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Buy British… and Slovakian!

British National Party (the UK’s ultra-nationalist Nazi wannabes) members are infamous for their anti-foreigner, anti-immigrant, generally racist rhetoric as regularly featured in their party’s monthly newspaper. Unfortunately for eager readers of The Voice of Freedom, the September edition of the newspaper was recently impounded by Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise Service. Apparently, the party known for its ‘buy British’ and ‘close the borders’ campaigns gets its printing done in Slovakia.

This obviously irked party members who demanded loudly that the Government reopen the borders er... in this particular case only. The cover of the September edition ironically featured the headline: ‘What about showing some solidarity with the British people?’ Nazis do seem to view the former Czechoslovakia as their own though, don’t they?

Robertson’s wrath

Speaking of fascists, the United States’ own Goebbels wannabe, Pat Robertson, recently came to an unusual conclusion about the cause of the disaster that befell New Orleans. Apparently ‘lesbianism’ (adding ‘ism’ to anything in the States is a surefire way of getting people to know that you want them to hate it like ‘communism’, ‘socialism’, ‘liberalism’, etc) is to blame in the eyes of this doyen of Christian fundamentalists.

‘This is the second time in a row that God has invoked a disaster shortly before lesbian Ellen Degeneres hosted the Emmy Awards [annual awards for television programmes],’ said the right reverend on his popular television show The 700 Club. Robertson also accuses Degeneres of causing ‘God’s wrath’ in the form of the attacks of 11 September, just before she last hosted the awards ceremony. ‘Is it any surprise that the Almighty chose to strike at Miss Degeneres’ hometown?... God already allows one awards show to promote the homosexual agenda. But clearly He will not tolerate such sinful behavior to spread beyond the Tonys [annual awards for theatre performances].’


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Food and politics don’t mix

BNP in action

Is there such a thing as a selfless good deed when promoting a political party at the same time? bnp.org.uk under a Creative Commons Licence

Food has been increasingly politicized over recent times – and no more so than by food banks.

The country’s most prominent provider, The Trussell Trust, announced that well over 600,000 adults and children required handouts in the first 9 months of 2013/14 – the biggest-ever rise in usage, up 170 per cent. It’s a startling statistic.

But while vulnerable people and a growing reliance on charity is a worrying development, more politicians appear to be wading in to comment; championing beliefs as a result of the initiatives, or combating opponents with differing figures.

On Tuesday, a cross-party inquiry into food poverty was launched to examine the country’s ‘underlying issues’. The prospectively pragmatic approach cannot come soon enough. Jon Glenn, Conservative MP for Salisbury, said at the time: ‘Partisan politics needs to be taken out of the debate.’

But while the need for food banks stems from economic policy founded on political ideals – undeniably fuelling debate and dispute – the physical act of donation and provision has largely been left to kindly members of communities. Churches, resident-led teams and larger organizations have all stepped up.

The British National Party (BNP), however, has ignored this basic premise. This week The Independent reported that the far-right group has begun a nationwide door-to-door service, expanding a localized scheme in East London which was condemned by some observers as ‘manipulative’.

Unite Against Fascism’s Weyman Bennett says the move is not dissimilar to Adolf Hitler’s soup kitchens, or the work of Greece’s fascist party Golden Dawn.

He told The Independent: ‘I think [the BNP] are repeating those methods with this period of austerity. There is a danger with austerity that people get exploited and used.’ He added that the work would encourage ‘the homeless and the desperate to support a rotten organization’.

Indeed, ‘giving’ has often been a telling sign of propaganda – to appeal to potential voters; to nurture some semblance of positivity in times of hardship.

But BNP spokesperson Simon Darby responded by talking about people ‘struggling’. He played down the speculation, while mentioning the scheme as an expression of ‘sympathy’. Puzzling, then, that he went on to say that the project was a way of gaining ‘trust’ and ‘bringing meaning to politics’.

As many question the motives behind he scheme, BNP leader Nick Griffin went as far as to proclaim that his party’s mobile food banks were for ‘indigenous’ people only.

Over the last few years, the BNP has used the country’s concerns for welfare and widening inequality to step into the spotlight. Communities driven to the fringes by austerity are Nick Griffin’s target.

