This weekend a fantastic sequence of events occurred and, in their occurrence, I was reaffirmed in my self-hating decision to vote Labour in the General Election.
My decision to vote Labour in 2010, despite being disgusted by their nearly thirteen years of continuing the exact same foreign and economic policies as the Tories, and never before voting for them in my life (thus far it’s either been Lib Dem or Green all the way), is one I’ve discussed several times on this blog. The basic motivation – to remind the long-term-memory-deficient – is to put up a strong front against the expected Conservative victory by voting tactically for their closest opposition because, though Labour are bad, the Tories are arguably worse, and I’d rather vote Labour and get Labour, the lesser of two evils, than vote with my heart and allow David Cameron to win by default.
Still, it makes me feel dirty to lend my support – if only strategically – to a party and government responsible for so much death and destruction during their time in power. From Hawk Jets to Indonesia, to the ongoing horrors of Afghanistan and everything in between; from tuition fees and the private finance initiative to academies and the new deal; the Labour Party might well be the lesser of two evils in that, under an ostensibly left-wing government there are always superficial yet significant real-world improvements alongside the business-as-usual thrust of continuity capitalism, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that they’re not still an evil. I do not support the Labour Party; I merely oppose the Conservatives.
But when I read the paper on Saturday morning and re-lived Gordon Brown’s shameless and unapologetic defence of the Iraq war during the Chilcot Inquiry, there was a very real moment of despair.
I can’t vote for these blatant murderers, I thought. I really can’t, in good conscience, place a cross in the box for a man who bankrolled the illegal and unjustified invasion of a sovereign nation and still cheerleads that decision today…
But then I read the story underneath the report on Chilcot.
The one about the Young Britons’ Foundation.
The Young Britons’ Foundation, according to the Guardian, are a right-wing group “whose leadership has described the NHS as ‘the biggest waste of money in the UK’, claimed global warming is ‘a scam’ and suggested that the waterboarding of prisoners can be justified.” They also have suggested that police should shoot down protesters.
At least eleven prospective Conservative Party candidates running in the upcoming General Election have undergone training at the YBF, a group that it’s chief executive, Donal Blaney, calls a “Conservative madrasa”, designed to “radicalize” young Tories into extreme neo-conservativism, and at the recent annual YBF parliamentary rally at the House of Commons, shadow defence secretary, Liam Fox and Conservative Party chairman, Eric Pickles both spoke. Former YBF speakers include David Cameron’s former chief of staff, Alex Deane, shadow education secretary, Michael Gove, shadow arts minister, Ed Vaizey, Andrew Rosindell, Conservative MP for Romford, and former Tory ministers, John Redwood and David Davis. In other words, if you vote for the Tories this spring, then you will be getting graduates and supporters of this rather ugly neo-conservative boot camp, with close links to neo-con groups in the States, forming your next UK government.*
That’s why I’ll be voting Labour – because as bad as Labour is, the Conservatives are still worse. Gordon Brown might be a murderer, but at least he’s an accountable murderer.
And just to punctuate the point that a right-leaning left-wing government is still better than a right-leaning right-wing government, lo and behold a leaflet for the BNP came through my door the very next day.
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: the ideas expressed by racist and fascist groups like the BNP are so detestable that I always assume some level of sophistication in the way that they manipulate and recruit people to join them; so it always amazes me when I read some of their moronic campaign literature and realize that it is simply written by idiots, for idiots.
“Thousands of pensioners freeze to death every winter because Labour cares more about foreign aid than they do about our old folk. The BNP would put British people first”
No. Capitalism is what causes pensioners to freeze every winter, because utilities companies care more about profits than they do about human life. The extortionate price of gas bills have nothing to do with foreign aid, and if you wanted to subsidize the elderly and give them free heat during the winter you could do that by taxing the rich, properly taxing businesses, decreasing the military budget, and a million other simple solutions that have nothing to do with decreasing the pitiful amount of money we give to countries like Haiti and Chile when they need help. The real undertone here is clear: we hate giving foreigners money and think helping old people makes us sound caring.
“As a working family we know what it’s like to be taxed to death and what effect Labour’s mismanagement of the economy has had on our house price. The BNP would ensure British jobs for British workers.”
Can you see the theme emerging? Here it is even more blatant than in the last one, because giving British jobs to British workers really has nothing to do with the tax policy the BNP is ostensibly aggrieved about in the first passage of this promise. A logically coherent second sentence would read something like: As a working family we know what it’s like to be taxed to death and what effect Labour’s mismanagement of the economy has had on our house price…therefore we promise a progressive new scheme of taxation whereby working people won’t be taxed so much and rich individuals and corporations will be taxed much more. Even a traditionally racist BNP approach of …therefore we will increase the taxes paid by foreigners living in the UK by 2000% and lower the taxes for “indigenous whites” because we hate foreign people and have no meaningful sense of history or mathematics would have made more sense than what was actually written. But the BNP weren’t looking for “sense” here, or coherency; they were just looking for invoking that now-familiar racist undertone: the needlessly proffered fear of “British” jobs being lost out to “foreigners”, and an even more insidious allusion to house prices falling – a common refrain for racists who believe their neighbourhoods to be “overrun” with ethnic minorities.
