Periodically there is a story suggesting that far right groups plan to organise in Northern Ireland. In 2003 politicians expressed dismay and outrage when the BNP threatened to contest council elections here. Only last summer we were warned that the same party intended to recruit members at Twelfth of July parades. Today the Newsletter reports that a meeting of 40 “members and their trusted friends” have convened to hear the party’s leader, Nick Griffin, speak and reaffirm that his organisation has ambitions here.
Certainly any attempt to organise in Northern Ireland is unwelcome. But reading between the lines the fact that since announcing its intentions in 1994 and restating that fielding candidates in Northern Ireland was a goal in 2003, that in 2007 there appears to be no progress towards this strongly suggests that the BNP is failing to attract members here. Despite the fact that Northern Ireland has for the first time developed relatively large immigrant communities, there seems little appetite for politics based on the demonisation of these groups.
Whether this disinclination is grounded in tolerance for other cultures and peoples is doubtful. The British National Party’s rhetoric is actually couched in terms with which we are all too familiar, albeit from our own indigenous nationalist parties. Rather than crude racist propaganda, the British far right have learned to disguise their prejudices behind the language of identity. There is a great deal of talk about protecting British culture, British values and British identity. The implication of course is that these attributes are characterised by white skin and Christianity.
Both Ulster and Irish nationalists share this tendency to couch their arguments in terms of culture and identity. Their common characteristic is an exaggerated respect for both. But both forms of nationalism use language which implies that they are protecting something valuable which is passed down by virtue of blood and which must be protected from exterior forces – “the other”. This propensity is shared by the nationalists of the BNP.