Over the Dinner Table…

5 12 2009

Tonight my parents have had a dinner party, with a small band of their friends encircling our dinner table to laugh and talk about various things with a few bottles of wine handy. As seems inevitable, the conversation turned to politics. Having been invited in to grab some pudding, I found myself unwittingly dragged into the conversation (I hesitate to use the word “argument”), and found myself understanding so many things about the frustrations of the older generations.

To say I became scared of some of the stuff they were saying is perhaps taking it too far, but, through the course of the hour or so I spent listening, there was a frightening amount of stuff that the BNP’s publicist would have been proud of. Starting off with the premise that there are simply too many people in the country, thus necessitating a dramatic cull (we moved from Nazi Germany – with echoes of Nick Griffin’s comment about Hitler going just a bit too far with the Jews – to modern day China in the conversation), one particular member of the party exhibited his own take on the state of the country. Those we kick out of the country (roughly the 15 or so million people which would see our population be taken back down to about 50 million) would have to go somewhere else. Anywhere else. It doesn’t matter, as long as they aren’t on British soil. Look after your own first, then see what’s left to share with the rest of the world.

From there we moved through the problems of industry, religion, education, and class. The continuing theme was not, as I was perhaps expecting it to be, the fault of the current government in these issues; but was instead the larger issue of the psyche of the population. The phrase “white underclass” was one which was casually tossed around and seemed to be the common denominator in the matters. Laziness is to blame for the lack of industry in Britain (we have the know-how, so why don’t we do it anymore?). Religion is emphasised by varying gang cultures which is a product of the “underclasses” (I must have spent roughly ten minutes trying to explain that not all knife and gun crime is committed by black people). The education system is too saturated with children who know too much about the dole, about how to play the system to maximise laziness and reward. So ran, in a nutshell, most of the points that were made.

However, it was not only the fault of the white underclass, it is also the fault of immigrants (we take in way too many for our resources to cope). Having tried to explain Malthusian principles of a checking factor to the group, the response was that it will not be disease as we will simply find a cure. In short, for too many years we, as a country, have been to lax with too many things that we are now at a point where we are going to suffer greatly. Our import/export ratio is woefully imbalanced, our manufacturing industry is all but gone, and our gas and oil reserves are all used up. Or, to put it another way, we’re doomed.

Nor is the future any better, as younger generations are being taught too much in the way of other religions (apparently being indoctrinated into them) by our schooling systems, and they are being taught about gay rights from the age of four. They are becoming adults too quickly, a problem exacerbated by shops selling clothing which encourages them to grow up and act more like an adult from a younger age. Kids aren’t allowed to be kids any more. Apparently.

The problem was, that despite all these problems there were no real workable solutions offered. Getting rid of 15 million people to somewhere else and looking out for ourselves was the ideal principle. Cutting our imports down to provide a stimulus for our manufacturing was another suggestion (but failed to ignore the knock-on effects that that would have on various other trades and indeed, other countries who then grow disillusioned with the severence of economic ties). Starting again and establishing British industry once again to its former levels should be the aim. This industry which grew out of the industrial revolution will be pretty east to kick start as we have all the know-how, it’ll just take a bit of hard work. Apparently.

And yet, despite all this, they all freely admitted that they would not be joining their local political party. They would not be taking any actions as there is simply nothing they can do to stem this tide. And it was at this point I began imagining the same conversations happening in living-rooms, kitchens, dining-rooms, or over the garden fence up and down the country. Whilst the BNP are still largely discredited, it suddenly became so much clearer to me why people would want to vote for them. I maintain it would still be a protest vote, but it is not, as I’d thought, a protest vote against politics, it is a protest vote against the country. And it was then I began to feel uneasy. I’m pretty sure most of the party tonight would not vote BNP, as, for all their gesturing and posturing, they are not racist fools. The tide with which politics is battling is not against the BNP, as I’d have thought. Instead, politics must grapple with the consequences of the last 50 or so years, the decline of the empire, the industry, the rising dissatisfaction at all that has come to pass.

The Conservatives will likely come to office next year, and will be faced with the same problems. Industry will still be gone, the number of migrants will still remain “too many”. Bureaucracy and red tape will have to continue as a definition of our society. What seems to be needed is the foundations of stability need to be relaid. Industry played such a large part in British life for so many years, something needs to replace it, or it needs to be re-grown. I’m really not sure what the solutions are, if indeed there are any.

