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.
On the Today programme last Thursday, Billy Bragg was interviewed about his play (or, as he describes it, ‘part play, part gig, part installation’) Pressure Drop, a collaboration with the playwright Mick Gordon. It’s about being white and working-class in modern Britain, and was inspired by the conspicuous success of the British National Party in Bragg’s home patch, Barking in Essex. While Bragg’s contempt for the BNP is unwavering – he had a stand-up row with their candidate in Barking and Dagenham on Monday – he says that ‘immigration, the ability of people to move where the work is now, has changed the face of the borough.’ He himself has moved to the noticeably more homogeneous locale of south Dorset, but members of his family, including his mother, still live in Barking. One of the characters in Pressure Drop, a grandmother in her seventies, has the following lines: ‘Do you know what came through the door yesterday? Something from a witchdoctor. A witchdoctor? I just don't know any more. I'm starting not to recognise the place.’ Bragg glossed: ‘That actually happened to my mum’ – someone had posted a flyer offering to cast spells to improve her love life and make her richer.
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.
Maybe one should be tremendously worried about the electoral victories of the British National Party. Maybe not. 'Leading historians' say there's no reason to panic. Still, worry seems to characterise some of the reaction. Harriet Harman and Alistair Darling both say that their party is responsible because – oh no! – the Labour Party has let these voters down, though only Labour, they also insist, can now rescue them from the clutches of the wicked Nick Griffin.