Nick Griffin is one man who is happy to have egg on his face. Last week the BNP leader attempted to hold a press conference outside parliament. Anti-racist groups threw eggs at him.
As I watched the television pictures I could see him smiling as the eggs made impact. He is shrewd enough to know this provided excellent publicity for his party’s fascist, racist cause.
The press conference followed the BNP winning two seats in the recent European Elections, in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. Griffin and Andrew Brons are now the first BNP MEPs.
How seriously should we regard this point in our political history? Historically, we have been able to laugh at far-right political parties as goose-stepping clowns and bone headed thugs. BNP has had councillors and won a London Assembly seat in 2008. But this is the first time they have won at national level.
There are probably many reasons for their “success”. They won mainly at the expense of the Labour party support, which collapsed. Some voters were clearly angry at all the mainstream parties over the expenses issue. They also benefited from the bizarre proportional representation voting system in the European Elections.
On the other hand, the BNP failed miserably in London. Overall, it won fewer votes in the two Euro regions it now represents – 43,600 – than it did in 2004. Indeed, far right parties in the Netherlands, Austria and Italy did better.
So, what are the BNP all about? Over recent years the BNP has taken off its braces and bovver boots and replaced them with suits and ties. Griffin is a Cambridge University graduate. But that sophisticated image belies the truth. I first experienced the activities of racist groups during my time as the Conservative Party Parliamentary candidate in Cheltenham in 1992. So I am very used to seeing racism packaged in camouflage.
The evidence for me is clear. Griffin has previous criminal convictions for inciting racial hatred. Brons is a former Chairman of the National Front, which openly campaigned on a racist agenda. BNP membership is not open to black or Asian members. I have to admit I am not keen to join them!
It is sad that the BNP victory happened in the same week of the D-day celebrations, when brave man and women died to defeat fascism and protect us from racists. What about the future? Does this mean that we will see BNP MPs at the next general election? Griffin boasts about contesting a dozen parliamentary seats. I believe this is unrealistic, not least because of the Westminster first-pass-the-post system, which will make it harder for them. It is also clear that when people experience local BNP councillors they find them to be ineffective in meeting their needs.
We have to take the BNP seriously. Having two elected MEPs, will give them more profile and access to funds. But throwing eggs at them is simply a waste of good protein. It is far better to defeat their ridiculous arguments through challenge and debate.