Tonight was an interesting eye opener, and it was nice to have another view of the world. However the hugely annoying uneasy feeling with which I left the conversation as the coffee arrived still lingers in my stomach, and I’m really not sure how to combat it.


The Week That Was…

24 10 2009

There were two notable news stories this week. Except that the first wasn’t really that notable unless you’re a history geek like myself. I don’t want to really discuss this story in much detail except to say that it seems that it is much easier now to be a public fool than it ever was in the past. The Internet, which Menzies credits for revolutionising history (which, undoubtedly is true – check out one of the best First World War sites written by one of my own course predecessors for evidence of this), also makes it easier to be made to look very, very stupid, as Menzies himself has done. Of course Menzies has attempted a disclaimer by admitting he knows nothing, but he seems to show a fundamental understanding of what history is. It is not, in any way, about simply about writing down a few soundbite statements and then hoping there will be a few documents somewhere which will support you. It is, instead, about the whole process of investigation, exploration and interpretation. It is about going into an investigation with an open mind, not a pre-conceived idea of what you expect to find. The end product is incidental to the process of exploring history.

Anyway, moving swiftly onto the next big idiot of the week, Nick Griffin. Whilst the newspapers have been splashed cover to cover with his sloped-gaze of general bigotry and ignorance, Griffin has finally proved himself publically to be the racist, stupid prat we had all known he was. He has come out of the Question Time debacle, and all he has got to show for it is a complaint to the BBC that there were people protesting against him.

Well, not quite all, because apparently, according to a YouGov poll, some 22% of the population would now consider voting BNP. However, if pushed, only 3% would do so tomorrow. Just for the sake of the maths, 3% of the 1,314 people who were surveyed is just over 39 people. Which, in all fairness, is somewhere near what they were polling prior to the programme.

Now Peter Hain can get all worked up that the BBC has given exposure to a party which it shouldn’t be doing. However, I’m guessing that if the majority of the eight million people who watched the programme (plus those of us who watched it on IPlayer later) actually listened to Griffin, then we all know that (a) the BNP have very little in the way of policy beyond racial cleansing, and (b) Griffin was made to look like a complete idiot by everyone in that studio. Especially by Bonnie Greer. Plus, can someone please tell me how his history of the English people seems to ignore the fact that as a people we were colonised by Germans?

Griffin was not given the opportunity to vent his soundbites which he had obviously rigorously prepared beforehand, nor was he allowed to look like his words had an ounce of rationality to them. He was hopelessly out of his depth, and was shown to be nothing more than the voice for a racist few. Which, incidently, are still going to be present regardless of whether Griffin was here or not. If nothing else the programme shows that the BNP do not have supporters as much as the other parties have people who will not vote for them. I’ve said it before, but it is the job of these parties to demonstrate just what they can do for these people who feel so disillusioned that they vote BNP in protest rather than anything else. Once these people have been convinced, the BNP will struggle along with the few people who still think it is right that colour, race or ethnicity should have anything to do with anything.

I’ve championed free speech and a platform policy before and I will continue to do so as it provides ample opportunity to show people the ‘truth’ about those up on the stage. The ‘truth’ is that following Thursday’s events, the BNP are nothing more than a confused racist organisation fronted by a strange little man with a warped version of history, and an even more warped understanding of what the Ku Klux Klan actually is. Don’t fear him, he has nothing which we should be afraid of. Continue showing him up, making him look stupid, and continue working out how to win back voters.

Finally on this, Britain is not like Germany in the 1930’s for the simple reason that we have a monarch. Just a thought for the few doom-mongers who seem paralysed by the fear of the BNP.

Platforms and Fightbacks…

9 06 2009

As the dust begins to settle following a pretty poor set of European election results for all the major parties (The Conservatives only gained 1%, and the Lib Dems were down 1.2%), the focus has fallen on the quite frankly ugly/evil mug of Nick Griffin. The Independent has it splattered across it’s front page today, coupled with the caption “A Dark Cloud Over British Politics“. I’m not sure what it is, but his face alone indicates someone who is just that bit evil (maybe that’s just me?). Anyway, so the question becomes what to do about the BNP?