Speaking of which…
“The government prioritises immigrants when it comes to housing. The BNP will house British families first – it’s only fair.”
Actually, it’s not “only fair” to house British families first over immigrants who may need the housing more desperately – it is prejudiced and discriminatory. And as the leaflet provides no real information or statistics to prove that the claim the government prioritises “immigrants” over “British” families is true, then we have no real reason to believe that it is. Also, it should be noted that for the government to have anything to do with an “immigrant” in an official capacity, then it must be presumed that the immigrant in question is a legal immigrant, working within the system and not outside of it, in which case, technically, they are now a British family too, and any housing they are given is therefore going to a British family. The BNP do not really mean “immigrant” here though – they mean: people of colours other than white.
“The NHS is in decline and many of our friends find it hard to get operations – yet we’ve fought for this country and paid in all our lives. The BNP is the only party that listens.”
Considering that the NHS is mentioned by every political party during election time, the BNP are demonstrably not the only party that listens. They are, however, the only party who randomly invoke the idea that “we’ve fought for this country” in the middle of an argument about underfunding of the NHS. Because that is the cause of the NHS’s “decline”: underfunding. A solution, and easy way of improving the service provided by the NHS (which, despite all its faults, is still a million times better than any private alternative) is – and now you might spot my recurring theme – more taxes on big businesses and the rich, and a change of priorities in the budget so that more is spent on healthcare and education, and less is spent on defence and corporate welfare. The money is there if only it was spent correctly. Parties like the BNP (and the Conservatives) are only too happy to harp on about the cost of benefit cheats on taxpayers, but when you consider that, in 2009, individual benefit fraud cost UK taxpayers just £900 million, whilst corporate tax evasion, tax avoidance, and tax “efficencies” cost us £18.5 billion each year, it is clear to say that the real criminals are getting away with defrauding our system, including the NHS, year after year after year.
The BNP’s statement about the NHS, however, is not a meaningful policy statement regarding our health services. Nor is it intended to be. Again, the undertone is clear: they do not point to the causes of NHS “decline” or offer any solutions. They simply say: “we’ve fought for this country and paid in all our lives”, which is, again, code for the idea that those who haven’t fought for this country and those who haven’t paid in all their lives – read: bloody immigrants! – are somehow coming over here and taking away our emergency services, so now grandma can’t have her knee operation. The ignorance is astounding, and it only gets worse:
“We have children and we want them to be brought up in a Christian country and taught about our religion, culture and traditions in school. The BNP opposes the Islamification of Britain”
Well, firstly, let me just say that I went to a state school in the UK where the Christian religion, culture and traditions were first and foremost on the agenda (“Nothing without God” was our school’s motto). We also learnt about other religions and cultures in RE lessons, but the primary spiritual concern was Christianity and the Christian faith. Despite the school’s best efforts at indoctrination though, I came out the other end an atheist. The reason being: we are a free society and not a fascist state, and despite all the best propaganda in the world, we are still free to choose what we believe.
This is the reason why the UK today is a very different place culturally, ethnically and spiritually than it was, say, fifty years ago. Not because bloody immigrants have come over here and corrupted our children with their crazy foreign gods and cultures…but because, as life has gone on, society has evolved. We’ve learnt more about other cultures, religions and traditions, we’ve re-assessed our own, we’ve integrated the bits that we liked and we’ve ejected the pieces that we didn’t. We are in a constant conversation with each other and that conversation has allowed new ideas to flourish, old ideas to adapt and grow stronger, and a diversity of equally valid lifestyles, beliefs and value systems to blossom and evolve alongside each other for the common good.
The fact is, the BNP may want their children to be brought up in a Christian country, but in 2010 the UK is simply not a Christian country. And this is a good thing. Christians can still be Christians here, but now also Hindus can be Hindus, Sikhs can be Sikhs, Jews can be Jews, Buddhists can be Buddhists, Atheists can be Atheists, and, yes, Muslims can be Muslim. The existence and acceptance of other religions within our society has not diminished the Christian church at all, but it has freed up the spiritual life of British individuals and shown them a variety of different options of belief.
