Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Dangerous Days for British Politics?

Well, I finally got to look at the European election results. They are probably the worst guide to what will happen in a general election than any other results because the system used differs so far from the electoral system used in all other elections in Great Britain (though not Northern Ireland). However, it is a good indicator of trends and attitudes. To some extent it has not revealed any particular disgust with politicians as the turnout at 35% is the same as it always is for European elections and shows the extent to which most people in the UK see no connection to what goes on in the European Parliament to their everyday lives, though they will whinge about the limits on working hours and the nature of their fruit. Of course, it is the European Commission and the thorough application by all UK governments (whether Conservative, even under Thatcher or Labour) of all EU regulations.

The UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) now have 13 MEPs, the same as Labour. There have been abortive attempts at parties which plan to get the UK out of the EU, notably the Referendum Party, but UKIP for all its problems has been the only one which has managed to grow. They have no MPs and are unlikely to get them with the system we use in our general elections, so there will be a disjuncture between our national parliament even after the next election, and our European representation. It is weird that a party that wants nothing to do with Europe will now have its members heavily involved there. What alarms me, and was apparent from the UKIP publicity, which in the areas I visit exceeded that of all the other parties combined in terms of quantity, is that effectively they are an extreme right-wing, nationalist party and given their views on 'protecting UK borders' they are like a light version of the BNP (British National Party) which itself has moved on from referencing illegal immigrants and asylum seekers to more racialist viewpoints. UKIP's discriminatory policies have now added a bridge between the right-wing of the Conservative Party and the BNP and most dangerously are another party for whom spouting such bigotry is normal.

Of course, as Channel 4 News highlighted last night, the support for the BNP (British National Party), who got two MEPs (and importantly the money that brings), came from old traditional Labour voters. This is not a new phenomenon, you only have to look at early support for the Nazi Party in Germany of the 1920s and 1930s. This was an important constituency for them, and you have people moving between the Communists (KPD) and Nazis (NSDAP) quite often, sometimes depending on what social facilities each party could offer. The fact that extreme left and extreme right meet is something long known. If you reject democracy, it then simply comes down to emphasis on which groups you are going to attack. What is interesting to consider is where votes came from for UKIP. Some it is clear came from the BNP whose share of the vote actually fell. The only reason why Nick Griffin got in as an MEP is because support for Labour fell too. This is precisely what I said about each individuals vote counting far more when turnout is low (and in this case turnout from particular voters). I said this on the day and many Labour voters need to feel ashamed that they allowed the far right to get such a bridgehead because they did not get out and vote. As the turnout itself maintained, this suggests Labour voters were also replaced by extreme right-wing voters who in the past would not have voted at a European Parliament election. Interestingly, in contrast to France and Germany where the extreme left have done well, there is no sign of that in the UK. Perhaps we need something stronger on the left than Scargill's Socialist Labour Party or certainly have a different leader with more credibility.

We have always had people opposed to the EU. Personally I think it is a good idea which sometimes works imperfectly and the way to bring about change is not to turn your back on it, but engage more and get efficiency in how it works. On a purely selfish basis, myself and many members of my extended family have benefited directly from the EU (especially those of my family who are farmers) and we would all be worse off if the UK had stayed out. However, millions of UK citizens benefit from the EU and never notice. If the UK left the EU a lot of labour and social legislation we enjoy the benefits of would be under threat, the price of many goods would rise immediately, especially food items (the UK has long been a food importer) and actually UK farming would suffer immensely as it would be outside its largest market. Of course we could put up stronger barriers to Polish workers coming to the UK, but that is as much about employers tempting them here with low wages (though higher than in Poland) and using even illegal immigrants especially in the boom of 1994-2007. If employers had paid decent wages and not tried to squeeze out even more millions of profits then this issue would not have risen. British nationalists like the BNP and UKIP seem to believe that there is something inherently attractive about the UK compared to other countries. There is the element that we speak English which is commonly learnt in many countries, but if employers had not been drawing on immigrant workers then they would have gone somewhere that was. It is about economics, but of course for the far right they ignore all that and think it is some mystical force.

