Friday, 30 October 2009

Holding the Line

A Bully Pulpit: Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, makes it on to the BBC's "Question Time" programme despite the best efforts of the British Left to ensure the state broadcaster provided "No Platform for Fascists".

THERE’S A SPECIAL FRISSON that runs through even the most conservative citizens when they see a police line buckle and break. The image of authority giving way, quite literally, before public pressure stirs people in ways they struggle to explain. Perhaps it’s the upwelling of deep memories from the historical past – proof that nine-out-of-ten of us are descended from serfs.

A police line outside the headquarters of the BBC in London buckled and broke last week. The flimsy human-chain of constables guarding the "Beeb’s" surprisingly forbidding gates collapsed beneath the weight of hundreds of angry anti-fascist protesters. Around twenty-five of their number actually made it into the building, along the corridors, and up to the very doors of the studio where Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party (BNP) was appearing on the BBC’s "Question Time" programme.

It was "Question Time’s" decision to offer a "platform" for Griffin and his party, that ignited the protesters’ rage. In the eyes of the British Left, allowing Griffin to appear was tantamount to giving Adolf Hitler access to a vast television audience.

Adding to their fury was the decision of the Labour Government’s Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, to appear alongside Griffin. By taking part in the programme, they said, Labour was in breach of the British Left’s informal agreement that there should be "No Platform for Fascists". Sharing the political stage with the BNP, they argued, was the surest way of giving it the legitimacy it craved, and which, as the enemy of tolerance and democracy, it did not deserve.

Watching the programme, it was hard to understand why the protesters bothered. The BBC had assembled a studio audience that appeared to be unanimous in its detestation of Griffin and the BNP. Questioner after questioner delivered stinging criticisms of the party and its leader – criticisms which were picked up and reinforced by the show’s host, David Dimbleby.

Griffin acquitted himself with surprising aplomb in this hostile environment. Responding to criticisms of the BNP’s anti-immigration policies – designed, he said, to protect "indigenous Britons" – Griffin challenged Straw to go to New Zealand and tell a Maori he was not "indigenous". Colour, said the BNP leader, was irrelevant: "We are the aborigines here".

Though the studio audience clearly rejected the BNP’s stance on immigration, and warmly applauded all those who defended the government’s "multicultural" policies, Griffin must have known that in the world beyond the television studio his words were being received very differently.

As the BBC’s own Europe editor Gavin Hewitt discovered during his 2006 foray into the London borough of Dagenham (a BNP stronghold) ordinary, deeply-disillusioned, white working-class voters make up the bulk of the party’s electoral base.

"The mood of the club was one of sullen resentment", recalled Hewitt. "The neighbourhood around them was changing rapidly. Their known world was gone. I remember one of them had got hold of the Labour manifesto from 1997. There was only a brief reference to immigration but the man read out the words ‘every country must have firm control over immigration and Britain is no exception’. They felt betrayed and voiceless. In their view Labour had not been straight and no-one had asked them whether they wanted a sharp rise in immigration."

Like the French Communist Party, whose formerly rock-solid working-class supporters from the inner suburbs of France’s great cities abandoned Marxism for Jean-Marie Le Pen’s xenophobic nationalism in the 1990s, the British Labour Party is paying the inevitable price for its embourgeoisment.

The multicultural dreams of the middle-class idealists who over-ran the mainstream Left in the 1970s and 80s, have turned into the racially and culturally-charged nightmares of the economically-stressed suburbs and towns in which desperate immigrant communities inevitably took root and grew.

Rightly or wrongly, working-class Frenchman and Englishmen regard the loss of their well-paying jobs, the rapid rise in immigration, and the relentless advance of economic globalisation as being all of a piece. That "their" parties – the CPF, Labour – had participated in governments responsible for the imposition of all three "evils" is impossible for many of them to forget – or forgive.

Pakeha New Zealanders’ experience of mass immigration has been very different. Their country’s colonial history precluded any claim to indigeneity, and the careful timing of successive waves of post-war immigration meant that there was little direct economic competition between themselves and the rural Maori and Pasifika immigrants who picked up the low-paid jobs Pakeha workers had left behind them.

With the brief but unpleasant exception of the "dawn-raids" period of the late-1970s, such "immigration politics" as did exist in the New Zealand was fuelled largely by the competition for low-skilled jobs between the urbanised Maori and immigrant Pasifika communities – not Whites and Browns.

