Sunday, May 4, 2008

UK elections: fascists win seat on London Assembly

By now you've heard the good news that Ken Livingstone has lost his bid for reelection to the London mayorality after a desperate negative campaign which included a mailing bearing the headline "Don't vote for a joke. Vote for London." (Read here and here).

You may not have heard the good news that George Galloway, whose political career is suffering a well deserved downward trajectory, lost in his bid for the Greater London Assembly (read here).

Both Livingstone and Galloway are leftists who love to cozy up to Islamists advocating extreme homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism and theocratic dictatorship. To understand this leftist / Islamist alliance, a study of cognitive dissonance would be more useful than political science.

Now the bad news. Richard Barnbrook (read here) of the British National Party (BNP), by getting over 5% of the vote, has actually won a seat on the Greater London Assembly. If that doesn't seem like much support, let's put it in perspective: in 1992, the BNP got 7,005 votes nationally; in 2005 it got 192,746 votes nationally. Now the votes of over 130,000 in London alone have given them a seat on the London Assembly. That's a troubling sign of disaffected voters turning to extremism.

The BNP has a long history of advocating an extreme racist agenda while maintaining that they're actually part of the political mainstream. But don't be fooled. According to the Independent: "(t)he BNP has tried to rebrand itself, hoping we will forget its founder declared “Mein Kampf is my Bible”, and its current leader attacks even David Irving for admitting some Jews died in the “Holohoax.” (read here)

Barnbrook is an idiosyncratic figure, to say the least. While publicly disavowing Nazism, he favors light brown suits and ties and a Hitler hairstyle. According to the English gossip press, a former lover has accused Barnbrook of keeping a copy of "Mein Kampf" under his bed. (read here) She also said that she had "only ever seen him properly sober a couple of times". Based on his ranting, slurred speech and watery eyes in the video clips I've seen of him, that seems entirely plausible. (View video here.)

What's most troubling to me about his victory is that it shows that an extremist party can take advantage of anti-immigrant sentiment to gain office by pretending to be non-racist. We in the United States should take note of this as we prepare for what may be an election dominated by the immigration issue, at least from the Republican side. The Republicans, if they do go down this path, may well be opening door to legitimizing the sort of extremist views advocated by the BNP. We have already had a taste of this from the likes of Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo, both of whom have connections to the extreme far right and have histories of racist utterances. (Most recently, Tancredo advocated putting the fence on the U.S./Mexico border north of Brownsville, Texas. Read here.)

On the brighter side, the odds are that the BNP will crash and burn before it becomes a major national force like Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National is in France. Historically speaking, both the U.K. and U.S. had flirtations with the far right in the last great economic crisis in the 1930s, and both soundly rejected extremism in favor of liberalism. I have every confidence that this would happen again. However, the far right, anti-immigrant and isolationist movements of the 1930s had real, tangible effects on the politics of that time. They impeded the liberal democracies from doing what was necessary and right in response to the rise of fascism. They also continued to influence policy through connections with the more mainstream right wing. Fortunately, for the most part, the U.S. extreme right dissolved into debates between extreme isolationists and anti-Communists. Their tendency to advocate racism, anti-Semitism and conspiracy theory put them on the margins of American politics, where they have largely remained.

In Britain, the anti-immigrant right is attempting to rebrand itself. No longer do they goose-step and sieg heil. Now they present themselves as a sort of last resort for those who fear Muslims and feel the government have forgotten them. The success of the BNP this week is partly the result of the real failure Britain to deal with the presence of a hostile subculture of Islamist extremism. In a sense, the failure to deal with one extremism is begetting another. Yet the British far right is still isolated from the mainstream. Their influence is still negligible.

