Ultimately it was a simple question from an Indian immigrant’s British-born and bred son that had Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party (BNP) stumped during his controversial appearance on BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Question Time last week.
While Mr. Griffin’s high-profile co-panellists (three leading political figures, including a senior cabinet minister, and a prominent playwright) argued over the details of BNP’s fascist agenda, Khush Klare, a young professional from north London whose parents moved from India to Britain in the 1960s, had a basic question for him: “Where do you want me to go? I was born in this country. I love this country.” And, then, suggested that it was actually people like Mr. Griffin who needed to be packed off to some “colourless” planet.
“You would be surprised,” he told Mr. Griffin as the studio audience clapped, “how many people would have a whip-round to buy you a ticket and your supporters... to go to the South Pole. That’s a colourless landscape, it would suit you fine.”
Mr. Griffin’s stuttering attempt to justify his party’s absurd policy which calls for wholesale repatriation of immigrants to their countries of origin was greeted with boos and jeers.
Mr. Klare’s question would have resonated with every second generation non-white Briton — indeed with all minorities (immigrants or not) caught up in the majoritarian rhetoric of “us” and “them.” It lies at the heart of the identity crisis that afflicts many among the second and third generation immigrants and which then leads to alienation — and often worse. Where can people like Mr. Klare whose parents or grandparents may have come from another part of the world but who were born and brought up in Britain and know of no other country they can call home go?
Mr. Griffin, of course, is an extreme racist but even high-minded liberals suffer from the “outsider-insider” syndrome. A question that almost every non-white Briton must have faced at some point is: “Where do you come from?” And when they say “London” or “Manchester” or “Leicester,” the questioner persists: “Yes, but where do you come from...which country?”
A friend who did research on the subject for a book found that somewhere at the back of nearly native white Briton’s mind was this idea of immigrant as an outsider.
In a sense, Mr. Griffin and his boys are a symptom of a deeper problem that the liberal London elite is loathe to acknowledge — namely covert racism that, despite a raft of anti-racist and equality laws, exists at all levels of British society. A new government survey, based on a sting operation targeting hundreds of employers across the country, found that job applicants with foreign-sounding names faced widespread discrimination. Researchers discovered that candidates with Asian/African names were turned down in favour of white applicants with similar qualifications and experience.
“They found that an applicant who appeared to be white would send nine applications before receiving a positive response … Minority candidates with the same qualifications and experience had to send 16 applications before receiving a similar response,” The Observer reported quoting employment minister Jim Knight as admitting the “shocking scale” of racial discrimination revealed by the survey.
On all social indicators — poverty, unemployment, education — whites are better-off. And, on the face of it, “white discontent” that the BNP taps into is a “puzzle,” as The Economist pointed out. Yet it would be disingenuous to pretend that “white discontent” is purely a BNP invention. Sections of white working class, especially in the former manufacturing towns, do live in great poverty and feel neglected by the mainstream political establishment.
By settling asylum-seekers in some of the most deprived white areas the government has ended up exacerbating racial tensions. For, when unemployed white youths, trapped in kitchen-sink estates, see newly-arrived immigrants given houses and benefits they see red accusing them of “stealing” benefits that they say ought to have gone to them.
Enter Mr. Griffin posing as their saviour. He tells them that their plight is all down to “foreigners” and neither the government nor opposition parties are bothered about them. Only the BNP understands their concerns and is willing to help.
Liberal Democrat leader Chris Huhne, who appeared with Mr. Griffin on Question Time, correctly called it the “scapegoat politics” which saw Mr. Griffin’s fascist predecessors blame the Jews in the 1930s, and Africans in the 1960s.
The BNP’s electoral success (it got nearly one million votes in the European Parliament elections earlier this year and won two seats) is a result of a combination of racism; the government’s failure to acknowledge, let alone address, white working class concerns; and of course right-wing propaganda. Simply dismissing Mr. Griffin and his supporters as the “looney fringe” or hoping that ultimately British “commonsense” will prevail is not the answer.
The unpalatable fact is that the BNP has significant electoral support which is what led the BBC to put Mr. Griffin on one of its programmes; and this support has a basis in “white discontent” even if it is exaggerated. As one commentator warned if political parties continue to “write off” sections of the electorate then there is no stopping groups like the BNP.