That all changed in the 1990s with the very sudden and rapid influx of immigrants from China, Taiwan and the Indian sub-continent. Rather than compete directly with the unskilled and semi-skilled Maori and Pasifika communities, the so-called "Asian Invasion" collided head-on with the Pakeha middle-class.

Possessing substantial capital reserves, and high levels of professional and commercial skill, immigrants from Asia swiftly colonised large tracts of Pakeha suburbia and made significant inroads into the property and services sector of the economy. Thousands of young Asians purchased places in New Zealand’s secondary schools and universities. In Auckland particularly, Asian immigration has wrought an economic, demographic and electoral transformation.

While the New Zealand Labour Party had been highly successful in incorporating the rural Maori migrants of the 1950s and 60s and the Pasifika immigrants of the 1970s and 80s into its predominantly working-class base, it was the National Party which proved to be the more adept at drawing the economically self-reliant Asian immigrants – especially the ethnic Chinese – into its political orbit. With the latter’s numbers threatening to eclipse those of the indigenous Maori by 2025, a whole set of new racial, cultural and ideological calculations must now be made.

New Zealand’s equivalent of the BNP, NZ First, and our own Nick Griffin, Winston Peters, may be temporarily becalmed, electorally, but the chances of both reclaiming their roles as the prime oppositional voices against Asian immigration cannot be discounted. With the nation rapidly devolving into an economically-marginalised Maori/Pasifika underclass; an economically-compressed Pakeha middle class; and an economically-dominant Pakeha-Iwi-Asian upper class – who knows how much longer New Zealand’s multiculturalists will be able to hold the line?

This essay was originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 29th of October 2009.


First Time Caller said...

"Sharing the political stage with the BNP, they argued, was the surest way of giving it the legitimacy it craved, and which, as the enemy of tolerance and democracy, it did not deserve."

There is certainly some truth to that argument, but similarly if they can project a "we're being picked on" argument to the public they can appear as "martyrs" (for want of a better word.) Better to give them their head on what is usually just a politcal junkie's show anyway, rather than draw massive attention to them.

One Nation were torpedoed when they had to give coherant policy on a range of issues rather than just fight a sound bite war from the sidelines. Their tax policy (if one can call it that) killed them off in the eyes of many voters, and they slumped in the polls.

It would be interesting to hear what Mr Griffin would propose to do about the upcoming pension crisis for instance. If one of the most immediate remedies, namely increased immigration, is off the menu then what options are left...much higher taxes, raising the retirement age or lowering pension of luck selling that platform BNP!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be a pedant, but the Chair of Question Time was David Dimbleby, son of the great Richard, who died several decades ago.

As an Anglo-Jewish leftie, I was brought up on the mantra "no platform for racists". But, apart from the gift of matyrdom this gives the scumbags, there's also the inherent injustice of depriving one not insubstantial sector of opinion of a form of access to the public space that is open to everyone else. It's also the thin end of the wedge to the delegitimization of all non-mainstream opinion. Having said which, it's not an easy issue to decide about.


Chris Trotter said...

I stand corrected, Victor. I'll make the change from "Richard" to "David".

Graeme Edgeler said...

It seems to me that if the British people don't want Griffin on their televisions, then they oughtn't to vote for him.

Would the "no platform for racists" platform mean that Helen Clark would refuse a debate with Don Brash? Or that Pita Sharples would refuse a debate with Helen Clark?

Rayatcov said...

Democracy anyone?

Anonymous said...

Someday, we are going to have to start debating the effect that uncontrolled immigration has on the economy and society.


SeaJay said...

This Sundays 1 Nov Rnz lecture @ 4pm on 'The Other' should be required listening to accompany this thread.

Francisco Hernandez said...

The Labour Party won the Asian vote from 99-05.

Even in 08 the gap wasn't that big.

Anonymous said...

Francisco Hernandez

Is there really an "Asian Vote" or is there an "East Asian Vote " and a "South Asian Vote" ?

I don't have any statistics but my impression was that the former had long been pro-National and the latter pro-Labour, but, last time round, tended also to vote National.

Do you (or anyone else)have some hard data? anyone


Anonymous said...

I vaguely recall reading a Listener article with some hard data - I'll see what I can find.

- Fracncisco Hernandez