I can see why people voted BNP

The British public’s disenchantment with the establishment runs very deep

By Daniel Finkelstein, June 18, 2009

It was well past two o’clock in the morning and I had been sitting on a hard, small stool for more than five hours. I couldn’t put my feet down properly on the ground, nor could I stand up, because I was live on the BBC European Election results programme. At any moment, someone might ask me why I thought Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer party had found favour among Slovaks. Things couldn’t get any worse. And then they did.
Just as the viewing figures showed definitively that there were now more people in the studio than there were watching the programme, David Dimbleby told the remaining viewers that we were going to the North-West to hear from the returning officer. And the election was announced of Nick “I think Adolf went a bit too far” Griffin as a Member of the European Parliament.

And, as I heard the news, I had an unusual thought. Unusual for me, that is. I thought: “We are all to blame”.

Now, the idea that “we are all to blame” generally annoys me greatly. Karen Matthews kidnaps her own child and I hear someone on the radio say that, “in a very real sense, we are all to blame”. Aaaaagh. So, excuse me if I am trying your patience. But let me tell you my theory.
The day after Nick Griffin’s election, I heard a radio phone-in on the subject of the BNP. The topic was: in order to vote BNP, do you have to be either racist or stupid? And I scoffed. Of course you do. A little reflection, however, and I was not so sure.

The European Parliament election came at the end of one of the most turbulent months in British politics. The scandal over MPs’ allowances has shaken Parliament. There has been a justified fuss about fraudulent and entirely unreasonable claims by a minority of members — a larger minority than I, for one, anticipated.

But there has been more. There has been a feeling of anger and disgust about the fairly ordinary claims that MPs have made to finance a second home. The very idea that arrangements might be made to allow MPs to live in comfort with their families and might be paid the wages of a senior professional, has been treated with disdain. And the reason? A sense — I have been hearing it for years now, everywhere I go — that MPs are lying good-for-nothings and on the take. The allowances scandal simply played to an audience that was already assembled.

The row about MPs’ allowances came hard on the fuss about bankers’ bonuses and Sir Fred Goodwin. And before that, there was Sharon Shoesmith and the idea that social workers were responsible for the death of Baby P. Ferocious public anger, a belief that some other group is getting away with something, a disdain for “politicians”, a demand for instant action whatever “the rules” might be. All this has become commonplace in our public debate. And we have all, to a greater or lesser degree, taken part in it. And I think that this feeling — as much as immigration — is responsible for the rise of the BNP.

If all politicians are on the take, are all the same, are all useless; if the court of public opinion (Harriet Harman’s dreadful, dreadful phrase) is to be preferred to the rule of law; if groups are out there stealing our money to line their pockets; if “I followed the rules laid down by Parliament” should no longer be a defence; if its MPs should be housed in barrack-style accommodation and be described as pigs with snouts; if the whole political system is corrupt…well, why not vote BNP?
The rule of law, respect for democracy and its elected representatives, civilised public debate — they are all that stands between us and the fascists.

Daniel Finkelstein is associate editor of The Times

Last updated: 5:21pm, June 19 2009