Last year James Bethell ran the Nothing British campaign against the BNP. Coming from the centre right, Nothing British challenged the fascists on their economy and defence policy where far left antifascists have traditionally been weak. I have a lot of time for Bethell, so it’s a shame he’s wasted his talents on this report. It is basically a series of focus group findings about the voters that Bethell says Westminister left behind. These are disaffected white working and middle class people that Bethell calls ‘ANTIs’ – politically angry, economically neglected, socially traditional, immigration focused.
What do the ANTIs want? Speaking to groups in Staines and Rotherham, Bethell found that his subjects were ‘uncomfortable with metropolitan cultural liberalism, proud of Britain’s heritage and concerned that our national identity has been diluted’; saw themselves as having ‘been left behind by globalisation’; worried about ‘rising crime’; thought that ‘immigration is destroying the British way of life’, and that ‘immigrants seem to get better treatment from the Government than people born in the UK’. Bethell found that 64% of BNP voters agreed with the statement that ‘I have been unfairly treated by the state because of the effects of mass immigration’ and many people he spoke to ‘claimed to know specific cases where a recent immigrant family had received preferential treatment for housing or medical care, while their family or friends had to wait’. The focus groups also felt that in general ‘the welfare state rewarded people who did not work’. Because of this, the ANTIs are ‘suspicious of the modern political culture, dismissive of current political leaders’ have ‘a sense of betrayal by the political classes’ and therefore don’t vote for mainstream parties. Bethell asks: ‘What can mainstream politicians do to bring these voters back?’ The question should be: do we want to?
Let’s take a step back. The British working class lost all its arguments and struggles in the 1980s. Having seen its unions dismantled, its pay and conditions compromised, its economic base withered and outsourced, the dignity of its labour destroyed, its men of craft and industry ending their careers in call centres, the working class retreated into self-pity and conspiracy. The National Government can drive through its radical monetarist programme with confidence. European governments with similar policies have faced strikes and riots, but in Britain the resistance has been led by middle and upper class students and liberal-creatives, rather than the working class which arguably has a lot more to lose. Yet the working class is unlikely to hold a demo or a riot on the scale we saw in the 1980s, and if they did it would be about Winterval.
And yet politicians still wanted working class votes. Tory candidates have long been associated with nasty political manipulation in the ‘if you want a nigger for a neighbour’ line, but there are canny opportunists in the Labour Party – Liam Byrne, Phil Woolas – who have built successful careers by campaigning on working class G-spot issues like immigration. From the ruins of the British working class emerged a disaffected hardcore obsessed with a few key policy issues – migration, crime, welfare – and guided by a narrative of Great Decline that says that Britain is run by a politically correct elite determined to reward the lazy and destroy everything that made our country great. These are the ANTIs Bethell supports.
If the ANTIs were content to preserve their nationalism and social traditionalism in the quiet dignified way that is the mark of British patriotism we wouldn’t have a problem. But they won’t leave you alone. They campaign, they protest, they bombard public sector offices and newspaper comment boards. They claim to be patriots but display no sign of the traditional virtues – making the best of what you have, not complaining about one’s lot, bearing problems with a stiff upper lip – that are supposed to be integral to the British character. Read a thread on any national or regional paper and you will find that the discussion degenerates into the politically correct conspiracy narrative almost regardless of the subject. The papers, knowing their audience, defer to its prejudices and deliver a neverending conga line of mad stories along the lines of ‘Latvian squats in Kensington mansion’ that are seemingly written and printed with the specific aim of making its readers angrier and angrier. As Nick Cohen said: in Britain hate sells better than sex.
Bethell is right to say that the 1990s and 2000s saw ‘unprecedented levels of internal and external immigration’. What he doesn’t say is that the mass social unrest this was supposed to cause has not happened. There have been flare ups in Greater Manchester and Yorkshire but, on the whole, the river has not foamed with blood and people get along better than conservatives think. I’ve lived my adult life mainly in cities that have seen high levels of immigration. In my experience, people may hate immigration in general – but if they know a migrant he’s okay. I’ll always remember the night in a Salford pub when a bunch of us regulars, working class and bourgeoisie, defended a couple of Muslim immigrants who were being racially abused by a solitary drinker in an England shirt. The ANTIs are a minority here.
