The Bishop and the BNP
Subject: Local elections and BNP from Bishop Tom
With local elections coming up, we face again the unwelcome news of the BNP making potential inroads in our region. Splendid work has been done to counter this by several clergy working with local community leaders, for instance in distributing the pamphlet, ‘Hope Not Hate’. I want to urge all of you to get involved in this effort in whatever local sphere you can.
However, we should also be aware that the reason the BNP can even gain a foothold in people’s affections is because many people in our region feel so disaffected after the last thirty years of national politics that they are in danger of giving up hope in our regular main parties. This isn’t anybody’s fault in particular. But when a party like the BNP seems to be gaining ground we should all ask the question: ‘Why is there a vacuum there that the other parties aren’t filling?’. What frustrations are there that the BNP are exploiting, and what are the wise ways of reacting to, or even meeting, those needs?
It is one thing to point out, as many have already done, the neo-Nazi tendencies of the BNP, and to warn with a shudder against our society even taking a small step in any such direction. It is another to say, How can we drain the swamp so that this kind of ideology won’t breed again?
None of us (in other words) can be complacent. Opposing the BNP isn’t simply a matter of saying ‘the status quo is working fine, so please reject these idiots’. It should be a matter of saying, ‘What does a healthy society look like and how can we make it clear to our whole population that we are working in the best ways towards that goal?’ Part of the calling of the churches, following Jesus in his work of bringing God’s kingdom, must be to help communities ask that question and to work with them towards finding robust and positive answers.
Warm greetings and good wishes,
The Bishop of Durham, Auckland Castle.
This is precisely the sort of thing that bishops ought to be doing. The Enlightenment division between religion and politics is an artificial construct, and anyone with any real understanding of political science and theology will understand that the two are fused.
And yet while Cranmer is admiring of the Bishop for his foray into politics, he is disappointed that his politics is awry.
For many living in his local area, they have experienced first-hand the impact of immigrant workers on their community, especially the uncontrolled hordes emigrating from Eastern Europe. Young people now find it hard to find work, and the sense of resentment is palpable. And HM Government is powerless to do anything about it, for the free movement of peoples is an inextricable right under the founding principles of the EU.
When these people hear Gordon Brown promise ‘British jobs for British workers’, their ears prick up and they wait in hope. And they wait, and wait, and wait. And then they hear that he cannot deliver on his pledge, and so they turn to a party that promises the same – the BNP. And they then hear that the BNP is no longer really racist, but just mildly nationalist, with pride in English culture and heritage. And they are really promising British jobs for British workers, and explaining how they intend to do it. And because these young people desperately want a job, they are tempted to vote for the BNP, as Bishop Tom observes, but he has no compassion for or understanding of the journey these young people have travelled to get to where they are. It is not that they are pro-BNP: it is simply that they want a job; they want to feel kinship with their neighbours; they want to live in safe communities and bring up their families; and they want the same for their children, and their children’s children.
The BNP may be nothing more than a bunch of racist thugs masquerading under a political banner, preying on the disenchanted, thriving on hatred and resentment. But it is indeed the chronic impotence and perceived irrelevance of the main political parties that is fuelling their rise. And history tells of one or two odious individuals who have been elected to office when the people decide that they have simply had enough of being deceived, manipulated, ignored and lied to.
And this, dear Bishop, is indeed someone’s fault in particular, and there is no sin in apportioning blame. Perhaps you might focus on this in your next epistle.