The real danger now is that the language of the far right has become legitimate. I heard Andrew Brons, the other BNP MEP, talking on Channel 4 News last night about the 'indigenous people' of the UK (which in fact are the Celts, but he meant anyone white) as if this was a legitimate term. He dismissed the word 'racist' as being invented by a Trotskyite in the 1930s, as if that made it invalid (and in fact he seems to be ignorant of where his own views originated from in the biological racialism that developed in the 1860s) and was not challenged on his statement. Now that the BNP has a platform I can only hope that people will see how foolish so many of their statements are. However, where they succeed is by making their extreme views seem 'normal'. Again in the interview, Brons said that expelling failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants was a given as if that had already been resolved. The UK expels many of these people anyway, but there is no sense that represents thousands of personal disasters and deaths that the UK government contributes to on a daily basis.

Most alarming they do not consider anyone who is non-white to be able to be British. I have not heard how they view the 700,000 mixed race people in the UK. Of course, supposedly liberal West Germany maintained the law that only those with two German parents could ever vote. They also tried deporting delinquent children (aged 14+) of second generation Turkish settlers to Turkey a country they had never visited (naturally Turkey refused to take them). Finally Germany was compelled to remove this racist law that dated back to 1913. However, it shows how easy it is for racist policies to exist even in the 2000s when all of us go on diversity training. I know people who lived in South Africa in the apartheid era and what people forget is in fact the regime affected everyone badly. Of course blacks got it worse, but everyone in South Africa of whatever ethnicity had to be classified and if suddenly you were reclassified you found yourself excluded from certain services. Such an approach as in Nazi Germany immediately leads to corruption of public services and inefficiency. Of course the identity card system envisaged for the UK will play right into the hands of the far right. One reason why it has not advanced is because of how difficult it is and how costly. An apartheid system will be far worse. Also people forget a key reason why South Africa ended apartheid was not political but economic, you cannot bring the best out of all your citizens if you put them into different boxes and enforce segregation. The UK transport system is in a dire situation, imagine if you had to have 'whites only' carriages. The UK is too inter-twined with Europe to be divorced and its population is too inter-twined to try to bring about some artificial segregation.

British society has always been full of bigots and racists. It also has people like my grandfather (a life-long Labour supporter) who grumbled about 'the darkies' but always complimented how hard working the Asian woman next door and the black men he worked with were and could never see the fact that these people made up the group he saw as the 'darkies'. Any group in society is made up of individuals that we know. Whereas last week bigots may have bitten their lip now they feel they can speak out and that is going to lead quickly to millions of individual tragedies as they feel heartened by the election result and the sense that the views of UKIP and BNP are held widely and legitimate. We cannot now avoid race riots in the coming months. The UK is going to become a very unpleasant place whatever colour you are, especially if you live in a city. We can only pray for a rainy summer rather than a hot one otherwise it will make 1981 look like a picnic in the park. All good people need to constantly contest racist behaviour and use the term 'racist' when we see it otherwise we are going to be living in a country of armed camps.

Clearly both UKIP and BNP have not thought anything about the economy. I have mentioned how employers have driven economic migration by their desire for cheap labour. However, if we even begin moving towards far-right policies then the economy will suffer immediately. People forget why West Indian and Asian immigration was encouraged in the 1950s (and the same applies to Turkish, Yugoslav and Italian immigration into Germany) it was to fill labour shortages especially in the service sector (which of course has become the dominant sector of our economy since 1974) and to start intimidating and removing people in those industries is going to send the UK economy rapidly back into the 1970s. Hospitals would close, shops in many towns would disappear, the transport sector would be cut back. The UK has had immigration for over 2000 years, to try and rip out certain people from UK society is going to be like cutting off an arm because it happens to be your right one.

The fight against racism now has to be stepped up a gear. We need to work to squeeze the bridgehead the bigots have established and challenge their behaviour so that it does not become 'normal', it is always abnormal and abhorrent. Of course, if the Conservatives win the next general election, their policies will be infected by the rhetoric of the hard right, partly because they have very few policies anyway; there is no indication of how they would have dealt with the credit crunch, the bank collapses or the MPs expenses scandals at all. Of course, disillusion with MPs is at its peak and this is a golden opportunity for extreme parties to play on that, as Hitler did in the early 1930s. The price for their success will be a very high one for the UK economy, British society and millions of individuals to pay.

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