So here we are – it’s the night before my last exam. It’s the History of Political Thought to c.1700 paper, which is unusual in the sense that we are guaranteed a question on each specified topic, so I can be certain that tomorrow I’ll be answering questions on Plato, Hobbes and International Law. I’m choosing to interrupt quote-learning for blogging, however, because it’s quite possible that immediately after the exam I’ll enter a euphoric haze that could last for quite a while. Plus I have a rather fun and exciting week lined up, so blogging there may be little!
Waking up to dismal European election results put me in a thoroughly bad mood this morning, albeit solely on the BNP angle. I don’t really mind Tory or even UKIP success with the same gut instinct: after all, there is a common community of political junkies which (I presume) works in a similar way that football fans do. Labour are my tribal ‘team’, and I am bitterly disappointed when they lose on occasions that I really and sincerely don’t believe they deserve to, of which Ken’s defeat is a classic example. But at other times, I think the grinding demands of the political cycle are overwhelming, and oddly enough I feel worse about lack of sizeable Lib Dem or Green gains than Labour’s losses. (Maybe not so oddly: I did vote Green in this election after all.)
In common with the vast majority of people, however, I feel nothing but disgust for the BNP and find any gain on their behalf deeply upsetting. Lucy put it perfectly this morning, and there isn’t really anything to add, but I would say that some of the reassurances we are offered about the far right do nothing to reassure me because they miss the point. No one is expecting the BNP to ever wield effective political power. (Unless there is some major social breakdown, of course, but then all bets are off.) It is perfectly true that very many more people are ‘anti-BNP’ than support it. But it is wishful thinking to believe that ‘anti-BNP’ carries much ideological commitment beyond a distaste for racism. Plenty of people who will never vote BNP nevertheless carry strong reservations about immigration and multiculturalism, even if this is more often just a vague feeling of dissatisfaction rather than a vote-influencing political priority.
And with every gain of the far-right, the temptation to shirk from an active defence of immigration and multiculturalism in favour of ‘tough’ rhetoric becomes ever greater. This will be admirably justified as reaching out and listening to the poor and disaffected, but it merely serves to implicitly confirm the premise that, under all of the nasty racism, the BNP do have a bit of a point.
Well, they don’t. And you might say that I’m bound to say this, given my support for a particularly multicultural vision of what Britain ought to be. It’s true: I do firmly believe that a multicultural society is by far a stronger one. But that’s not my point here. Even if you don’t agree, it is important to accept that BNP policies – or BNP-lite imitation policies – are utterly irrelevant to the real problems at hand. Attempting to change the precise number and composition of individuals in this country will not create jobs, build houses or improve service provision. Whether your neighbour is a Turkish Muslim or a Catholic Pole, you will all look remarkably similar if caught underneath rising sea levels or the blast of a terrorist bomb. The ‘planned economy’ character of a points-based immigration system is bad enough, but let’s not fall any further down this ultimately deeply diversionary route. It’s not just wrong – it’s shamefully neglectful of all of the people who need real help for their problems, not false words.