Yet dishing out tinned goods in exchange for a tick on a voting slip is more than politically questionable; it also undermines those who are working to tackle food poverty without hoping to gain an advantage from such altruism. The Sufra food bank, for example, is a Muslim collective run from a small community centre on a northwest London housing state. It has doubled in size since forming late last year and, although founded on a religious backbone, has been ‘offering support to anyone in need’.

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EU referendum – fear is the right thing to feel


Participants hold a British Union flag and an EU flag during a pro-EU referendum event at Parliament Square in London, Britain 19 June, 2016. © REUTERS/Neil Hall

As voters gear up to decide this week whether Britain should stay in or leave the European Union, Vanessa Baird makes a case for fear – and political realism.

Both sides in the unedifying debate over whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union accuse each other of stoking up irrational fear.

But sometimes it is right to be afraid. The question is: what are you more afraid of?

Up until Thursday last, the media was dominated by economics – there were endless claims and counter claims, statistics trotted out and spun to suit whichever purpose. If you believed one side you’d be richer out of the EU; the other you’d be very much poorer.

Then came the tragic killing of Labour MP, humanitarian, and ‘remain’ campaigner, Jo Cox. The man charged with her murder, Thomas Mair, is allegedly linked to the far-right Britain First group, and gave his name in court as ‘Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain’.

To their credit the campaigners on both sides agreed to shut up for a few days.

Now the big question surely is: ‘What kind of society do we want to live in?’

What kind of door do we want to have open? The one that welcomes diversity and what that brings? Or the door that is open to fascism and all that follows?

‘Fascism’ – an emotive term that doubtless leaves me open to accusations that I too am partaking in ‘project fear’.

But Europe has been here before. It has seen populism stoked by xenophobia and fear of the other.

And there are signs aplenty of what, just a few years ago, was considered right-wing bigotry, casually moving into the mainstream.

Anti-terrorist efforts in Britain are overwhelmingly focussed on the threat of Wahhabist Islamic extremism. Now suddenly we hear – many of us for the first time – of extreme nationalist groups like Britain First (described as a fascist paramilitary group) and websites like Redwatch (that publishes photos and personal information about anti-fascists in politics, unions, advocacy groups, the media).

While all the major parties in Britain have vowed not to contest the West Yorkshire seat left by murdered MP Jo Cox, a former member of the fascist British National Party, Jack Buckby, has declared he will stand for another far-right group Liberty GB.

Satisfying though it would be to give the Conservative leadership two fingers and either vote ‘Brexit’ or abstain, a ‘leave’ vote in Thursday’s referendum may be less a ‘no’ to David Cameron’s conservatives than a ‘yes’ to Nigel Farage’s racist and anti-immigration UK Independence Party and their ilk. (Ragnar Weilandt has written a good and measured piece on why ‘Left wingers for Brexit need to wake up to what they are about to do’.)

Equally worrying is the domino effect throughout mainland Europe, as others on the xenophobic Right draw encouragement from the prospect of a ‘leave’ vote. Dutch politician Geert Wilders, vehemently anti-immigrant and Islamophobic, is looking forward to Brexit provoking a dismantling of the European Union.

I’m not suggesting, of course, that everyone who wishes to vote ‘leave’ subscribes to isolationist and intolerant views. And although the EU’s achievements are notable (progressive environmental protection, family-friendly labour rights, equality legislation and comparative post-war peace in Europe) there are also many reasons to be highly critical of how the EU functions and dysfunctions. (Oddly, Greeks have more reason than most to complain, and yet remain generally pro-EU.)

I could go on about how it’s easier to change an organization from within than without… But I think more crucial right now is the issue of political culture and the compelling likelihood that Brexit will fuel ideologies that will give women, minorities, workers, immigrants and anyone who is prepared to stand up for the environment, good reason to fear.

Is saying this tantamount to fear mongering? To engaging in ‘Project Fear’.

Well, I’m not afraid to be afraid on this issue. Not afraid to be afraid of the power of populist, ‘patriotic’ movements with an inchoate catch-all appeal to anyone with a complaint.

There was plenty to grumble about in Germany between the two World Wars.

Imagine how differently the 20th century might have turned out if the German electorate had been a bit more fearful of that new, populist and nationalist party that offered an ‘answer’ to their problems…

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