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BNP: Contemporary Perspectives
Book Review by Anindya Bhattacharyya, May 2011
Nigel Copsey and Graham Macklin (eds)
This book brings together a series of academic papers researching the fascist British National Party (BNP). It is, unfortunately, academic in the worst sense of the word. It has little new to say to anyone who has been paying attention to the news or has been involved in anti-fascist campaigning. A couple of exceptions aside, the analysis is dull and superficial, with little or no grasp of how the BNP fits into a wider dynamic of racism in society. Islamophobia barely merits a mention - an astonishing omission.
Many of the papers focus on dissecting the BNP's ideology and propaganda. John E Richardson shows how the BNP internally remains wedded to hardcore Nazi ideas such as biological racism and Holocaust denial, but tones these down when pitching for votes with the wider public. James Rhodes examines BNP discourse on "multiculturalism" in the context of New Labour's policies and pronouncements on the topic. He concludes with some sharp criticism of the attempt to frame issues such as immigration around the supposed plight of the "white working class". These two papers are the strongest in the collection, not least because they robustly identify the BNP as a fascist organisation and analyse it in the context of wider racism in society.
But all too often the focus on the BNP's own discourse becomes an excuse to pick over minor ideological details or historical obscurities. In this vein, Graham Macklin puts forward an unconvincing attempt to link the contemporary BNP to an also-ran 1960s far-right organisation of the same name. Roger Griffin presents a slightly more interesting thesis that looks at the influence of Italian fascist thinker Julius Evola on today's BNP. This includes the bizarre detail that Italian fascists of the 1970s named their mountain retreat "Camp Hobbit" in honour of JRR Tolkien.
Other papers continue in this desultory vein. Anthony Messina compares the BNP to other European far-right parties, shedding little light on any of them. Steven Woodbridge examines, in eye-watering detail, the reaction of other British fascist organisations to the BNP's trajectory. This paper is well researched but of little political relevance or interest.
By far the weakest paper is the contribution by Nigel Copsey, the collection's main editor. His survey of anti-fascist activism spends eight pages dwelling upon the relatively marginal role of Anti Fascist Action in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When he does finally move on to the present day, Copsey scarcely manages to conceal his distaste for Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and his sympathies for Searchlight's Hope Not Hate campaign. UAF's "negative campaigning" against the BNP is "counterproductive", he claims - citing Nick Griffin's say-so as evidence. Elsewhere Copsey muses that Labour's best hope against the BNP lies in ensuring that it "can speak to people's concerns over immigration". A dismal conclusion, but an unsurprising one for an analysis that starts off by abandoning the tradition of popular and militant anti-racist campaigning.
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