Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dan predicts a riot

Responding to Dan Hardie's latest BNP screed, I think there are several important points here. First of all, Dan Dsquared is half-right that BNP voters don't matter. There are not enough of them ever to get elected to run anything, and their candidates usually manage to teach their own electors a lesson about voting for nutcases with impressive speed. He is also right that it is a much more serious problem that there are significant numbers of racists about than that they vote BNP.

He is wrong, though, that this is a nonproblem. Quite simply, you don't need many people to cause serious trouble, and the BNP as an organisation is good at this. It has repeatedly shown itself willing to advocate violence, and also to use what can only be described as tactical psychological warfare. This is not a serious problem in some places, but it could be a very serious one where there are concentrations of BNP wankers near concentrations of target groups, and a really, really serious problem where there are concentrations of BNP wankers near concentrations of jihadi wankers.

Part of the problem, and something that the usually statistically sharp Dsquared doesn't pick out, is that even council-level statistical aggregates don't give enough granularity to track this. Further, the government doesn't have a good record in terms of situational awareness outside London - the fuel wankers of 2000 caused as much trouble as they did largely because the crisis didn't begin in London, and the 2001 riots similarly took everyone by surprise.

Not that it was very obvious in the north that something was up - I remember the Bradford Mela a week beforehand going on in near-perfect peace under the usual racing charcoal sky. The reaction loop, though, is a lot shorter than that of national politics or administration.

My own experience of the Bradford riot really bears all these points out. That morning, I was on my way to an ANL demonstration against the planned BNP march. All was reasonably calm, and the main news story in Yorkshire was mild indignation that the Bradford Festival's last day had been cancelled due to the demo. There are a lot of different stories about the kick-off, but my own recall was this - during the afternoon, there had been no sign of the BNP, but a succession of rumours that They Were Coming!, each of which set the crowd bubbling. I remember that there was a sudden ugly surge as a group of men with short hair appeared, who turned out to be from the No Platforms campaign rather than the BNP.

During the day, the composition of the crowd had gradually altered from a lot of teacherish ANL types, some Pakistanis, and some professional lefties, to a lot of young men and the professional lefties. I don't remember anyone who looked especially Islamic - most of them looked like they came from your friendly local Subaru tune-up joint. I didn't, as it happened, see a single fascist all day - eventually, around 4 o'clock, I assumed my civic duty was done and headed for the station. I'd just seen the leader of Bradford Council making a speech, so I figured it must be all over.

It was at that moment that the trouble began. Suddenly the police who had pulled back to their vehicles in Market Street began struggling into their kit, radios quacking. And then there was a horrible yelling, and I saw a crowd dashing out of Centenary Square towards the bottom of Ivegate, led by a folk singer I'd been talking to earlier with his guitar on his back. Then, I looked up Ivegate to see the mob turn and rush back down the hill towards me. At this point I started running away, looking up to see I was running right towards a line of cops with dogs. They didn't molest me as I swung left into Hustlergate to let the mob pass.

After that, I helped the folk singer, who was complaining bitterly that the cops had grabbed him by his bad shoulder and he was disabled, over to a St John's Ambulance post, and decided to get out of town on the next train, which turned out to be the last train allowed to leave the station.

The other thing about the day that sticks in my mind was that I had earlier been interviewed by a German TV crew. I made the obvious points that the BNP and the NF before had never been allowed to get a footing in Bradford, etc. The producer suggested they interview me with "any of your Asian friends", and I had to confess I had none. Which would probably have made the best possible reportage on the whole sad business, had they gone ahead and filmed it.

If you want something more useful, I'd point out that the good news is that in Yorkshire, the BNP's successes have so far been in the urban-rural periphery. Not to be confused with the suburbs, it's a feature of Yorkshire urban geography that we have a lot of smaller chunks of industrial or post-industrial town that overlap with the countryside. It's these semidetached areas, like Cross Flatts as opposed to Keighley, where they tend to do well. I suspect this may be a stabilising factor.

1 comment:

dd said...

But at this point, we've kind of left the question of the electoral success of the BNP (in so far as, etc etc), haven't we? If what we're talking about is groups of organised and violent people too small to show up in council-level data, then the movement in votes for the nationally organised BNP is no longer a data point.

What we're talking about here then is the activist cadre of the BNP, not even their electoral base (and much less their post-2004 gains). There's basically no way that it's going to be possible to get rid of these groups of organised agitators through electoral politics; in as much as anything can be done about them at all (which we might want to think about, since it would probably involve yet more illiberal apparatus being installed), they're a policing problem, not a political problem. I'd also question whether there's any evidence that the BNP has been getting measurably stronger in terms of cadre and ability to start riots.

I mean, the biggest electoral success that the BNP had this year was in Wrexham, where the nearest Asian community is quite a few miles away. I'm still not seeing anything here that warrants concern, let alone action, at the political level. I just don't agree that the UK is becoming a more racially polarised place - Danny Dorling has done most of the work on this and he is a tireless opponent of the Trevor Phillips sort of thesis.

I am of the unfashionable opinion that the thing which is tending to radicalise British Muslim youths and drive them toward the jihadis is the Iraq War. Hizb-ut-Tahrir and al-Ghurayaah(?sp) aren't community defence organisations and they don't show videos of the BNP. The BNP are a red herring in this one IMO

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