Peter Hain has had a good old rant at the BNP in Comment is Free and this is followed up with a Guardian story on how the BNP could get £2 million of EU funding. But these pieces are not all that they seem.
First of all, what motivates people to vote for the BNP? Broadly speaking they manage to play the politics of anti-politics very effectively, hoovering up discontented voters that for a variety of reasons feel they have no place in the mainstream parties. With 40% of the population that don’t vote in general elections, and probably 70% that will not vote in the European Parliament elections in June there is a large pool of people to call on. Look at the countries in the EU where the far right has done best – Belgium, Austria and France – and you have far right factions that have very well played on the discontent with the mainstream. In my mind it’s not a matter of tackling the far right head on – it’s about finding positive and optimistic policies of social inclusion, education and economic prosperity that prevent reactionary discontent brewing. As the BNP rises in the UK it shows very well the sickness of the mainstream parties – Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems.
And then to the EP elections themselves. Hain’s article is basically an appeal to Labour people to go out and talk an anti-BNP message on the doorstep. It ignores the fact that, specifically for the EP elections, Labour and the Tories have been completely incapable of advocating a coherent vision of what they want from the European Union. Compare the calibre of Britain’s MEPs with the names vying for positions on EP lists in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the UK doesn’t shape up too well. This general EU and European Parliament malaise will result in a very low turnout, and a low turnout will be the door to the EP for the BNP whose voters are probably more motivated to go to the polls and give ‘the system’ a kicking.
Then there’s the issue of “£2 million funding” for the BNP… there is no explanation about that in The Guardian article. I suspect they have taken Hain’s prediction of 3 MEPs for the BNP, and multiplied that by 5 (years of the EP term) and multiplied that by the staffing allowances money for MEPs (details of the system here, although it’s different after the elections). I cannot see how the BNP could get EU cash to campaign or build its organisation. Looks like The Guardian is rather creative with its wording.
Hain’s response – or the response of someone at his level – should have been to resign from Westminster and head up Labour’s European election list, a very visible and well known character to explain why EU politics matters. But of course no MP is going to want to put his or her neck on the line; having a rant at the BNP in Comment is Free is much easier.