Defending democracy: Does the BNP deserve your cash?

The BNP is wrong on just about every level, but so would be stopping its funding

Nick Griffin is understandably detestable, but at least 943,598 don't agree
Alexandra Swann
On 25 January 2013 11:47

This is not a defence of the views, principles or hatemongering of the British National Party. It is not a defence of the sort of vile policies and propaganda that incite racial divisions or of unsavoury characters such as the BNP’s leader Nick Griffin MEP. It is a defence of democracy; and a dangerous defence to make for someone in a party that still bears the scars of comparison.

But this argument has to be made. Like most sound minded people, I find the BNP repulsive, its policies abhorrent. Not only does it wish to halt immigration entirely but it supports repatriation and would “review” all citizenship grants since 1997. It demands that Islamic immigration be “reversed” and would ban the building of mosques. Its support for an open and free media is questionable. And it wishes to bring back capital punishment and “establish a penal station for hardened and repeat criminals on the British island of South Georgia”.

In short, the policies of the BNP are inconceivably, illogically foolish at best; dangerous and divisive at worst. It is staffed by many, Griffin included, with criminal convictions ranging from inciting racial hatred to possession of drugs, to owning homemade hand grenades to common assault.

Passing Nick Griffin in the corridors of the European Parliament used to induce in me involuntary shudders of disgust. Interestingly, the BNP’s economic policies are also unarguably both statist and protectionist; its manifesto advocates nationalisation of many major industries – something the left choose to ignore, preferring to label the BNP “far right” rather than “left meets racism”, which would be terribly inconvenient. Simply put they are socialists, nationalist socialists.

Currently a petition is circulating which encourages constituents to lobby their MEPs to call for the pan-European political party within which the BNP now sit, the Alliance of European National Movements (AENM), to be refused the funding given to other pan-European groups. The majority of UKIP MEPs are refusing to sign, sparking the cries and comparisons, as dull as they are expected, from the left.

But why would UKIP, a party that considers itself libertarian, staunchly non-racist, and economically as far as could be from the likes of the BNP, risk attack by openly defending the AENM’s application for funding?

UKIP has an outright membership ban  of current or former members of the BNP, National Front, English Defence League and various other extremist parties; the only political party to hold such a ban. UKIP’s refusal to support the petition is not due to support for the political parties involved; it is because we respect democracy.

I truly wish the BNP, the National Front and other such parties did not exist but this is exactly the point; we may find their policies abhorrent but in 2009 the BNP secured nearly a million votes at the European election gaining it two MEPs. Depressing as this may be, the democratic rights of those 943,598 voters are just as valid as those of the voters who voted for a more palatable political party.

Last year the BNP lost its two seats on the London Assembly, it has been virtually destroyed in local government, and one can only hope that come 2014 it will no longer have any elected MEPs. However, like it or not, right now it does.

Defending the rights of elected members, for they represent the views of the electorate, is the essence of parliamentary democracy. The European Parliament is a deeply undemocratic place; if the AENM are denied the funding available to other groups it will only make this worse. You cannot cherry pick democracy. To quote the great French philosopher Voltaire, I do not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

I do not believe in the taxpayer funding of political parties, their groups, or their political foundations, but under European Parliament rules that is what happens. UKIP has voted against this funding at every point. But given that the voters that vote for the BNP, or Attak, or their equally unsavoury allies, pay their taxes, and thus their money is given by the system to political parties and groups at a European level, how can it be just that they must fork out for parties approved of by the establishment, but not for those they vote for?

Perusing the lists of European Members, in groups who do receive funding, you come across characters arguably more dangerous than Nick Griffin. One fine example would be Lothar Bisky, a German MEP and former Stasi informant, described in Stasi records as “zuverlässig”, the highest level of trust for an informant.

Or perhaps the Latvian member Alfrēds Rubiks, a former head of the Communist Party of Latvia who was imprisoned in 1995 for attempting the violent overthrow of the new democratic government. A short browse of Anne Applebaum’s incomparably brilliant “Gulag: A History”, winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize, outlines just some of the horrors of Communism and yet funding remains unquestioned. Once again, one rule for the left, one rule for the “right”.

This is not about defending Griffin and his ilk; far from it. It is about defending equality before the law regardless of beliefs; it is about the rights of BNP voters, however misguided we may believe them to be, to receive the same representation as those who vote for Conservatives, Lib Dems, Labour, or even Stasi informants.

The best way to beat groups like the BNP is not to allow them a justifiable sense of grievance or give them an opportunity to play to the victim. Rather than cherry picking democracy or conducting show trials like Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, give them the platform by which they can hang themselves by the proverbial noose of their own disgusting, illogical and downright stupid policies. 

The argument of the petition appears to be that these parties are in some way improper, that they in some way fail to live up to the standards of western, European democracy, and thus they should be treated as 'sub-political' and not granted equal democratic rights. This is a very slippery slope; when you have breached that basic tenet of equality, then who knows what in future may be so defined?

Alexandra Swann works in the European Parliament and tweets @AlexandraLSwann 

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