats, including my own of Sheffield Hallam, where they achieved a princely 469 votes for their troubles. For all their money, free publicity, emotive language, members and machinery, the BNP remain a small-fry and useless party of unorganised thugs.

None of this is to encourage complacency, but we need to have a genuine understanding of their position. Even in the midst of a globalised recession, they are unable to achieve a real breakthrough. We can’t ignore them but at the same time we shouldn’t over-talk their impact. They simply don’t deserve it.

I have always believed that no platform is no solution. It is not bold or rational to ignore the parties that you don’t like; if you are constantly on the defensive, you can’t win the war.

The former Labour voters who vote BNP expect better; and we will have to give them more if we are serious about winning them back. But name-calling and demonisation is not enough. Nobody expects highlighting David Cameron’s privileged background will be enough to beat the Tories; similarly highlighting Nick Griffin’s arrests, conviction and old quotes will not be enough to beat the BNP.

Every vote for UKIP tells us that we have not made the case for positive European integration. Every vote for the BNP tells us that we have not made the case for the controlled, skilled immigration system we have introduced. We have got to get as good at talking about the issues as we at talking about the individuals. This means coming out of our comfort zones and talking much more bravely and bluntly about immigration, law and order, Europe and the global economy. To address these issues, the party should provide more literature and training for members.

Finally, we also need to find ways to work better with younger people. I suspect many of us will have been campaigning in strong Labour areas and had a group of young people start shouting about their support for the BNP. I know that most of the reason for doing this is to get a reaction – but another part is probably also about rebelling against their parents.

I wonder if at the root of this there is a deeper suspicion about the way traditional political parties operate which we are not fully tackling at the moment.

The focus on young people is crucial, not least because there is a sequel to The Gruffalo, called “the Gruffalo’s Child”.

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