Glen Newey · The BNP Manifesto Launch

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.


  • 23 April 2010 at 3:39pm
    Dave Haslam says:
    The manifesto launch was a joke, with that grumpy-looking old guy dressed in a the worst ever St George's fancy dress outfit who led Griffin onstage and stood there shiftily, while Griffin droned on about Griffin kicking the illegals out, getting out of Europe etc. However, Griffin pushes buttons that make sense to a lot of people in Stoke, unfortunately, and I think Glen Newey's blog reflects on of the reasons why. If outsiders drop into the town and speak only to a cab driver; describe the town as "crappy" and "charmless"; sneer at "a couple of run-to-fat (white) Stokees"; then you're going to look to a political party that at least gives the impression they feel the pain of a town that was put on the post-industrial scrap heap a generation or two ago and given no way out of the mess; that at least acknowledges that the white community in the town might justifiably feel the need to find scapegoats; and that poor communities with different ethnic backgrounds living and competing for the same miserable few jobs will perhaps inevitably grow suspicious of each other. The BNP aren't the solution to Stoke's problems, but then neither is a sneer.

  • 23 April 2010 at 3:50pm
    pinhut says:
    "The corruption of one’s indigenous culture by evil-smelling or oddly-garbed foreigners is a state of mind."

    Yes, of course. People are simply imagining the population make-up of Coventry and Leicester and Luton and Blackburn, etc.

    I wonder where you live, I wonder how much of the UK you have seen.

    There is a class dimension to this that writers like this are always failing to register, a dimension that is precisely what the BNP draws on. While the BNP itself is racist, that does not compute that it is only racists who vote for them.

    Wake up.

  • 23 April 2010 at 4:31pm
    Geoff Roberts says:
    Slagging Stoke! What a nerve! It may not be the post-modern answer to Bochum or Dortmund, but then where is? The original name of Keele was the University College of Noth Staffordshire, which may have been Lord Lindsey's get-out from 'Stoke University'. Ever been to one of the other Pottery towns? Ever been to Crewe? Crewe makes Stoke look good - at least, it did when I was at Keele. Aprt from that I agree with Pinhit.

  • 29 April 2010 at 10:59pm
    mattparton says:
    Keele’s Professor of Politics may miss the frisson that would come if his institution were indeed named after the leader of the Blackshirts, but his condescension to the plebs down the hill from his campus also ignores a few facts. Firstly, Oswald Mosley came third when he stood for the New Party in Stoke in 1931 (his first wife was an MP for all of two years, and was elected under the Labour ticket before defecting to the New Party). Secondly, the BNP have followed the traditions of the extreme right by splintering in Stoke: their former council group leader, Alby Walker, is standing as an independent against Simon Danby, having quit, he says, as a protest against the holocaust denial within the party (or, alternatively, against having an outsider parachuted in as Parliamentary candidate- just like Labour has done in the same constituency with The Hon. Tristram Hunt). Thirdly, the BNP’s manifesto launch was hastily relocated to Stoke from Barking to avoid attention being distracted by their London Assemblyman Richard Barnbrook’s ride through the borough on a white steed (it was April 23rd). Finally, Keele’s ancestor, the University College of North Staffordshire, kept itself in the affections of the local population by its commitment to adult education; neither the subsequent name change nor the continuing sneers of the faculty endear the university to the city next door.

  • 8 May 2010 at 1:15pm
    mattparton says:
    The BNP came fourth in all three Stoke parliamentary votes and lost their two councillors whose wards were up for re-election.

    So much for Prof Newey's claim of the city as the "BNP's spiritual doss-house".