Sayeeda Warsi, co-chair of the Conservative Party, was last night (3 May 2012) brave enough to note a link between the BNP and UKIP. She pointed out that UKIP candidates are standing in areas where the BNP had previously stood, implying that they can draw on the same sort of support.
She triggered a storm of anger, including an abusive Twitter message from a leading member of UKIP (who thus made himself sound more like a far-right thug, rather than less), for which he later apologised.
Warsi was right to make the point. I hope she will not back down. All she has done is to state the obvious: two parties on the same end of the British political spectrum may well attract sympathy from the same voters.
She could go further. Two years ago, ahead of the last general election, I wrote an article comparing the stated policies of the BNP and UKIP (see http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11611 ). I found even more similarities than I had expected.
It is true that UKIP do not share the BNP's obsession with ethnicity, and this is important. It is also true that the BNP are more statist and that UKIP are basically ultra-Thatcherite in economic terms. In other areas, their policies are very, very similar.
They are both strongly anti-immigration, anti-European, anti-multicultural and pro-military spending. They both deny the reality of climate change. Like totalitarian regimes, they both want to make laws about what people are allowed to wear in public (by banning niqabs). They both make comments on the niqab and on multiculturalism that whip up fear and prejudice against Muslims. They both want biased history teaching that portrays the British Empire in a positive light (this is explicit in their policies). They both support 'workfare'. And they both want extreme, punitive approaches to law and order.
It's not that Warsi went too far. She didn't go far enough. Because one far-right party includes middle class ex-Tories with a polite manner, that doesn't make it any more acceptable than the other one.
(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia and author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Religion. For links to more of his writing, please visit http://www.symonhill.wordpress.com .
Symon's 2010 article comparing the polices of UKIP and the BNP can be found at http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/11611 .