At least, that’s what it should become. Again, maybe it is just me, but I feel I am seeing more about who is to blame for the BNP’s rise, rather than what can be done to stop it. Some blame Labour for losing the most seats in places where the BNP were successful, others blame politics more generally for failing to engage with the voters. The thing is, the one group who are not blamed, but should shoulder the responsibility for encouraging a racist/homophobic party to the fore, are simply the electorate. Those who put a simple black cross into the box next to the BNP last Thursday deserve to be labelled as the ignorant racist idiots who allowed themselves to get swept away in the sensationalist yarns spun by Griffin et al.

However, the vote shows me two things. The first is that the PR system of democracy is a flawed one, as I commented a couple of weeks ago. Griffin would have been nowhere near the limelight save for the system. He won less votes than in 2004, but because Labour did so badly, he didn’t need to worry.

The second thing is that a no-platform policy to these extremist prats is just not a viable option. I found myself agreeing with Glenda Jackson’s summation of the whole thing in the Indy today. She wrote,

At least the way ahead is clear. The days of arguing whether we should confront or ignore the BNP are over. We won’t confront them. We will tear into them. We will highlight and expose their agenda of prejudice and bigotry and division.

It sounds like something from a bad film, but the point is clear. Let us (by which I mean intelligent, educated folk regardless of politics) have a platform with these people, let us demonstrate why they are racist, homophobic, simple minded folk who have no clear idea about the way British society is now constructed, let us consign them to history along with other extremist groups. Let us show you why this party does not represent everything that Britain now stands for. It is not about nationalism, but multi-nationalism.

The very worst thing that we can do is have a no platform policy against them. It is clear that there are a few pockets in Britain who swallow the BNP’s empty rhetoric with all the hunger of a malnourished dog. Forcing the BNP underground through the no-platform approach would serve to make them martyrs to a cause. They would gain more from being ostracised by society than simply allowed into rational debate. Even Griffin must know, deep down, he has nothing. He is gambling with a two and five, hoping something falls his way. At the moment, the cards seem to be falling for him, expenses, recession, falling political confidence. All aid his cause (and he still didn’t do that well at the European elections). Yet to salvage these problems would leave him raising the stakes with nothing. It is the job of the main parties, as well as the likes of the Greens and UKIP to begin to sort these problems out. Faith needs to be restored. That’s the simple bit that most already know.

The question of how is infinitely harder. Perhaps it has to be the grassroots levels, perhaps it has to be the folks in the street knocking on doors, talking to people. Perhaps it has to be at the top, with Cameron, Brown and Clegg leading by strong example, setting the tone for others to follow. It was only today that Jeremy Vine was talking about how the ‘green shoots of recovery’ are beginning to sprout in the economy. Perhaps the only thing that the system needs is time itself. Let the wounds heal and let politics begin to speak for itself again through it’s actions and consequences.

The main thing that does need to change though is that people need to feel a connection with their MP. People need to know their elected MP will fight their cause in Parliament. At the moment, they don’t, hence why they are looking for other options. Or indeed, why they are not voting in the first place. To some, politics is just men in suits aye-ing and nay-ing to various issues. To others it is a tool designed to impeed the person on the street. Levels of crazy bureaucracy, red tape, and silly laws all do not help. Politics is something that the public need to get reacquainted to. The consequence of them not is the grizzled mug of Griffin plastered across a few more front pages.

To Be Lived In Or Learned From…?

12 05 2009

As a historian, this question is one which poses problems. In essence the answer is simple, learn from the mistakes, but never repeat them. In the real world though this is somewhat more difficult to achieve. Instead the solution seems to be to live in the past, using it as a justification for the now, when, in reality, it is far from any such thing.

As someone who not long ago finished university, I still have friends who are currently plodding their way through another set of exams. It is for this reason that I make no apologies in the two cases in point which I wish to use to illustrate my point.

The first comes from the Birmingham University Conservative Future blog, which can be found here. The people over on this blog, of whom, I will admit, I either do not know, or know by name or sight alone; write about, naturally enough things pertaining to the Conservative way of thinking. The trouble is, this invariably leads back to a certain individual, whose shadow sits long on the political landscape. Margaret Thatcher is a name which is as synonymous with political divisions as it is with miners, or the Falklands. Those over on BUCF, perhaps unsurprisingly, seem to write about her and her legacy, with almost metronomic regularity.