For twenty years we have been trying to accommodate the man in the England shirt. Time and again Bethell’s focus groups tell him that they want mainstream parties to be harder on crime, immigration and welfare. And yet the antis already have the government for which they yearn. For twenty years we have elected politician after politician who has promised to crack down on criminals and migrants and benefit fraudsters. And these machine politicians have delivered – they have drafted new offences and mandatory sentencing guidelines, ploughed money into police recruitment, created a welfare system that puts cancer patients on Flexible New Deal courses and an immigration system that measures its success by the number of people it deports. People get the government they want and the government they deserve.
And yet the ANTIs and their machine politicians are not satisfied. They scream for a tougher immigration system when it is already one of the toughest in the world and scream for a debate on immigration that already dominates all other policy debates. Politicians don’t tell the voters this, because they govern on perception and anecdote, not reality. Sssh… it’s okay… it’s okay… We know that the economy is not zero sum, we don’t fall for the lump of labour fallacy, we know that if – in P J O’Rourke’s words – if I order a Domino’s pizza, you don’t have to eat the box. But we can’t tell the ANTIs this because we have got their vote on the premise that migrants are taking their jobs and we want to put a stop to it. We got their vote on the premise that migrants have undercut their wages and we want to stop it. Too late to question the lack of anything but anecdotal evidence for this, or to raise the evidence that migrants actually put wages up. We still believe the romantic lie that a working class person can never be racist or wrong, that a working class outlook cannot be limited or flawed and that poverty brings wisdom. We are locked in a mad dance of unreality. And we are playing with people’s lives.
Note, by the way, that immigrants themselves are not part of the immigration debate. These are people often running from incarceration or torture or execution or civil war, from societies and situations in which the average British working class ANTI, with his freeview box and child tax credit and subsidised housing, would not last ten minutes. To get to the UK they undertake perilous journeys under the less than tender care of people traffickers and criminals. Banned from working until their claim is resolved, they end up as slaves in brothels or dope farms, or survive for months and years on food vouchers and Salvation Army handouts. If UKBA rejects them, they can be held in purpose built prisons, or deported in dawn raids by thugs from Serco and Group 4. To appease the vague sense of unease of our ANTI voters we lock up the children of refugees and send them to places where they can be tortured and murdered. And yet, I repeat, the migrants have no voice in the migration debate. The right hates these people. The left, with honourable exceptions, is indifferent. Migrants are not second class citizens. They are not citizens, end of. They are unpersons.
The brief resurgence of the BNP continued the dance and the mad outreach work and the quest to satisfy a spoilt child that can never be satisfied. When Nick Griffin won his Euro seat, commentators fell over themselves to explain that BNP voters did not vote BNP because they agreed with its racist policies. The working class expression of racism can never be about racism: it is always about the problems of globalisation or the tensions of multiculturalism. The parallels with leftwing apologists for Islamic terror should be obvious.
Bethell asks: what can we do to get the ANTIs back into the mainstream? Again, look on an MEN comment thread and you will find recommendations for: a complete ban on immigration, the abolition of the welfare state, the return of the death penalty, the compulsory castration of paedophiles, the cancellation of all foreign aid. How far do we want to go? How much do you give the child before it stops shrieking?
As I said, I have a lot of time for Bethell, so I will entertain the possibility that he is right. Maybe if we got rid of all the migrants – and all the settled second and third generation migrants, why not? – and transformed our towns and cities into completely homogenous British communities then the ANTIs would be happy and the BNP would go away and leave us alone. Maybe everything would be fine in our silo nation in England’s green and pleasant land, everything for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
Or maybe we would look around, and cry for the sad and sorry little world we’ve created for ourselves.