Saturday, October 24, 2009

A 'Christian Country?' BNP rhetoric and reality.

According to the BNP themselves, 3,000 people have registered to be signed up as members following Question Time. Unsurprisingly, their site is getting way more hits than those of any other political party at the moment – Alexa rankings are proudly displayed at the bottom of it. A poll carried out since the programme found that 22% of those surveyed would ’seriously consider’ voting for the BNP.

Some of that may be Brits siding with the underdog, as we traditionally do, but there’s nothing to be gained by simply dismissing these figures. As the BBC report puts it more than half of those polled said they agreed or thought the party had a point in speaking up for the interests of indigenous, white British people.” Baroness Warsi made the point during the debate that there was more to the BNP vote than disillusionment over expenses: “there are people who feel the pace of change is too fast.”

A Christian Country?
Nick Griffin referred to the UK as a ‘Christian country’ several times during the debate. Do a search for ‘Christian’ on the BNP site, and most of it is articles against Islam and political correctness where that impinges on the church. It’s a defensive statement of cultural identity (’we don’t want Islam’) mre than a positive one of religious identity. ‘Christian country’ is a piece of branding, the language of resistance, looking back to where Britain has come from, and trying to hold on to it. Christian groups have made it clear that Griffin speaks only for the BNP when he seeks to portray them as defenders of the faith.

Britain is in a transition phase: post-Christian without being non-Christian. We still have many of the institutions, but culture and personal ethics have slipped their Christian moorings for the open sea. ‘Life of Brian’ would scarcely raise a murmer now – witness recent attempts to create ‘outrage’ stories over religious imagery which, 40 years ago, wouldn’t have needed any media help in causing a storm.

But it’s not a clean break: recently two councils added 3 other religious holidays to the normal closures for Christmas and Easter. Despite relatively small numbers of Sikhs in Newham and Waltham Forest, Guru Nanaks birthday joins Eid and Diwali on the holiday list. The ensuing lively debate has caused a review of the policy.

The stated aim is, you guessed it, ‘community cohesion’. The result is often the opposite: there will no doubt be another row over ‘Winterval’ some time in the next 2 months, as Christmas is rebranded, and ‘we don’t want to offend people of other faiths’ is cited as the rationale. Result: people of other faiths are blamed for the decision. Winners: nobody. Except perhaps the BNP.

Given the use the BNP makes of ‘Christian Britain’ language, Jonathan Bartley questions whether the church should give up the ghost on trying to preserve the remnants and rhetoric of Christian identity in the UK, but I’m not sure the church should give the BNP the right of veto over the terms of debate. If the opposition starts to colonise our language, do we abandon it, or try to redeem it?

Aside from a reference to freedom of worship, there is no statement about religion or Christianity in the BNP Constitution. However a BNP leaflet from May/June this year, calls for a ‘Day of Prayer’ and attacks the Church of England for selling out. It’s since been taken offline, but points the finger at ‘Judas Archbishops’, who in the next breath, bizarrely, it calls for dialogue with. It doesn’t take much digging to find BNP members with religious views which range from the bizarre to the scandalous. But is it enough simply to dismiss them?


Back to the data at the top. Ridicule may make us feel better, and more righteous, but what else does it achieve? Whether we like it or not, the popularity of the BNP raises a host of knotty issues which our politicians have been tiptoeing round for years:

– What is the nature of British identity, and what is the place of Christian faith, and the Christian roots of our society, in that picture?

– What is the true nature of Islam? I live in Yeovil, which is almost entirely white, and went up to London for a day conference earlier this year. Westminster seemed to be swarming with police, and young Asian men with backpacks. You know, the kind you see getting onto the Tube in those CCTV videos. I was nervous, I couldn’t help it, even though I know that Al Qaeda is a crackpot minority. Can we talk in the UK about, for example, Muslims persecuting Christians in Pakistan, without it being branded as hate speech and quickly ushered offstage? When Nick Griffin quotes from the Koran, how many of us know whether those texts are foundational to Islam, or peripheral?

– Apart from appointing a few ‘Community Cohesion Officers’ at local councils, how are we dealing with immigration? If the population projections are right, we can expect 180,000 new immigrants per year for the next 20 years. It’s either that, or raise the retirement age to 80: increased life expectancy means that 15.6m people will be drawing their pension by 2033, and with a low birth rate, immigration is the only way to keep a balanced demographic.

- Without some crass ‘back to basics’ campaign, how do we have a debate between the values of the past and the values of the present? In two generations, public morality has changed out of all recognition, whether you look at race issues, the environment, or sexual ethics. There are both gains and losses. In areas like sex and culture, schools are encouraged not to teach a set of beliefs/morals, but to promote an informed choice. The continued epidemic of broken families, and the stubborn persistence of racism, show that this isn’t really working. Is there a place for a moral framework, and in post-Christendom, where do we get that framework from?

Wrapping Up
It’s easy to dismiss the British National Party and what they stand for, and it would be wrong to let the BNP tail wag the dog of the British body politic (sorry, metaphor decay is setting in here). Most of the liberal chatterati can’t understand how anyone could support Nick Griffin. But until we start to understand their appeal, and start addressing some of these questions, British soil will remain a fertile place for the BNP.

this article is cross-posted from Touching Base, a regular column at the Wardman Wire.

on the same topic, different angle, but well worth a read, is John Richardsons piece today.

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