Now I do not have a problem with posts about her in small doses, she did divide the nation with her actions. However, the regularity with which she is held up and talked about by those on the site is, for want of a better word, boring. Perhaps more valuable would be a stringent analysis of why the Conservatives, despite Brown’s continuing failings, are failing to impress as the other option. I still see the Conservatives winning the next general election, but smaller groups such as UKIP, the BNP, the Green Party etc will be much better represented than ever before, and I think, certainly in the case of the BNP, this is a political failing of the mainstream parties. For now, the Conservatives seem to be content to ride on the wave of Labour’s self-destruction to the election. This is reflected in the blogging of the folk on BUCF, which seems, to my mind at least, to ignore the larger political issues of the moment in exchange for Labour bashing (which, as fun as it may seem, is counter-productive in the long run).

All of which leads my nicely onto the next problem. Hopping over the political spectrum to the folk at Birmingham University Labour Students, I find a similar problem. They too are stuck lauding over past success in exchange for neglect of current predicaments. In their case, the past success is much more recent, but still, to my mind, is barely enough to hang their hopes on. The minimum wage, undoubtedly a good thing, seems to be left high and dry as the one thing that Labour now really has left following twelve years of government. Their record on child poverty is in tatters, unemployment is now no better, legacies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Ireland have all been left, but we wait to see how soon these may fall apart in volatile areas of the world. It is entirely questionable as to whether healthcare has improved all that much, and whilst there are some shining lights in education, there are really not that many. There was a general enjoyment of success whilst Britain was riding a wave of optimism and big spending in the early years of the government, but this has spectacularly fizzled out as we have hit the ‘bust’ section of the cycle. Labour too has had the misfortune of being the party in power at a stage where increased litigation has forced in the country down a route of increased bureaucracy, something the wider public seems to be growing increasingly frustrated with. All of which inevitably spell curtains for the party as the British government, and this is before we hit the media problems which have dogged the party in recent times. Those on the blog though seem to be ignoring the problems. There is rarely any comment about negative Labour headlines, something I feel is to the detriment of themselves and their readership.

Perhaps it is me, floating around in my idealistic bubble, but I think I would prefer to discuss the problems, agree that there are some, and work out what the party can be doing to overcome these problems. I feel that public acceptance of the problems would be a start, and is certainly better than anonymity. Both sides at the ‘grass-roots’ level of the party perhaps have to move out of the realm of comfort blogging and start considering the bigger issues, which, sooner rather than later one would guess, will become their problems.

“So Your Doctor’s a Racist?”

20 11 2008

The title of my self-help pamphlet (coming soon in some doctor’s surgeries) aimed at those who feel disturbed at the list of BNP members in Britain now doing the rounds on the internet. Having not seen the list, I am unwilling to speculate about the build-up of the members of the party in various communities.

There are, however, those who have seen the list, and are more than a little concerned that a trusted member of their community is actually siding with the increasingly abhorrent BNP. Be it a doctor, fireman, policeman, plumber, builder or anybody else, the list’s circulation has suddenly put most people on alert. For those who are attacked by the BNP, this is all the more worrying.

As a white male, I can say that it wouldn’t bother me what the political alliegences were, say, of a doctor who was treating me, as long as he got the job done (as these people who are members have been doing for some time). But my limitations are in my ethnicity. I am proudly British, but not to the levels of the BNP. I am obviously not the person who has something to fear in the BNP’s rhetoric (which is different to having something to fear from the BNP’s aims). There are plenty of people who do have a lot to be wary of. The BNP is still a racist party, it still has dubious morals based around fancy rhetoric aimed at disguising the true ideals. It still is growing and recruiting members. It has a hollow message that appears to be striking a chord with the population somewhere. More scary, I would suggest, than those already on the list, would be the likelihood of more people adding themselves to it.

As a neat after-thought, I was in the centre of Birmingham on Monday, wandering through the German market. There were unusually high numbers of police for a Monday morning, but all became apparent as I rounded the corner to see roughly 50 BNP members holding a protest at something. There were at least the same amount of police as protesters. I was wondering why the police were there, was it to calm the protesters, or protect them? I can only speculate…

Also, I’ve been thinking more recently about Germany, and not just because of the football. It seems, to my mind, that Britain currently has some of the same attributes as Weimar Germany in the 1920s. Economic troubles? Check. Small, but growing nationalist party? Check. Resentment over a war? Check.

There is obviously a long way to go before anything like Nazism and Hitler could happen in this country, but the conditions are interestingly falling into place…and, as I’ve said before, history is cyclical…