Turning on my radio on Saturday, I heard ranting right-wing rhetoric and a demand for a freeze on immigration. I could easily have mistaken the speaker for a member of the British National Party (BNP). But it turned out to be a report on the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which came second in last year’s European elections and hopes to gain seats at Westminster.
So what’s the difference between the BNP and UKIP? The BNP is described as far-right, racist, fascist. It’s regarded as beyond the pale and many politicians refuse to share platforms with its members.
UKIP is seen as basically mainstream. It may be regarded as firmly right-wing and perhaps a bit wacky, but its members are not treated as pariahs. UKIP representatives regularly appear on BBC Question Time without demonstrations or record viewing figures.
As I considered this, I knew that my dislike for both parties might have led me to overestimate the similarities between them. So I decided to compare their policies. And I found that I had in fact underestimated their similarities. On most issues, the policies of UKIP and the BNP are largely indistinguishable.
Race and immigration
UKIP want “an immediate five-year freeze on immigration for permanent settlement”. They say that “any future immigration should not exceed 50,000 per annum”. The BNP want to “stop all new immigration except for exceptional cases”. Both parties would reject asylum-seekers who had passed a “safe” country on their way to the UK. To aid this, they would both withdraw from the UN Convention on Refugees.
Until very recently the BNP spoke of ending “non-white immigration”. This seems to have been re-worded, perhaps partly because Polish immigrants are mostly white, but also as part of their feeble attempts to appear less racist.
To be fair to UKIP, I must admit that they have never displayed the same concern with skin colour that has obsessed the BNP. They say they believe in “civic nationalism, which is open and inclusive” rather than the “ethnic nationalism of extremist parties”.
Nonetheless, UKIP insist that “a significant proportion of immigrants and their descendents in Britain are neither assimilating nor integrating into British society”. They say that “UKIP opposes multiculturalism and political correctness, and promotes uniculturalism - aiming to create a single British culture embracing all races and religions”.
Despite their reference to all religions, UKIP wish to ban the niqab (Muslim full face veil) in certain private buildings as well as in public. Their position is more extreme than the BNP, who want a public ban only.
Most people affected by this severe restriction are likely to have a different skin colour to the average UKIP candidate, but I admit that UKIP does not show the same blatant racism as the BNP, who refuse to admit that any non-white person is “ethnically British”.
These different approaches to race should not be dismissed; they could make a considerable difference if either party gains power. There is no prospect that either will form a government after this general election, but a serious possibility that they may gain one or two seats. Given the likelihood of a hung Parliament or a government with a small majority, those seats could be significant. And would it make any difference whether they were held by UKIP or the BNP?
Shoulder to shoulder
Consider education. UKIP wants schools to “teach about Britain's contribution to the world, such as British inventions, promoting democracy and the rule of law and the role of Britain in fighting slavery and Nazism”. The BNP believes that schools should “instil in our young people knowledge of and pride in the history, cultures and heritage of the native peoples of Britain”. Neither party suggests that there might be anything negative in Britain’s history.
What about the environment? UKIP describe themselves as “the first party to take a sceptical stance on man-made global warming claims”. This is odd, because the BNP “firmly rejects the ‘climate change’ dogma”.
Both parties would repeal the Human Rights Act. UKIP promise “forthright law and order policies” from “a government with the will to punish”. The BNP also “seeks a return to traditional standards of law enforcement”. But they almost sound more moderate than UKIP when they add that this would be “combined with social reform directed at addressing the root causes of criminal behaviour”. On the other hand, the BNP back capital and corporal punishment, whereas UKIP would restrict themselves to introducing “boot camps for young offenders”.
Both favour “workfare”, obliging people to work for benefits. However, economics seems to be one of the few areas in which they significantly differ. I found the old difference between the statist far-right (as seen in traditional fascist regimes) and the free-market far-right. Whereas the BNP call for re-nationalisation of key industries, UKIP clearly want to help the richest members of society, promising to scrap the top tax rate and all inheritance tax.
On military and defence issues, they share the same militaristic outlook, but differ on specific policies. At their spring conference last weekend, UKIP prioritised their demand for a 40 per cent increase in military spending. The BNP want to reintroduce “national service” (with a civilian option). But unlike UKIP, they would withdraw from Afghanistan and NATO. It seems that UKIP is far more pro-US.
Voters in Bexhill and Battle have heard that the BNP candidate in their constituency will be Neil Jackson – who previously stood for UKIP. As BNP candidate, he will campaign for “an immediate end to Britain’s involvement in unnecessary foreign wars”. It seems this is one of the few differences he could find with UKIP.
Two sides of the same coin
So why do we persist in treating UKIP as much more acceptable than the BNP? I’m not asking for UKIP members to be demonised, nor am I suggesting that the BNP should be treated more gently. But those of us who detest what the BNP stands for need to remember that far-right views are promoted well outside the BNP’s own membership – in UKIP, on the right of the Tory Party, in the pages of the Daily Mail.
When the BNP’s Nick Griffin was invited onto BBC Question Time, I wrote that the politicians who sat next to him would face a monster of their own creation. Their failure to speak up for immigration or to promote a vision of a different society has fuelled the far-right’s electoral success. On the programme, Jack Straw encouraged voters to support a “mainstream party”, implying that the differences between “mainstream” parties are trivial. Indeed, the only point at which the three mainstream politicians really argued with each other was when they competed to appear the most strongly anti-immigration – bizarrely dancing to Griffin’s tune.
This is no way to beat the far-right. We need to tackle the issues head on, not resort to demonising one far-right group while being relaxed about another. If the BNP and UKIP both manage to gain an MP this year, don’t expect to see many occasions on which they do not vote the same way.
(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia. This article was originally published in The Samosa on 24th March 2010. See http://www.thesamosa.co.uk/index.php/comment-and-analysis/politics/291-e... .