If you are like me you will be underwhelmed by the imminence of the European Elections which are to take place on June 4th. I haven't even thought about who I might be voting for yet, and if one considers that I'm actually involved in politics on a day to day basis then what does that say for the sense of excitement that the contest must have induced in most other people?
With the recent revelations about MPs' expense claims, the public can be forgiven for being unenthusiastic about any of the main parties. To paraphrase the old poster slogan, wouldn't it be funny if they called an election and nobody turned up?
Sadly, uninspiring though the established politicans may seem or indeed be, not turning out to vote may have far graver consequences than electing some undeserving bounty hunter of whatever political hue. Under the d'Hondt system of Proportional Representation that is to be used for the purpose of allocating seats, any party that achieves more than a stated minimum percentage of votes in any given region will have at least one member elected to the European Parliament.
Even in less cynical times, British voters on the whole never cared have too much who is elected to Brussels. At the previous two Euro Elections, also conducted under PR, a large protest vote went respectively to the Green Party and to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). What is significant is that neither party was particularly in the ascendancy at the time when they achieved their success. They were just in the right place at the right time when the British voter had the opportunity to register a protest.
The party which finds itself in a similar position today is the British National Party (BNP). As an ex-member of the National Front myself (a party in which many of the current BNP leaders, including the Chairman Nick Griffin, cut their political teeth) I have been studying the BNP's recent fortunes at close quarters. Having exploded onto the scene from relative obscurity a few years ago, the BNP has hovered steadily at around its current level for the last few years. Whilst is hasn't imploded in the sensational manner of the National Front at the 1979 General Election, it has flatlined somewhat, with the odd victory being celebrated but at least as many losses being quietly recorded.
Anybody who takes reassurance from this that the BNP will not present a major threat on June 4th, as some anti-racists seem to have done, is a fool. The general public do not know about the internal issues that trouble the BNP, nor will they have a sophisticated handle on its recent election results. The simple fact is that the BNP, like the Greens and UKIP before them, are the ones who are strategically poised to take advantage of the low voter turnout and the wave of quite understandable disillusionment that is sweeping the country at the moment.
In a certain respect as observers go I am in a unique position. It may be nearly twenty years since I abandoned the ideology (or more precisely the ideologies, for they changed like the wind) that I had pursued along with my former NF comrades back in the 1980s, but I have seen many of the current BNP leaders and their methods at close quarters. Along with one or two others I actually pioneered the electoral strategy that much later brought the BNP its limited successes.
Although he is older, bigger and has one eye fewer than he did when I knew him, the Nick Griffin I see on Newsnight and the equally slick performer who graces our various news bulletins is the same guy that I have enjoyed many a curry and a beer with, visited at his home, been entertained by his family (and he by mine) and talked politics and strategy with on countless occasions. Because I believe I always got along well with Nick Griffin and because our parting was political rather than personal, I have difficulty seeing in him the swivel-eyed monster of traditional anti-fascist folklore. Nonetheless, I firmly believe that the election of BNP MEPs on June 4th would be an unmitigated disaster for our community.
As an NF activist in the 1980s one of my pet hates was the media. No matter what the NF did any coverage received, as I saw it then, was hostile and inaccurate. It was so unfair. Worse than that, it was a plot. A Jewish plot. The possiblity that the complexities of the obscure and irrational ideology that I followed in those days might have been innocently misunderstood was not to be contemplated in the black and white world of the fanatic. The whole world was against us. They were wrong, and we alone were right.
And so it is that, rather than rely upon media interpretation to inform my opinion of the BNP today, my instinct is to look at the publications and the public pronouncements of the BNP itself. In recent years the BNP has gone to a lot of trouble trying to remodel itself as a legitimate and mainstream, if still very right wing, political party. It has dropped its lunatic commitment to "the compulsory repatriation of all non-white immigrants along with their dependents and descendants" and has instead adopted an ostensibly more reasonable policy of "voluntary repatriation". It isn't about race any more guv, it's only about numbers.
I giggle slightly wickedly when I read about all this, because having been there amongst the people involved I know the perpetual juggling act that Nick Griffin will have been forced by his own "conversion" to the BNP's new "Civic Nationalist" values to perform, reassuring his own loyal followers that he remains privately "of the faith" whilst simultaneously trying to impress the wider world that he is a changed man. It isn't easy, and the reason it isn't easy is because it isn't honest.
I believe it was this dichotomy which backed Nick Griffin recently to into an ideological corner, compelling him to spell out the old racist values that still underpin the "new" BNP. Speaking to the BBC, he declared that Asian Britons and black Britons "do not exist" and that people from African-Caribbean backgrounds and Asian backgrounds should be regarded as "racial foreigners", irrespective of whether they arrived yesterday or whether their ancestors have lived in the UK for generations. Somehow Nick Griffin and the BNP still insist on trying to square this with their protestation that they are not a racist party.
It is vital that voters who may be disillusioned with the mainstream understand that the BNP are not a benign protest party. People have every right to be discontented in the current climate. It is perfectly legitimate to question the size of the population and the various social consequences of excessive immigration. But the BNP's concerns, as evidenced by Nick Griffin's comments, are not about numbers, nor for that matter about jobs, housing, education nor anything else of that kind. They are about race. Just as they were when I was involved with the far right. All that has changed, essentially, is the packaging.
So if you are of the belief that the hard-working, friendly and decent family living next door to you, born in the UK of Asian parents or decended from Asian grandparents but thoroughly Anglicised, cannot be British due to an accident of birth - or If you believe that the black guy who drinks in your pub and speaks with a London accent and goes to watch football is not as good as you, or the same as you, because his grandfather came to England on a boat from Trinidad to work on the London buses - then the British National Party is maybe the party you should be voting for.
But if your concerns are merely those that we all share, especially at a time of economic privation, or if you are simply angry that so many of our "leaders" seem to more content with filling their faces and living like kings while the rest of us struggle to make ends meet, then there are easier ways of making your protest than by voting for a supposedly "non-racist" party that by its own admission judges people's Britishness according to skin pigmentation.
The beauty of the d'Honst system is that, just as it makes it easier for extremist parties to gain a foothold in our political institutions, so it also provides us with an easy means of keeping them out. Just vote for someone else. Anyone else. If none of the big parties float your boat at the moment there will be plenty of green parties, yellow parties, purple parties, rainbow alliances and Baron Bucketheads putting their fortunes to the test. A vote for one of them will do just as nicely to keep the BNP out.
If you vote for the BNP and it gains seats at Brussels on June 4th you will have done more than register a protest. You will have handed an openly racist party hundreds of thousands of pounds in funding which effectively comes with every Euro seat. The knot you tied in the establishment's shoelaces as a lesson may prove very difficult indeed to undo.
Even if you are as uninterested in the Euro elections as I am, and as uninspired by the large majority of the people who inhabit or seek to inhabit the European Parliament on our behalf, it is in the interests of our strong and united local community that you go out and vote. The Sunday Sport Party might yet see power.