Oh to be in Stoke, now Nick Griffin’s there, launching the British National Party’s manifesto as its contribution to the St George’s Day festivities. Stoke has a strong claim to be regarded as the BNP’s spiritual doss-house. Sir Oswald Mosley, head of the BNP’s grandfather organisation, the British Union of Fascists, was born there. Oswald’s first wife, Lady Cynthia Mosley, was a Labour MP for Stoke in the 1930s. His son Nicholas wrote in a memoir in 2002 that the 400-strong Stoke chapter of the BUF was ‘part thieves’ kitchen, part bawdy house’. The BNP is putting up candidates in each of the three Stoke-on-Trent constituencies, though not in the more genteel Newcastle-under-Lyme next door. Simon Darby, self-described on his Twitter page as a ‘naturalist, angler and deputy leader of the BNP’, dethroned in 2004 as a local councillor in Dudley, is standing in Stoke-on-Trent Central. Darby can be seen in his offices, having just landed the coveted electoral endorsement of Richard the Lionheart.
Presumably the crappiness of Stoke is part of the point behind the BNP’s decision to confer on the city the honour of hosting its manifesto launch. Stoke offers an illustration of how post-industrial decline can proceed charmlessly, symbolised powerfully by the disused Armitage Shanks urinal factory which, as yet, no one has thought to convert into loft apartments. When Keele University – in effect, the city’s university – was named, the obvious moniker ‘Stoke University’ was passed over, presumably as it was deemed to be a marketing no-no. Likewise, we may assume, ‘Oswald Mosley University’. Quite often when I cite my academic affiliation people assume I work in Germany (‘Is that near the canal?’).
On the taxi journey through Stoke to my interview at Keele, the cabbie warned that we were soon to enter ‘bandit country’. I must have looked more than normally blank. When we pulled up at the next traffic lights, he mimed a hijab by pulling his fleece up over his head. We turned down a nondescript suburban street. The road was deserted, apart from a couple of run-to-fat (white) Stokees. Halfway up there was a kebab shop, a sure sign of colonisation by Allah-fanciers. The banditi never did materialise. But of course that’s not the point. The corruption of one’s indigenous culture by evil-smelling or oddly-garbed foreigners is a state of mind. As the late Clifford Geertz said, ‘the wogs begin long before Calais.’
The gilt on the BNP’s manifesto launch has been tarnished by Marmitegate. A large pot of the Burton-made bitumen popped up next to Griffin’s head on one of the BNP’s online election puffs, and now Unilever, whose stable of brands includes Marmite, is taking legal action. The party first said that it was a tit-for-tat for an ad campaign for Marmite that featured a thinly-disguised BNP (‘the Hate Party’). Later, no doubt for legal reasons, it switched to claiming that it was the work of a cyber-prankster. Even without the Marmite, the BNP was in shtuck, since the Lib Dem surge has now queered its pitch as an alternative to the rotten Lab-Con duopoly. Bribing the unwhite to go ‘home’ probably won’t net too many votes, like the proposal to disenfranchise anyone who refuses to do national service. The upside is that once you’ve yomped for England, the BNP say you can keep an assault rifle in your front room. It’s just what they’re crying out for in the Potteries.