The lives of genuine conservatives in Britain have been made much harder by the recent growth of the British National Party, a sordid and disreputable group with its origins in racial obsessions and Holocaust denial. Its success, achieved by faked reasonableness and slick PR, has seemed to confirm the liberal Left’s view that the Right is just one step away from Hitlerism, steeped in prejudice and loutish stupidity. This is a grave burden to proper, patriotic conservatives, and I am ceaselessly amazed at how many people are taken in. Perhaps a few words of explanation and background are in order for any on the far side of the Atlantic who might have been beguiled.

Imagine a political party where the ex-leader launches an investigation into his successor because he thinks he may be Jewish. There is, in fact, no need to imagine. The British National Party’s podgy chieftain, Nick Griffin, actually had his ancestry probed for alleged Jewishness by the organization’s former Fuehrer, the late John Tyndall.

Tyndall was the sort of neo-Nazi who used to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday, dress up in Stormtrooper outfits for group photographs and, for all I know, picnics in the woods. This sort of thing is rather bad for public relations in a country where significant numbers of people still think of Hitler as the man who bombed their street or whose parents and grandparents spent several uncomfortable years fighting on land and sea and in the air.

So when the BNP sought a new and more appealing image a few years ago, Tyndall had to go. He did not appreciate this treatment. Then one day, sulky Mr. Tyndall saw Mr. Griffin’s father on TV and decided that the old gentleman’s nose was (in his view) suspiciously prominent and curved. In the spirit of his movement and his dogma, he began making checks to see if Griffin’s grandmother was “in order,” as they used to say in the Third Reich. I know this because Griffin told me about it himself, during a long, faintly unhinged conversation in a public house in an English country town. (I drank beer. He didn’t.) I have not spoken to him since, and Tyndall is now dead, so I have never been able to find out how the story ended, though I very much hope that Nick Griffin does in fact have Jewish forebears, as I do myself. It would add to the dark comedy of his political career and perhaps cause him to reflect on some of his beliefs.

None of this ought to matter. Since the 1930s, Britain has had some sort of Judeophobic, jackboot-loving political formation or other. In general, these organizations have been composed of fantasists and obsessives, plus a sprinkling of violent brutes looking for a brawl, appealing particularly to those who think the Jews are to blame for everything. They have until now made no important electoral impact.

The first was the overrated British Union of Fascists, led by the disappointed socialist Sir Oswald Mosley, which never became a serious force even in those hungry and ill-tempered years. Only the British Left, which fondly likes to think that it stopped Sir Oswald in his tracks, maintains the myth that he was a genuine threat—a myth that is often perpetuated on British TV and in school histories of the period, heavily influenced by leftist ideas.

But the BUF, which predated knowledge of the National Socialist death camps, was significant compared with the various leagues, fronts, and movements that persisted on the edge of British politics throughout the contented and consensual period that lasted from 1945 until quite recently. The Nazi association restricted them to the twilit badlands of minority politics. They grew slightly as Britain experienced major migration from the West Indies and from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Factions based upon racial bigotry are uniquely well-placed to exploit the problems that such influxes create, since they do not fear the possible cruel consequences of inflammatory talk and because race is the foundation of all their thought—and the limit of it, too. But the mainstream parties responded to this flurry by introducing some restrictions on migrants and so temporarily halted and reversed the expansion of specifically anti-immigration groups.

What they did not do, because it was too difficult and because they preferred not to think about it, was to confront the real problem of mass migration—the great “Who, Whom?” question that any country must answer if it wishes to open its borders to large numbers of people from other cultures. Should the migrants adapt to their new home? Or should the host country adapt to the newcomers? By leaving this unanswered, Britain passively chose the second path, but in a messy, ill-organized and clumsy way that has created seriously divided communities in many cities.

After a while, this cowardice got mixed up with the multiculturalist movement. Originating mainly among 1960s radicals, it sought to cancel traditional British patriotism because it hated such feelings. Now it had a standing excuse for doing so. The teaching of traditional British history was deemed “racist” and “offensive” and so stopped. Christianity had to be taught as one among many religions, even in nominally Christian schools. Opposition to such measures was invariably dismissed as a form of racial prejudice, which it sometimes was but often wasn’t, frightening many decent people into silence and in too many cases leaving the argument to actual racial bigots.

Of course this is, like so many other problems of the major Western nations, the result of the failure of the major conservative parties. Britain’s Conservatives largely avoided the subject of race and culture for two reasons. One, they had no intellectual confidence in their own ideas and were afraid of articulating them. Two, their party contained many economic liberals who favored “free movement of peoples” and saw multiculturalism as an acceptable price for the alleged benefits of mass migration. Such benefits are, of course, felt mainly by the well-off, the sort of people who eat in restaurants rather than work in them. But such people also tend to form the political and media classes everywhere and certainly in London. Recently one such person, a former Labour Party apparatchik called Andrew Neather, startlingly blurted out the truth about the views of this milieu. Neather wrote a newspaper article praising immigration as an unmixed good, mainly because it provided lots of cheap nannies and gardeners for funky Londoners like him.

