There was a brilliant column by Johann Hari a few years ago about his experience of appearing on a Sky News programme hosted by newspaper columnist Richard Littlejohn. Having admitted he didn’t know how much an asylum seeker got in benefits, Littlejohn screeched at Hari: “It’s people like you who help the BNP!”
Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that the election of two MEPs would bring the BNP under closer scrutiny since last year. Surely the media glare would expose its nasty underbelly? The party’s deputy leader, Simon Darby, doesn’t seem to think so:
“Dealing with the press on a daily basis it is hard not to develop a healthy disrespect for the people who quite rightly can be blamed for the state this country is in today. However, certainly over the last year I am not the only one here at BNP Towers that has noticed a distinct thaw in the attitude towards us from some aspects of the media.”
The problem here is that while newspaper columnists and reporters keep stating they hate the BNP and all it stands for, they nevertheless keep promoting narratives that harden BNP support. Here is a short list I prepared earlier.
Blaming racism on immigrants
A common media theory is more immigration leads to a breakdown of social cohesion and hence more racism. If we want to stop racism then we must stop immigration, apparently. This assumes that people naturally hate those of other races or cultures – which isn’t true. We don’t have moral panics about Americans, Europeans or Chinese people coming here because there’s no threat assumed from them. People don’t naturally hate the other but are afraid if they think the immigrants represent a threat to their way of life.
There are different kinds of threats, of course, which may not even be to do with difference. Sometimes completely different cultures are tolerated as long as people “do their own thing”. My point is that examples countering this myth are numerous. Social cohesion doesn’t need to automatically break down but it sometimes does need to be managed if flashpoints take place (which could happen even in a racially homogenous country – for instance mods and rockers). However, I prefer a stronger sense of Britishness.
Blaming racism on minorities
You know the answer to this one – are Jews to blame for antisemitism? I think not. This trick is usually directed towards long-settled ethnic minorities and used to hold them responsible for problems as a whole. But rather than blame them directly, these days the vague punch-bag of “multiculturalism” is used instead. There is the strong insinuation for example that all black Londoners are to blame for knife crime (which has fallen hugely incidentally), or “their culture” is to blame. That inevitably leads some to call them “savages”. And because minorities are then labelled as backward or uncivilised, it becomes easy to blame them for hating them. After all, the mythical “race relations industry” is also commonly blamed for all the evils of the world, as is the funding of cultural festivals (I’ve dealt with this one in more detail here).
Overplaying BNP gains, underplaying Greens
Come election time, every media outlet is anxious to see how much the BNP vote will expand by. But despite the Nick Griffin on Question Time drama and two new MEPs, the BNP’s electoral support remains woefully small at around 2%. In contrast, more successful parties such as the Greens are ignored by the media, because they’re not seen as “dangerous”. This always overplays the BNP presence in people’s minds and gives the impression it has become a widely successful party.
Playing down impact of BNP victories
Racial and religiously motivated crime usually rises following election of BNP councillors, research has shown. And yet this fact is rarely highlighted.
But people who vote BNP aren’t racist are they?
If you want to vote BNP and think people of different cultures and races are scary, why not just say so? Every modern interview with a BNP voter is prefaced with: “I vote BNP, not because I’m racist but … “, which inevitably leads to a diatribe on why immigrants are leading the country into hell in a handcart. It has been repeatedly pointed out, even in most tabloids and broadsheets, that the BNP is a racist party. It is tearing itself over the issue right now. Surely it should be obvious to most what it stands for by now?
Debate on immigration is being suppressed
Probably the oldest trick in the book. The rightwing press talks about immigration every day. And yet commentators on the right maintain with a straight face that the debate on immigration is being suppressed. What they actually mean is: those immigrants who don’t agree with us are all bad.
Let’s be clear: Britain is now a multiracial and multicultural country. This means more mixing, which in turn means that racism can never become as socially acceptable as it was in the 70s and 80s. But people’s attitudes are way ahead of many journalists – who are still happy to push their bigoted agenda. That is what keeps the BNP’s agenda alive, and it needs to be exposed.
• Sunny Hundal is speaking at the launch of Expose the BNP: media workers and students opposed to racism and fascism on Tuesday 23 February at 7pm at the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA. Other speakers include: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Mehdi Hasan, Peter Hain and Michelle Stanistreet