I wish I didn't have to, but to cut down on the abuse from numpties, I feel the need to point out that I have been a committed anti-fascist, anti-racist campaigner for as long as I can remember. I am proud to live in multi-cultural Britain and the love I have for the diversity of London knows no bounds (except for tourists who stop at the top of escalators on the Tube with suitcases, you I can do without).
A new poll, conducted by anti-fascist organisation Searchlight, has shown that almost half of Britons questioned would support a political party that was anti-immigration, however the violence associated with the only parties currently articulating this view prevents them from doing so. The Guardian then infers that if the BNP, EDL and the like gave up their violent tendencies, they would get greater levels of support from British voters.
I want to clear something up firstly. If you'll ever read a BNP manifesto, one of the more surprising aspects is that it doesn't all focus on immigration and race. There's a whole lot of other crazy in there. Like the policy of giving everyone over the age of 18 a rifle. I think the Ashley Cole incident this weekend just shows what can happen when you give idiots firearms. Even if the far-right dropped their violent associations, there's no guarantee people would vote for them. Just wanted to point that out.
But back to the issue. When this article was published, a friend of mine claimed that he was 'highly concerned' by Searchlight's findings and the fact that the research was conducted in the first place.
I don't find this worrying at all. I think it is attempting to open up a sensible debate on immigration, an issue that we on the left need to tackle particularly in the context of the PM's hideous speech on the failure of multi-culturalism.
To my knowledge no-one had ever asked these questions before. From my own experiences on the doorsteps of Barking and Dagenham, I know that some of the support for the BNP was because Labour weren't talking about immigration AT ALL.
We need to stop burying our heads in the sand. As a Labour party member I know that we're devoting a lot of time, money and resources in battling the fascists; and rightly so, but it kills me when you realise that we're spending time countering the far-right when we could be enagaging voters on our issues and policies. The far-right gained traction because we weren't having a sensible debate on issues related to immigration and national identity. Voters care about the issue and wanted someone to talk about it. The results from the Searchlight research shows that they still do.
A different friend argued that if we were better at showing the positive benefits of immigration, then people would be less concerned about it. It's also worth pointing out that whilst the British public believe that 23% of the UK population is made up of immigrants, the actual number is less than 4%. Everywhere you look it's hysteria, panic, myth and more hysteria. This is no way to conduct a sensible discussion, especially one we so desperately need.
I firmly believe that if we can take the hysteria out of the debate on immigration and national identity (and take the extremism aspect out of everything - can we agree that extremism is wrong in any form?) the BNP and the EDL will lose support from people attracted to them because they are the only people saying anything on the issues. When my friends get spat at my EDL supporters, I want to fight back, but I want it to be in a constructive way. I think this research kick starts what I hope is a sensible debate.