Saturday, March 13, 2010

read all about it

Very interesting John Harris feature in today's Guardian about the political battle for Barking.

Some choice quotes. We particularly liked:

"But when it comes to patronising judgments of his beloved white working class, Griffin himself isn't wholly in the clear. I read him what he said to two reporters masquerading as French fascists about the white people of London, caught on camera in 1997 by ITV's The Cook Report: "The people who have the brains and ability got out years ago, one way or another. The people who are left are either the 15% of the population who are happy to put up with it, they're so decadent they actually like it, or they're too stupid to do anything about it. They will vote BNP, but you can't build a movement on those people."

"I wasn't talking about this part of London. We were talking about the likes of Brixton and Hackney. People here have still got fight in them."

That still implies a pretty dim view of white people in Brixton and Hackney. "It's not a dim view. I feel very sorry for them. But we can't organise in a place like that. They're good, decent people. But to organise something, you have to have people who've got an unusual flair and spark."

I repeat his words: "They're too stupid to do anything about it." Is he minded to take that back?

"Yes. Yes. I was probably extremely drunk. And I was talking to a Frenchman who didn't speak very good English, so it had to be simplified."

When I ask what the BNP might do with local power, he outlines a "sons and daughters" housing policy, and a few measures – from the teaching of "British values" in schools to unspecified work through local youth clubs – that would aim at "integrating" outsiders into his party's understanding of British life. He mentions "integration" at least twice, so I remind him that, despite being forced to admit non-white members, his party's constitution still says they are "wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples". The two don't sit comfortably together, do they? "They don't sit particularly well. But this is practical politics as opposed to… um… ideological perfection."

A more brass-tacks question: are his people up to it? If you look at BNP councillors' attendance records in Barking, even the best-performing one comes in pretty miserably – at number 28 out of 51.

"It will be a hell of a challenge. Bear in mind that if you look at the stats fully, there's plenty of Labour councillors who are far, far worse."

In fact, the bottom seven places are all taken by BNP people. At the last count, the worst performer – one Jamie Jarvis – managed to show up at only 28% of the meetings required.

"Well, Labour councillors don't have to put up with intimidation, the changing of dates and meetings, and not letting people know."

This, according to council leader Liam Smith, is "complete and utter rubbish – these meetings are programmed a year in advance." And even if it were true, the BNP would still be less than blameless. A good example: according to plenty of locals, one BNP councillor spends a good deal of his time running a guest house on the Isle Of Man. Is Griffin familiar with that case?
"I'm familiar with these things, yeah. We're not blameless… At this election, we've got more people wanting to stand than we have places to fight… We'll have a far stronger base than we had before. But inevitably, it's going to be an enormous struggle… at the present, we're knocking up against our upper limits."

There's no excuse for going to only 28% of meetings and still drawing a £10,000 allowance, is there?

"There's not. No. No. Sure…"

In the pub with Nick Griffin, I bring up the reluctance of pensioners round here to vote BNP, based on their memories of the second world war (in any gathering of local seniors, there are scores of people who were bombed out of neighbourhoods such as Stepney and Poplar and given new homes here), and his party's history of neo-Nazism. "We have things there, sure, yeah," he says, though reminders of his own backstory are either denied or dodged. For example: yes, he led a National Front march to the cenotaph in 1986 – alongside people who were Sieg Heiling, according to reports – with a banner that said, "No more brothers' wars", but that was "about the first world war".

When I ask where he now stands on what he once called "nonsense about gas chambers" – surely given even more charge because of Hodge's family history – he pleads the same defence he tried on Question Time: "I genuinely cannot tell you what I used to believe, and why I've changed my mind… three times a month I go through France and Belgium, where you're accessible also to the German courts, and even to say why I've changed my mind and become more mainstream would lay me open to a Communist magistrate."
The subject is batted between us fruitlessly for a few minutes, before we get to the BNP's campaigning in Barking and its apparent habit of telling lies. Late last year, it falsely claimed Hodge had a personal financial interest in plans – since cancelled – to build a new prison in the borough. "That was an error for which I wasn't responsible. I didn't even see it before it was printed. The moment I saw it, we pulled it."


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