Frank Field was characteristically forthright on the Today programme this morning. “I don’t believe, given the strains (on the economy), we will be able to maintain an open door policy without serious unrest on the streets,” he said, and this brings me to a Sunny Hundal article on the media’s approach to the BNP.

Hundal is extremely eloquent but his premises are ill-conceived. He aligns the BNP exclusively with racism and immigration, because it follows that a racist is illegitimate and can be consigned to irrelevance. He writes:

‘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?’      

No doubt, the party leadership is racist. Most have convictions for inciting racial hatred and connections with White Supremacists across the globe. It’s an open and shut case. Are the million who voted BNP also uniformly racist? Emphatically not. Research by Nothing British indicates that BNP supporters are not defined by extreme racial attitudes. 14 percent of the British voting public reject the contention that there is no difference between the intelligence of the average black Briton and that of the average white; 69 percent of BNP voters agree with the contention. Perpetuating the lazy analysis that working class concerns about immigration are informed by the working class’ inherent racism sustains Griffin and whatever lunacy he dreams in private.

The BNP is legitimate, distasteful but legitimate. Its voters concerns should have been addressed by mainstream politics. Xenophobia and racism may lead 31 percent of BNP voters to oppose immigration; the remaining 69 percent have specifically economic grievances. The BNP’s nationalism is in part inspired by the government’s prejudiced distribution of resources. Housing is allocated according to need, not race, but a family of seven takes precedence over a family of four, and migrants tend to have larger families. This policy has fostered resentment and a sense of betrayal, all too easily exploited by malign influences. Housing should be allocated according to residency and citizenship, especially as it is in such short supply. That requires an active curb on economic migrants and perhaps asylum seekers. The main parties pussyfoot towards that conclusion; they must move faster and louder.

BNP voters have been frozen out of mainstream political debate because they have been excluded from, to pinch a phrase, the proceeds of growth. Globalisation has brought prosperity to the many and misery to the few. The explosion of migrant workers under this government, not imported as part of some sinister plot (this government is too incompetent to have implemented something so intricate), but because many of Britain’s working classes were unemployable in a changed, globalised economy. John Redwood has written persuasively of the need to stimulate manufacturing; he is right. The BNP’s success in Dagenham can be ascribed to job losses at the Dagenham car plant. Skilled manufacturers made redundant in middle age (most BNP voters are male and around fifty) find few other opportunities. They fall into the benefits trap and worklessness begets worklessness. It is telling that many BNP councillors in Barking do not turn up because attendance would make them ineligible for the full range of benefits they claim (more on that later).

Perhaps I do Hundal, Peter Hain, Mehdi Hasan a disservice, but their collective intransigence, their insistence that the BNP is a racist party and that the right-wing press unintentionally sustains Griffin, is a reflection that many BNP voters are former Labour voters, radicalised by Labour’s indifference to their concerns. So often of the same tongue as their opponents, the Conservative leadership is equally culpable. BNP voters will not be re-integrated into the mainstream unless the mainstream accepts that those voters at least have a point.

Tags: BNP, Conservatives, Election 2010, Frank Field, John Redwood, Labour, Manufacturing, Media, Nick Griffin, Peter Hain, Race, UK politics