Belgian Misadventures of the British National Party

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 7/12/2009 08:34:00 AM
You can argue that British politics is most accurately arranged on a dimension of xenophobia given its increasing lack of distinguishing features. There is only one party, the pro-Europe and pro-migration Liberal Democrats, who do not resort to the cheap but oftentimes useful "everything was fine here until you foreigners and colored people showed up" political strategy. At the extreme end is the British National Party (BNP), an ultra-right wing outfit similar to others elsewhere in Europe. Somewhat less militant but nonetheless sharing the BNP's euroskeptic and xenophobic outlook is the UK Independence Party. Meanwhile, the two largest political parties are hardly immune to these sorts of appeals. Conservative leader David Cameron continues the Tories' anti-immigration tradition by proposing caps on migration. Meanwhile, current Labour PM Gordon Brown has repeated the BNP mantra of "British jobs for British workers" and, in the process, appalled less opportunistic party members.

Us non-Europeans may find it odd as to why right-wing, anti-Europe parties run for office as Ministers of European Parliament (MEPs). Why would race-baiting isolationists want to represent their country in an Enlightenment project aiming for European integration? The answer is simple: voter interest in placing officials in Brussels is usually low. With negligible turnout, these right-wing parties perceive that their chances may be better at elections for European parliament than at local elections. A big stir occured last month with the selection of unrepentant BNP candidates as MEPs due to this sort of opportunism paying off.

In an amusing if not entirely encouraging turn of events, the arrival of BNP leader Nick Griffin and the similarly victorious Andrew Brons has not resulted in their being greeted warmly by the British contingent at Brussels. From Channel 4 news:
The British National Party's first two MEPs are struggling to win friends and influence people in Europe. BNP leader Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons both won seats in the euro-elections - and so far they have chalked up three notable rebuffs.

First, they were unable to muster enough allies to form an official political grouping in the European Parliament, which begins work next week. Second, they were asked to leave one of the main drinking haunts of European Parliament staff and MEPs in Brussels. And now they find they are not on the Government's guest list for a formal drinks party for British MEPs in Strasbourg next week.

The pair are still trying to form workable political alliances with other right-wing MEPs, but they seem unlikely to muster the necessary minimum of 25 MEPs from at least seven member states which would trigger substantial funding for staff, as well as improve prospects of influential committee seats and speaking time in the European Parliament chamber.

After one recent visit to the European Parliament's Brussels headquarters, Mr Griffin, MEP for the North West region, visited nearby O'Farrell's bar, where he sat at a table outside to be served. Soon afterwards he was asked to leave. According to another drinker on the premises at the time: "He was sitting quietly outside, and then he was recognised and he was told he wasn't welcome."

The same bar is one of the regular watering holes of UK Independence Party leader (Ukip) and MEP Nigel Farage, who is trying to put as much political distance between his party and the BNP as possible. Mr Bons (Yorkshire and Humber) was not far off when he predicted after the election that his victory would not be "universally popular".
It's funny how UKIP folks who've had a longer record of success at European elections are trying to place daylight between themselves and the BNP when their basic appeals are identical. Moreover, the Guardian also notes that more mainstream politicos can conduct relations with UKIP in a way they cannot with the BNP:
The government is to single out Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons, the British National party's two newly elected representatives in the European parliament, for special treatment, denying them some of the access and information afforded to all the other 70 UK MEPs.

Under new guidelines drafted in Whitehall and in the Foreign Office following the June elections to the European parliament, the two BNP leaders will be kept at arm's length from the kind of routine contacts and socialising that take place between British civil servants and MEPs in Brussels and Strasbourg.

When the new parliament convenes next week in Strasbourg, Glenys Kinnock, the new Europe minister, is to host a reception for all British MEPs. Only Griffin and Brons have not been invited. "Officials will not engage in any other contact with elected representatives of any nationality who represent extremist or racist views, unless specific permission has been granted to do so on a particular occasion from the FCO permanent under-secretary and the minister for Europe," a government spokesperson said.

The official said that the BNP duo would be subject to the "same general principles governing official impartiality" and they would receive "standard written briefings as appropriate from time to time". But British diplomats made plain that they would not be "proactive" in dealing with the BNP MEPs and that any requests for policy briefings from Griffin or Brons would be treated differently and on a discretionary basis.

A Brussels-based civil servant said it was acceptable for him to meet MEPs across the party spectrum for a drink, but that any such meetings with Griffin or Brons would be frowned upon. The MEPs of the anti-EU UK Independence Party have been invited to next week's government reception...

Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat MEP, said that the BNP represented a special case and that the government was entitled to differentiate in its dealings with elected representatives. "A line has been crossed [with the BNP]. It's a difference of degree. It's not surprising that the government has to draw up guidelines to deal with a different situation."

Following the European elections, the civil service and government officials considered a range of options for dealing with the BNP, from an inclusive non-discriminatory approach to total quarantine, effectively ostracising them. David Miliband, the foreign secretary, is said to have signed off a decision that would bar the BNP people from government and embassy events in Brussels, while providing the extremists with some policy information.

"I don't think the policy of isolating them, of a cordon sanitaire, will work at all," Farage said. "It's a mistake. They're elected representatives, whether we like it or not."

The isolation has been compounded by Griffin's failure over the past week to cobble together an alliance of extremists in the parliament in order to qualify for official caucus status and thus benefit from better funding, speaking time, and committee positions. To qualify, a parliamentary fraction needs to muster 25 MEPs from at least seven EU countries. Griffin's signature failure was not persuading Italy's anti-immigration party, Liga Nord, to join him. Instead the Italians linked up with Farage's Ukip.
Expect fringe politics to become more active as times becomes worse across Europe. Are we really living in a politically correct world? Blaming foreigners with little political power is oh-so-convenient even if it doesn't really do anything constructive or identify real causes of economic malaise. As for the difference between the BNP and UKIP, it beats me, pal.