When I was first elected, I was sent a link to a video by a constituent who had stood in the same election for the British National Party. He recommended I watch it for the good of Ipswich but did not say precisely what it was. I clicked on the link, which went straight to the film of a beheading of a hostage by an Iraqi terrorist. As soon as I realised what I was watching I switched off the film but even in the five or so seconds it was on it was clear what was going on, enough to make me feel sick at the experience.
The constituent’s aim was clear – he wanted to appal me at the actions of this terrorist and in so doing to make me hate Muslims in general. What it actually made me do was dislike him and his terrible organization all the more. Those tactics – the politics of fear – are the preserve of the agitator and the demagogue. There is nothing constructive, nothing good, in what they do. They feed only on problems, real or perceived. They take an issue, and it may be a legitimate difficulty, and then use it to stoke resentment and hatred. They double up, and double up again, until the problem has become a threat and then a tragedy, so that before we know it we have riots on the streets over something so conflated and confused that it does not in reality actually exist.
It is the tactic of a mindset that prefers violence to peace-making, argument to discussion, division to unity, prejudice to equality, hatred to love. It is itself a hateful way of doing business, one that has caused problems wherever it has reared its hateful head.
Across Europe and in the United States, we can see movements that bring together people who think in this way. Just in the last few years, we have seen the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece and the increasing strength of the National Front in France. Others – in Germany, in the US and also here in the UK – work by the same tactics, even if their language in public is more carefully nuanced, more coded, than their conversations in private might be.
The good thing for the rest of us is that the people who think like this are as bad at getting on with each other as they are with the rest of the world. Indeed, the more extreme they are, the more they tend to break apart. These are parties and movements that soon enough implode amidst recrimination. It was only a matter of time, therefore, before the British National Party took that course and now their inevitable end has come. In the last election, the BNP was only able to put up eight candidates across the country and earlier this month they failed to put in their electoral registration and so were struck off the list of official parties.
That was a very happy day. It removes from the scene one of the nastiest political forces of recent years, even if their power was never as great as their noise suggested it might be. Their disappearance does not mean that extremism is gone – far from it. There are still those, some of those advocating so-called mainstream positions, who would seek to divide and to foment discord. But let’s enjoy the moment whilst it is with us. For those who worry that the world only seems to get worse, the end of the BNP is perhaps evidence that things can sometimes get better.
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