The biggest threat to the Christian church today is not Islam; indeed the same thing which threatens Christianity is equally a threat to Islam, and is taking believers away from the Qur’an as much as it is from the Bible: it is atheism. It is the fact that we, as a culture, are slowly moving forward, out of the intellectual dark ages, and as people like myself grow up and re-think the superstitions of our elders, we begin to grow out of these silly and outdated religions and seek a non-religious spiritual and ethical alternative for ourselves. Sadly for the BNP, this exodus away from religion and into the realm of the humanist and the rational is nothing to do with immigrants, Muslims, or any of the other usual scapegoats of the far-right, it is simply the result of free-thought and free-will: two innate human capacities fascist groups like the BNP seek to wipe out.
“We opposed the war in Iraq and now in Afghanistan. British troops are losing their lives for a war which only serves out-of-touch politicians. The BNP would bring our boys home NOW!”
This final statement is seemingly meant to be the BNP’s big selling point in 2010. Indeed, the cover of the leaflet says in big, bold writing: “PUTTING BRITISH PEOPLE FIRST! NO to Crime. NO to Immigration. NO to EU Rule. NO to High Taxes. YES to Bringing Our Troops Home!” all written over a patriotic backdrop of soldiers in the desert sands. The back of the leaflet says: “BNP: THE ONLY PARTY COMMITTED TO BRINGING OUR TROOPS HOME…Our troops are being sent to their deaths in the Middle East for a political crusade which serves no British interest.”
Now, ignoring for a moment the historical ignorance here which shows the BNP clearly have no real idea why these wars are being fought (the “British interest” at stake here is what it always is in unnecessary foreign invasions: political power and economic gain. It is not a war which “only serves out-of-touch politicians” – it is a massive albatross around most politicians’ necks and will probably cost Labour the election. It is a war which, like all wars, serves their capitalist masters and the geo-political dominance of elites, and which we need a massive overhaul of the political and economic system to change); the first question one has to ask here is why exactly the BNP wants to bring our troops home? One dreads to think what uses Nick Griffin would put our armed forces to at home if he were in power, nor should one be surprised that a fascist party wants to make sure a well-armed military is at their domestic disposal and not stranded overseas where they can’t be easily deployed.
Although the anti-war message is populist at the moment, the philosophy behind it from the BNP is severely hollow. They are not opposed to the war because it was wrong, unjust, illegal, or immoral. They are not opposed to it because we have destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan and murdered countless numbers of Iraqi and Afghan civilians. They are not even opposed to it because they disagree with invading foreign countries so long as it is in the “British interest”. No. They are only opposed to it because “our boys” are being killed over there for what seems on the surface – if, like the BNP clearly do, you believe the propagandist lies of our government – a war to help out undeserving nations in the Middle East. In other words, it’s the same old racist undertone that we found in all the other promises: why should we help those brown-skinned people over there? Why should our troops be dying just to save a bunch of Arabs from themselves?
The BNP leaflet exposes the emptiness and the prejudice of their policies, all wrapped up in a Union Jack and garnished with creepy master-race-style pictures of smiling all-white families. That people might actually read it, and choose to vote for these racist thugs on the basis of the ill-thought-out drivel inside, speaks more to the stupidity of our nation than it does to the skillful manipulation of the British National Party.
Still though, again, it was a gentle reminder of why I must vote for the warmonger Brown on election day, despite opposing so much of what he stands for.
Though Labour might be despicable, they at least operate on a level where you can have a serious conversations about their actions, and they have a political base they must appease with social programmes, welfare, diplomacy, and all the other expectations of the left, even if it goes against their elite power-interests. When you get Labour, you get disappointment, but at least you have a basic framework of shared social understanding – rights, duties, responsibilities, ethics – if only on the surface, by which you are to judge them.
With these hooligans on the far-right, however, and their more respectable brethren in the official opposition, it is like undoing decades of social progress and starting again from square one. It is championing ignorance, greed, selfishness, meanness, cruelty and stupidity. It is voting for racists. It is voting for homophobes. It is voting for delusion and pig-headedness. It is voting for oppression, intolerance, violence and brutality.
The Labour Party might well be a shell of their former selves, and they might even betray everything that they once stood for – but at least there is a shell and a sense of betrayal – with the Conservative Party, and especially with the BNP, you are simply getting exactly what you voted for.
Voting for Labour might make us feel temporarily dirty, but a Conservative victory will never wash off.
*As I wrote this blog, Conservative Chairman, Eric Pickles, denounced the YBF and tried to sever Tory links with the group following the report in Saturday’s Guardian. Though the move may be politically expedient now that the YBF have come under fire, it does not really explain why the Conservative politicians listed were happy talking and training with the YBF until it became politically damaging to do so. I suspect here not a change in belief and policy, but a change in public perception that has necessitated a public distancing from the controversial organization, but not from the ideas which first brought these two groups together.