Reading about the election results tonight, unable to sleep, I started wondering if this was all some big karmic joke; paying the UK back for years of smugness about US politics – yes, Tony Blair was a goon in a tie, but at least he wasn’t George Bush, at least our bloke wasn’t stupid. I shared in that smugness, I was that stupid. Accordingly I was simultaneously ecstatic, ashamed and envious the night the leaders of the free world voted to make their leader Barack Obama.
It’s less an issue of karma than complacency. In the good times, we (some of us) could ignore the way (some views in) this country were going. Now, predictably, the bad times have brought dissatisfaction, bigotry, corruption and cruelty into view, from voters and politicians alike. For the first time, my house in Stratford got leafletted by the BNP. Some people have seen the BNP’s gains, including the appoinment of former NF and National Socialist member Andrew Brons as the BNP’s first MEP and his fascist leader Nick Griffin as their second. People have voted to give the BNP and far-right parties what The Times has called ‘a cash bonanza‘. And these votes, sadly, are not a “protest vote”.
Yes, the economy is in the shit and yes, the politicians of all three major parties have behaved badly with the expenses scandal. But there were alternatives; there are always alternatives. We have fourteen major political parties in the United Kingdom, and at least a further twenty-five minor political parties in England alone.
Immigrants and non-white Britons did not cause the economic crisis. They did not cause the expenses scandal (my God, even if you’re somehow stupid enough to disagree with the former, surely you don’t believe that the average Polish plumber somehow compelled Douglas Hogg to charge us for cleaning his moat?). The BNP cannot solve any economic crisis. Voters are angry with political corruption, but surely they cannot imagine that people capable of uttering the words “Hitler, God rest his soul” are going to conduct themselves with more honesty, judgment and fairness than members of the three main parties?
I don’t think that even BNP voters (disgusting bigots all) can be stupid enough to really, truly believe that immigrants caused the housing crash, the culture of bankers’ bonuses, or MP corruption. They may keep themselves willfully ignorant (racism cannot survive open-minded learning), but they cannot really believe it. Nobody can. If the BNP voters were really casting protest votes, they would have spoiled their ballots, or gone for the local incarnation of the Monster Raving Loony Party (I remember finding out about them as a very small child; they charmed me, as does their current Joan Crawford-esque policy of no more wire hangers).
Perhaps I am underestimating the stupidity of the electorate. But not, I think, their racism: what’s gone on here is scapegoating and voluntary, even willing venting of racist hate. This isn’t a new problem, this isn’t a problem caused by inflation or MP expenses. And it’s not the same problem oilrig workers complain about when companies undercut them with foreign workers through loophole accommodation deals. That’s not so-called ‘affirmative action’, so loathed by right-wingers: that’s white businessmen doing anything to save money at the expense of their employees. No, what’s happening here is that the racism of our society is being exposed by a convenient set of circumstances; ones which allow people a suddenly “acceptable” reason to give up on mainstream politics and show what they truly believe. That worth is determined by skin colour and heritage, that difference is disgusting. And that instead of solidarity in diversity, the best way forward is for an insular and ignorant clump of voters, clinging to some long-dead notion of ‘indigenous’ Britain, to uphold their long-term racist goals under cover of a short-term protest.
And the most terrible thing is, this time it’s worked.
I hope the repercussions aren’t huge, and I hope that Brons’s influence is as limited as his viciousness deserves. But I don’t know, and I’m frightened that after the next election, when Gitface Smileshit David Cameron gets in, everything’s going to be so much worse.
Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.