So proud

On the Guardian's map showing which constituencies have the largest concentration of BNP members, my old home has the highest number. That's Morley and Rothwell, one of only three burgundy splotches (i.e., high numbers), with a proud 90. Or, if you want to do it by postal district, The Times can help out. The red pin furthest north is LS27: Morley (46 members). If you zoom in you can find the postcode BD11, which corresponds only to Drighlington, the specific village where I grew up: 12 members. I feel positively rosy discovering that SE13 harbours only 2 members.

The BNP's leaked 'membership list' (which appears to be an out of date mailing list, containing journalistic pseudonyms as well as who knows what old and inaccurate information) has put me in a rather unfamiliar situation. Obviously there was the immediate gloat of schadenfreude, particularly as the BNP looked to the hated Human Rights Act to maintain their privacy. But just because someone doesn't like the Human Rights Act, it doesn't mean they don't have human rights that need protecting.

There are children on this list, for crying out loud, named as part of family memberships, presumably taken out by their parents. The joining fees didn't come out of their pocket money. And being a BNP member isn't illegal. It might make me think somebody is morally reprehensible (yes, we've been here before) and it certainly would make me think less of them, but this is a Voltaire moment. (Or, according to Wikipedia, an Evelyn Beatrice Hall moment.) I might not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Even if I think you're a twat for saying it, and even if I have to turn myself blue arguing with you about why you're wrong to say it. You have the right to say it. You pillock.

I am, however, agreed that there are certain professions that should consider membership of a party that holds racist views to be a conflict of interest. The BBC has a handy summary. Police and prison officers, doctors, teachers and armed forces (to varying degrees of prohibition). It's right that people employed in such a capacity should be able to be viewed by the public as impartial and unbiased. I find it unlikely – but not impossible – that someone who feels strongly enough to become a member of a far-right political party would be able to keep their views separate from their work. Particularly when we often find supporters of the BNP not believing that their views are anything out of the ordinary. Would a party member even feel the need to keep their, to them, perfectly reasonable feelings apart from the patient they are treating, the child they are teaching or the person they are arresting?

It's a fair question.

When you accept an offer of employment, you know the restrictions it may bring. Which is presumably why the list requests "discretion" for certain members on the grounds of their jobs. Anyone working in the public domain who joined the BNP took a calculated risk (there are other ways of supporting a political party or cause) and I have very little sympathy. Unless it's a term of employment, you can't fire someone for party political membership. However. If the discovery of BNP membership sheds new light on a colleague's previously perplexing conduct, if it crystallises prior incidents and offers motive for behaviour that was troubling, if it is the final nail in the coffin for someone who has been less than fair and balanced in their work, then I am having difficulty having a problem. If it causes someone with a previously unblemished record to have to start walking on eggshells that's more troubling; but if a person genuinely cannot maintain a distance between their professional and political lives they should seriously reconsider their vocation.

I do have sympathy for anyone who has received threats because of this list. It's unthinking mob behaviour – no different from attacking paediatricians or complaining about a radio show you didn't even hear. While Nick Griffin's off accusing Labour of all sorts, I wonder why he isn't asking questions of this supposed 'Great' Britain and its heritage of tolerance of other people and their views. Oh, that's right… but hypocrisy isn't stopping him using the Human Rights Act.

And on a final note, it would be nice to think that this episode would make the compilers of Redwatch stop and think. I doubt they will, but it would be nice to think so.

By the way: I haven't looked at the membership list, I haven't even attempted to search for it. If you have, don't link to it in the comments. I'll only delete it.


2 responses to “So proud

  1. Amy November 23, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    This amused me – comment from The Times on the fact there are two ‘witches’ registered on the list.
    “…One assumes that the witches named on the BNP list were, you know, white witches. I don’t think they’d be allowed in the BNP if they weren’t.”
    Bu-dum-tush! (Or similar percussive effect…)

  2. Rachel November 24, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    *snorting with laughter* I do likes that.
    Btw, the Grauniad seems to be the only paper to have gone to Morley rather than plumping for the more obvious stories of Oldham and Burnley:
    Independents lead fightback in far-right stronghold
    This is actually quite an interesting thing, that I wasn’t aware of. A group of independents have got together in Morley and started standing (and getting elected) to Leeds council – mainly, it seems, in response to the growing BNP support.
    And just to add a bit of context to Pat Denison’s comments in the Guardian (“We’re not racists round here, but it’s fair to say that Morley’s often had a very poor deal from everyone else, specially Leeds”) Morley is not particularly deprived. It was originally a reasonably wealthy mill town that got badly hit in the 70s and 80s, but recently it’s had its old warehouses converted into trendy flats and is doing rather well for itself. This ‘very poor deal’ stems from the early 70s, when Morley stopped being an independent borough and got swallowed up by Leeds. Morley’s had a massive chip on its shoulder ever since and is plagued by a persecution complex. I suspect this might be why the BNP is doing well; it appeals to Morley’s (imo totally unjustified) view of itself as a glorious heartland that has been viciously ground down by jealous neighbours.

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