Apparently thinking nobody would notice, he then revealed that among his party colleagues there had been “a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the UK Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural.” He recalled coming away from high-level discussions “with a clear sense that the policy was intended—even if this wasn’t its main purpose—to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date.” This happened around the last time the British Conservative Party dared to raise the issue of mass immigration in the months before the 2001 general election. The tactic worked. The Tories not only abandoned the subject, they have since been too frightened to mention it.

This retreat has allowed Nick Griffin and the British National Party to become not important but significant. In the absence of a principled conservative party, they have quite successfully pretended to be such a thing, gradually adopting large numbers of policies—including opposition to the Iraq War—that a genuinely conservative party would have espoused. They have also posed as the foes of Islam, a religion that is increasingly present in British cities. Griffin says Islam is “a wicked and vicious faith,” but in 1988 he traveled to Libya, allegedly at the expense of Muammar Gadaffi’s government, in search of funds for another neo-Nazi organization to which he then belonged. Though he says he now accepts that Jews were murdered under the National Socialist Third Reich—apparently he reached this conclusion thanks to reading British intercepts of German radio traffic—Griffin remains coy in his attitude toward the Holocaust. He claimed unconvincingly during a recent TV appearance that he might be prosecuted if he explained his views. What is recorded is that he did at one point say, “I am well aware that the orthodox opinion is that six million Jews were gassed and cremated and turned into lampshades. Orthodox opinion also once held that the world is flat.” It is necessary to remember here that Griffin—despite his loping, limited associates, his phalanx of huge shaven-headed bodyguards, and his doubts and difficulties about Jews—is an educated man, with a law degree from Cambridge University. Yet he cannot get these strange obsessions under control or convincingly state that he has finished with them, even when by doing so he might enjoy mainstream political success.

Similarly, the BNP constitution gives away the party’s true driving purpose and leaves no doubt about its real nature. It restricts membership to those of British or “closely kindred European descent.” Paradoxically, Britain’s embryonic Thought Police, a body called the Equality and Human Rights Commission, is now pressing the BNP to open its membership to all, which will actually make it far harder for its critics to show conclusively that it is based upon racial bigotry. But there is more.

Griffin was famously recorded—the event is viewable on YouTube—explaining his strategy to an American audience, while sharing a platform with the former Klansman David Duke. He explained in detail that the BNP’s new smooth appearance was a tactic, not a genuine change. As he said, “There’s a difference between selling out your ideas and selling your ideas. And the BNP isn’t about selling out its ideas, which are your ideas, too, but we are determined now to sell them. That means basically to use the saleable words. As I say, freedom, security, identity, democracy. Nobody can criticize them. Nobody can come at you and attack you on those ideas. They are saleable.

“Perhaps one day, once—by being rather more subtle—we’ve got ourselves in a position where we control the British broadcasting media, the British people might change their mind and say, ‘Yes, every last one must go.’

“But if you offer that as your sole aim to start with, you’re gonna get absolutely nowhere. So, instead of talking about racial purity, we talk about identity.”

This public-relations strategy has been quite successful. The BNP has managed to do fairly well in winning seats on town councils in many parts of Britain, especially where immigrant populations are high. These councillors have seldom been very effective once elected, but their election shows that there is now a significant number of disaffected voters prepared to defy or ignore taunts of “Nazi,” so discontented are they about their neglect by the major parties. In elections for the European Parliament, conducted on a low poll and on a proportional representation system that, unlike normal British Parliamentary elections, favors minority parties, the BNP has just won two seats, its first serious electoral success.

As a result of this, Griffin was recently invited to appear on the BBC’s principal national political debate program, “Question Time.” In the eyes of most viewers, he made a fool of himself almost every time he opened his mouth. But in the eyes of others, he was treated unfairly and denied the chance to make his case. His career is not over yet.

For actual conservatives opposed on principle to multiculturalism and mass immigration and desiring radical cultural and moral change, Griffin’s party is a major nuisance and quite possibly a disaster. It is exactly what the liberal Left wants and believes a conservative movement to be, and exactly what it ought not to be—bigoted, ugly, disreputable, and tainted by past sympathy for Nazis and Fascists. And, alas, its crude, opportunistic simplicities appeal to the resentful victims of the liberal consensus.

It is easy to make two mistakes about such movements. One is to overrate them and to broadcast panicky Brechtian warnings about the rise of a new Nazism. The other is to underrate them and assume that they will get nowhere. In the current state of British politics, when the official Conservative Party is now almost wholly in the hands of multiculturalists, moral relativists, globalists, and political correctness, there may soon be room for a new formation that rejects these ideas on respectable, civilized grounds. But if no such new grouping emerges, and if our shaky economy takes another nasty turn, Nick Griffin’s rough beast may have a future of some kind—and not a pleasant one.  
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Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the London Mail on Sunday and the author of The Abolition of Britain.His next book, The Rage Against God, will be published in the spring by Zondervan.

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