There was something surreal and potentially dangerous in Charles Clarke’s comments on last nights BBC Question Time about the apparent increase in support for the BNP.
Clarke claims that the rise is a “wake up call” for parties to tackle the issues which matter to the working classes. What he failed to accept is that he and his department are responsible for at least part of the problem.
Support for the BNP relies on two things, a fear of ‘foreigners’ and the belief that the white indigenous population are somehow being treated less well than their non-white counterparts.
The message of fear has repeatedly been fuelled by the actions of this Labour government. Since September 11th and the July London bombings the Home Office has with much publicity attempted to take for itself drastic powers which allowed them to deal with a oft claimed threat from non-British terror suspects.
The poorly considered ID card scheme was sold to the public on the lie that it would protect them against terrorism. Now we’re told that it will protect the NHS from ‘healthcare tourists’. The casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that the foyer of every NHS hospital is packed with Johnny Foreigner and his family all demanding their free operation.
No matter that Ministers can’t quantify the cost of the problem, let’s not worry that even the highest estimates “put the cost at anything between Â£50m and Â£200m each year” – a tiny amount compared the billions the ID card system will cost us all. All that matters is that Blair gets to sound tough without needing to consider the consequences.
Whenever a Home Office initiative on security is questioned the justification from the Prime Minister and his Home Secretary is that these people pose such a threat to our way of life that the only the most drastic action can save us. How much simpler the BNP message of ‘send them all home’ must sound on the doorstep.
Sitting alongside the fear of foreigners is the idea that non-whites are treated more favourably than whites. In London and elsewhere it’s still possible to find large numbers of people who believe that the council’s failure to house them stems from an anti-white bias rather than the lack of new council housing and assessed need.
The failure of the Police to immediately arrest those carrying violence inciting placards in the recent protests against the Danish cartoons will have been a godsend to the BNPs campaigners. Had a group of football fans carried similar banners inciting the murder of their opponents supporters the police would have had no hesitation in making arrests. When arrests finally came they were too little, too late – the proponents of the claim ‘one rule for them, one rule us’ already had their propaganda.
Now it may seem bizarre that people are able to see both a threat from ‘outsiders’ and at the same time believe they are more favourably treated but bigotry, much like Home Office policy, has never been based on logic or rational thought.
And finally we have the issue of immigration. As with healthcare tourism, pronouncements by a succession of Ministers creates and fuels the impression that the country is being swamped by benefit seeking, work shy fraudsters.
The recent announcement that Clarke wants to extend vouchers to those who cannot be safely returned to their home country simply reinforces the impression and sadly it’s an impression Ministers seem to deliberately foster. Can anyone recall the last time a Minister took to the airwaves to explain that those seeking asylum are barred by law from working until their case is determined? How many people really understand that the burden on the taxpayer could be removed with a short bill granting them the right to work whilst awaiting a decision?
At the beginning of this article I labelled Clarke’s reaction last night as “potentially dangerous” and so they are. Nothing the Home Secretary said on Question Time suggests that he understands the accumulative effect of the policies he and the Government rush out in response to the latest headline or focus group finding.
In the absence of any understanding and a genuine change in approach those who are softening to the BNP’s message may soon be lost forever to the mainstream parties.