The BNP clearly hopes it has the wind in its sails. It has dispatched a newsletter to its supporters which, though it apologises for the lateness of the 2008 accounts (just completed), is intended to sound pretty self-confident. Indeed, one reason the letter gives for lateness is that the party has been overwhelmed by new members. (There is also a coy reference to ‘unresolved internal problems’ as factors which made life difficult, problems which have, we are to understand, now been resolved.) Party membership, it says, is now 13,000 and rising – with 3000 ‘on hold’ as a result (it does not quite say) of a ruling that the BNP was in breach of the law by imposing a racial bar on membership.
There are two interesting features to this letter. The first is the style in which it is written: a combination of sub-tabloid and an unexpectedly ingratiating tone designed both to persuade and to secure acceptance by those who matter – in fact, a rather childish eagerness. Thus the election of BNP candidates to the Greater London Assembly and to the European Parliament was ‘a stunning breakthrough into the big time’; the party is now ‘powering past UKIP’ – and UKIP is the real enemy – ‘in the serious stakes’; it can ‘now take on the big boys of British politics’; there is likely to be ‘a political earthquake when the Establishment realises that… our membership has exploded’.
There is also a good deal of sub-business jargon. Membership growth was a consequence of the party’s ‘Rapid Expansion Plan’ and there is much emphasis on professional management and technical efficiency. These are no doubt necessary for a party that wishes to grow and stay within the law – a problem even for the ‘big boys’ – but it reminds one of Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, which was nervous and anything but self-confident.
The second is that there is nowhere in this letter any mention of policy. There might be several explanations for this. Either the party now assumes everyone knows its policies (and most people probably more or less do) and therefore they need no repeating; or else it is nervous of the courts and wants no more judicial intervention; or else it is reluctant to offend unnecessarily a wider constituency or to encourage a counter-mobilisation, as the Bangladeshi community has sometimes been mobilised. In the longer term, of course, this raises those difficulties which in this country face all small extreme parties that want to break out. They risk alienating their core (and only reliable) constituency, which isn’t worried about the courts or respectability.
There is one other curiosity about this letter and its electoral triumphalism. The BNP might not loathe Europe the way UKIP does – it is not wholly a single issue party – but like UKIP its most important political base at present lies in the European Parliament. It has a seat in the GLA and a number of other local authorities but one of the few places it can be reasonably sure of getting representation is in Europe (for UKIP that’s the only place). If Britain were indeed to withdraw from Europe both parties would at a stroke lose their most significant political representation, and all that goes with it (like money). While the method of election for Westminster remains unreformed (and it is likely to remain unreformed) both UKIP and the BNP, in the absence of the European Parliament, would be largely disabled politically. Which is a pleasing paradox.