FRONTMAN: BNP leader Nick Griffin who has a seat in the European Parliament
JOURNALIST DANIEL Trilling’s easy-to-read biography of Nick Griffin’s British National Party (BNP) and other far right groups is essential reading for black Britons.
Bloody Nasty People is as much a portrait of the British political establishment’s relationship with multiculturalism and the failure of the post-Stephen Lawrence consensus as it is of the BNP.
Without moralising, Trilling charts how fascism and the racism of the far right evolved from violent street militias on the margins of society to influencing Britain’s supposed liberal parties namely Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
Britain’s public spaces today feel like much safer spaces for ethnic minorities, than they have in the past when faeces was shoved through letterboxes.
However, Trilling’s book argues that a rise in racist incidents over the past year suggests minorities have reason to be concerned.
The far right’s move into democratic politics over the past decade has seen them substitute boots and swastikas for suits. It is this adopted respectability of racism that is Trilling’s definitive theme.
He analyses the BNP’s success in community organising in post-industrial eras left in decline following Thatcherism, and the party’s ability to speak the language of white communities in ways the main parties could not, helping them to win over mainstream voters.
The book’s central question is not why has the BNP grown – but what is it about the political identity of Britain that has enabled its success?
Time and change are often misunderstood for the same thing and Trilling exposes the error in this.
When Gary Dobson and David Norris were finally jailed for the murder of Stephen Lawrence in January 2012 - the Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre heralded it as proof that anyone can get justice in Britain. During the trial, it was Britain in the docks. The guilty verdict for Dobson and Norris meant an innocent one for us - Britain had changed.
The irony, however, is that it was after the Macpherson Inquiry, which found several of Britain’s institutions to be inherently racist, that a hostile climate against multiculturalism grew, enabling the BNP to thrive.
RALLY: Scenes from an English Defence League (EDL) demonstration
British guilt over racism soon turned to resentment. Institutions began to create a tolerant, safe and equal space for black and multi-ethnic Britons for the first time and the responses were ferocious.
As more measures were put in place - diversity programmes, greater monitoring of police powers etc - the more anger there was across Britain that political correctness had gone too far.
Trilling describes how the BNP used the lack of social resources – from housing to employment - to manipulate white working class disadvantage into anti-migrant action. However, it does not fully explain the success of the BNP in winning seats on local councils or in the European Parliament.
The BNP’s appeal goes far deeper than dividing the working class on racial grounds because their supporters are not exclusively working class.
Trilling traces the early roots of BNP support to British Empire loyalists - those who mourn Britain’s imperial decline and its changing identity from a monoracial society to a multicultural one.
In a post-colonial era, who is Britain? She could be multicultural, unilateral and part of an integrated world of equals but that is not the Britain that has the prefix of ‘great.’
Britain is no longer confident in its identity, and what the BNP has exploited is the sense of entitlement many white Britons feel they should have ahead of those from minority communities.
What is frightening is the extent to which much of the BNP’s agenda - the abolition of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the watering down of equality legislation and limited immigration from African and Caribbean Commonwealth countries – has been adopted by successive governments.
Indeed it is Britain’s mainstream political parties who are the target of Trilling’s strongest bite.
He accuses them of stoking racism and adding to the climate that gave the BNP legitimacy to win elections, and shows that while the BNP’s means are extreme, their ideas are not entirely a minority view.
It is in this spirit that MP Jack Straw becomes a focal point of Trilling’s criticism. Straw, praised for his role in the Lawrence inquiry, is an accidental hero. According to Doreen Lawrence’s memoirs, not only was he originally reluctant to support them, but Lord Herman Ouseley, former chair of the decommissioned CRE, stated how the then Home Secretary had rejected their directive to combat rising anti-immigrant and multicultural sentiment in the press.
Straw also refused to publicly defend and adopt recommendations from a Commission of the Future of Multi-ethnic Britain report on how best to establish a diverse and equal ‘Britishness’. It would have been an opportunity to have a meaningful debate but Straw bottled it in fear of public opinion.
The BNP represents the ugly and unacceptable face of British racism, but Trilling’s account shows that respectable racism in the main parties’ manifestos is still a key part of British politics. David Cameron declared “multiculturalism had failed.” Labour maintains “they got it “wrong on immigration.”
Where Trilling does fall short is in failing to look at how social media has moved the war on fascism from the streets to websites. Social media has been a game changer both for mobilisation and abuse. Comment pages on newspapers are saturated with racist abuse that creates a climate where writers are scared to discuss race honestly to the point where the debate has stalled.
Trilling’s book is accessible journalism and an engaging account of race politics. In Britain, we do not understand “Britishness”. That is why Bloody Nasty People for me was a bloody necessary read.
Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain’s Far Right by Daniel Trilling is published by Verso Books. Hardback £14.99