In the U.S. anti-immigrant movement, there has been some success with "rebranding" (this is really a polite term for deception, isn't it?), especially by Ron Paul and his minions, who come across as humble "live and let live" types, until they start advocating rounding up illegal immigrants for deportation en masse. The extremism is always just below the surface. The Tancredo anti-immigrants advocate a "robust" foreign presence -- a polite way of saying that he feels free to threaten to nuke Mecca. The Ronpaulian anti-immigrants, on the other hand, advocate a return to the foreign policy of George Washington, i.e. as minimal a foreign presence as possible. Presumably, that would also mean writing only with quill pens and replacing our navy with three-masted frigates. The U.S. anti-immigrant extremists are currently divided by adherence to extreme positions which are completely incompatible. This is true with respect to foreign policy (complete withdrawal from the world scene versus complete dominance of it) and federalism (extreme states rights / libertarianism versus presidential authority by fiat). As I hope is obvious, the positions of both camps are as impractical as they are absurd. I can say with complete confidence to both sides: it ain't gonna happen. We can only hope that the more mainstream Republicans don't try to tap into these currents of anti-immigrant thought by finding ways to cherry pick bad ideas acceptable to both, although I fear that this is just what they intend to do. We'll just have to wait for the convention to see if this is what they do.

Here's the news on the BNP:

from BBC NEWS: BNP gains from Labour disaffection

The British National Party has won its first seat in the London Assembly - but what does that result mean?

For the past 10 years there have been predictions that the British National Party (BNP) could achieve a major electoral breakthrough - but at the end of each election the picture has been mixed and open to interpretation.

The BNP and its supporters are cheering the success of Richard Barnbrook's election to the Greater London Assembly, but it was a tight race - and tighter than a lot of people had feared.

Mr Barnbook was elected because he passed the critical 5% mark required for a seat from the city-wide list.

This is a form of proportional representation that balances constituency results with each party's overall tally in the capital. But the senior BNP man only just made it, scraping in with 5.3%.

The party's tally of councillors has reached a psychological barrier of 100 - but a deeper look at the nationwide results reveals that there can be a world of difference between a point of importance for a small party and a genuine gathering of electoral steam.

In fact, those councillors represent less than 1% of all those elected in the UK and gains on the night, beyond the headline-grabbing result in London, were short of some expectations.

Nevertheless, 130,000 people supported the idea of a BNP assembly member in London - and the party has a toehold in a handful of councils around the country.

The BNP's strategy has increasingly seen it focus not just on fears of immigration, but also on a subtle blend of tensions relating to feelings of disregarded "entitlement" in communities that would have long been considered core Labour supporters.

MPs in communities that have seen the most change from immigration in recent years have warned about this for some time.

John Cruddas, an east London Labour MP, has warned more than once that the frontline is housing.

When the BNP claims on the doorstep that local folk are losing out to newcomers, the main parties have found it difficult to explain the intricate realities of a system that is targeted at the very poorest in society.

Tension over churning Eastern European migration, particularly a fear of competition for the lowest-skilled jobs, has not helped.

To make matters worse, no politician can honestly provide voters with hard facts about migration - for historical reasons, the data and statistics just do not answer many of the questions people want answering.

The BNP has targeted these fears - but has also sought to moderate its message. The party used to talk purely in terms of sending people "home".

Richard Barnbrook's language in London was different, couching an anti-immigration pitch in terms of "fitting in" with British society - the target being Muslims.

"You may have your religion behind your closed doors, but you don't bring it onto the streets," he said.

"You can be gay behind closed doors, you can be heterosexual behind closed doors, but you don't bring it onto the streets, demanding more rights for it."

Critics would say this is laughable in a city like London - arguably the most important city in the world because it is home to such as extraordinary range of different people.

But if the BNP has found a way of tapping into anger - particularly among those who would not necessarily always vote, then a different view of London is revealed.

The question is what happens next?

In more than one area the BNP has found its support drain away very quickly as councillors have been accused of incompetence or worse.

The party's vote in Sandwell in the West Midlands halved on Thursday - almost certainly because of a row over one BNP member who was ejected for not doing his job.

The key to understanding the BNP's attraction is perhaps more easily found in places like Nuneaton, which Labour lost after three decades of control.

The BNP did not sweep to power - but it won two councillors. Up and down the country the party appears to make very small gains when traditional Labour voters stay at home.

But when those voters come out, its vote is very quickly squeezed.

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