The following looks into the commonalities between the nationalism of the BNP and Sinn Fein – specifically the shared rhetoric of disadvantage as a tactic to create support. The blogger also considers the reaction of mainstream politics and how a more progressive approach could be the best tactic…
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By St Etienne
Last week, the far right appeared on a national platform for the first time. The BBC has been widely criticised for being both too soft in allowing Nick Griffin on the the 1st instance, and for allowing the format of the programme to be tweaked to allow a ‘witch hunt’ to develop. Critics say that the result of both helps the BNP win support amongst the politically disaffected in this country.
The BNP espouses a nationalism that has been successfully white-labelled (no pun intended) and rebranded across many European regions. Similar ethnicity-based policies can be found closer to home – in the guise of the current leaders of Irish nationalism in NI, Sinn Fein.
- SF criticism of the definition of a Roman Catholic in public positive-discrimination tallies such as the PSNI 50-50 quota. The belief is that only ‘indigenous’ RCs should be counted. Racist policy construct, check.
- SF remains a curious hotchpotch where idealistic (unthought?) socialism and right-wing nationalism attempt to co-exist. In the BNP’s far right circles they have tried to frame this as the third position.
- Their interpretations of major historical events depart widely from consensus. The holocaust is questioned, a 30-year terrorist campaign was a legitimate war.
- Both have went to great lengths to ‘modernise’ and ditch the images of thuggery and street unrest from public perception. This has had mixed success.
- Indeed, just like the right-wing extremists who rail against the Griffin-led effort at BNP modernisation/revisionism, there are those within Irish nationalism who feel the PR facade placed around their particular brand of nationalism has gone too far.
- Both claim to represent the views of the disadvantaged, and a radical solution is presented – whether it be the dissolution of the state or the wholescale demographic changes to the peoples within. SF have been much more successful electorally in this regard than the BNP. But the nascent success of the BNP in certain parts of England and subsequent media analysis perhaps provides us with a valuable insight into our own scenario and how to affect it’s change.
How to Lose Friends: Shouting Down the Opposition
When Nick Griffin was invited to the QT panel, the usual suspects lined up to lambast the BBC for allowing the elected representative his right to an appearance. Red Ken Livingstone mobilised the revolutionaries while our own Peter Hain threatened legal action (though, it should be pointed out that Griffin currently represents 7 times Hain’s own democratic mandate). The format of the show itself has also been criticised for its apparent attempts at isolating the BNP leader. Nick Griffin cut a lonely if figure throughout.
Commentators have rightly asked is this not the image he would wish projected, that of an outsider being dismissed via ream upon ream of political class vitriol? Does this not play into the hands of the BNP as they seek to reengineer themselves a vehicle for populist resentment? Does all of this show the continued impotency of ‘normal’ politics in controversial topics such as immigration and identity?
Whatever the outcome, the contrast in opinions on whether to give Griffin the disinterested observer treatment or sackcloth & ashes highlights one thing for certain – the disconnect between those who are familiar with the root causes of this nationalism and those who evidently spend their time decrying it over cheese and wine. It is a disconnect not too dissimilar to the jostling visions within NI unionism – between the open-ended concept of civic unionism and that of the more unforgiving traditionalist variety.
To expand, the traditionalist within unionism tends to rely heavily on moral pillars which they resolutely defend ie. not allowing terrorists in government, opposing the release of terrorist prisoners, refusing to talk to murderers etc. Like that of the rigorously anti-fascist groups and personalities objecting against a racist appearing on the national broadcaster, their views seem, by and large, morally correct. Who wouldn’t hold these views? Except that’s exactly what large sections of English society have done in voting BNP. Are all these people anti-Semitic, homophobic racists?
The short answer is no. But the explanation is one that very few members of anti-fascist organisations actually spend any time entertaining: the policy agenda of the last few years has led to a sense of detachment amongst those outside the system. There has been no movement on the immigration issue. A small amount of bluster perhaps but generally little action. This has given rise to the belief, cemented by issues such as the expenses scandal & the recession, that the current political system has failed Britain. White working-class voters see politicians largely scared of tackling issues head-on.
The BNP has been quick to pounce on the perceived lack of political leadership by expounding their own controversial take on what is an immigrant and how to control them. The result has been unprecedented electoral gains. You don’t get 1 million votes by targeting non-issues.
Similarly, are all Sinn Fein voters sectarian little-Irelanders wanting to drive the oppressor into the sea at the next available opportunity? Again the answer is no. But again their characterisation as such by the moral traditionalists within populist Ulster unionism, while unflinchingly expounding the mantra that there are no decent Shinners, led to cementing feelings of isolation and detachment from the state amongst SF’s target vote. Like the BNP, Sinn Fein lap this up and continue to regurgitate past unionist mistrust as evidence of continued nationalist victimhood.
In order for nationalism to maintain its grip on a community’s politics, it must provide evidence as to why that community’s future still lies outside the state. The entering of such political forces into areas of responsibility must provide them with an unpalatable challenge – how to maintain the symbols of disadvantage whilst actively sharing administrative duty. Both BNP and SF alike are displaying signs of ineptitude at governance at a relatively early stage in power.
This also provides a new opportunity for civic unionism to engage with those who feel disenfranchised from NI as a political unit – but like those who were most vehement in their attacks on the BBC, first the shackles of uncompromising moral vision must be removed.
The above is an unsolicited post sent in to Open Unionism…