Friday, 24 December 2010

Far right?

On the 19th, Daniel Hannan highlighted a shocking exchange on BBC radio:
On Radio 5 live yesterday, David Baddiel described the Freedom Association, a libertarian campaign which, in the 1970s and 1980s, led the battle against the trade union closed shop, as being “a very, very right-wing, kind of sub-BNP, slightly posher version of the BNP organisation”.

Alan Davies, who was interviewing Baddiel about his new film, The Norris McWhirter Chronicles, went on to ask whether Norris McWhirter, who ran the Freedom Association as well as the Guinness Book of Records, might have been “a brownshirt [sic] with Mosley”. (Thomas Cranmer has the full story, with a link to the programme, here.)
For what it’s worth – and this really shouldn’t need saying but, since Mr Davies has decided to bring up brownshirts and Mosleyites, it’s worth straightening the record – he played his part in the war against Hitler, serving in the Royal Navy. He was, above all, a lover of freedom: he could see that the corporatist Heath-Wilson state was deleterious to personal liberty as well as to economic prosperity. His was a lonely voice in the 1970s, although almost everyone now accepts that he had a point. Indeed, one of the few political movements which still hankers after the subsidies, protectionism and nationalisation of that era is the BNP, whose ideology is, in many ways, the polar opposite of the Freedom Association’s (see here).
On Thursday, Hannan blogged about the BBC's response to his official complaint.
A fundamentally decent man, a man who had served his country in the war against Nazism and had been awarded the CBE, was traduced on air, linked to Mosley and compared to the BNP. No one challenged the remarks: on the contrary, Alan Davies, the presenter, amplified them. But it’s OK, apparently, because it’s lighthearted.
Sadly, this is par for the course with the BBC. I was shocked, however, to see such careless (or cynical) use of the term "far right" over at The Register.

On the 20th, Chris Williams wrote
The personal details of English Defence League supporters have been stolen in a hacking attack on its website, it was reported today.

The far-right group's leadership emailed members in recent days to warn them of the breach, the Daily Telegraph reports.
The Telegraph article itself was just as sloppy:
Police are believed to be investigating the security breach, which also included the far-Right groups’s payment system being illegally accessed
The weekend’s incident is similar to a security breach involving the far-right BNP in 2008, where the names, addresses and contact details of some 10,000 of its members were published online.
Thankfully, objections were voiced in the Register comments section.

Andrew Martin observed:
Far-right" really doesn't mean anything. It's shorthand for "polite people don't share these views, and while we're at it why not smear the Tories, UKIP, and all for being on the right and therefore a bit like far-right-lite
While an Anonymous Coward opined:
People on the "far right" actually tend to be authoritarian left, as they believe in jobs for everyone of the correct colour (managed economy) they also tend to be strong believers in state control. State control is of course easier in a managed economy. The more GDP the state controls the more power they have over the population (as they employ more people, take a greater wedge of your earnings, possibly own your home/power supply/etc.)
The socialists were having none of it, so Andrew Martin weighed in again:
"Far right" is invoked to denote extreme libertarianism - small state, deregulation, open borders but no benefits etc.

"Far right" is also invoked to denote heavy regulation (generally based on some notion of 'race'), and all the very interventionist policies of the BNP.

The term means contradictory things, ergo, it means nothing.
For my own part, I dragged up some quotes from the BNP manifesto:
- The BNP will ensure that the National Health Service is used to serve British people and not used as an International Health Service.

- The BNP will reverse the budget cuts on education and prioritise this sector as vital to the rebuilding of our nation.

- The BNP will offer free university education to deserving students who have completed their period of Community Service.

- The BNP will make rail travel affordable once again by reversing the disastrous privatisation process which has grossly inflated ticket prices.

- The BNP would take some of these savings and invest them in rebuilding British industry and skills through an active protectionist policy as many other European nations already do.

- The BNP will therefore introduce legislation to ensure that a foreign acquisition of any significantly-sized British company is judged to be in the public and national interest before it can proceed.

- The BNP will oppose the privatisation of natural monopolies such as Royal Mail.

- The BNP will reinvigorate the IT sector in Britain with massive investments in technology universities.

- The BNP will institute a policy of protectionism for the local IT industry and jobs.

- The BNP will nationalise the telecoms infrastructure to enable the creation of a not-for-profit 100Mbps broadband service across the country.

To be honest, their manifesto is a bit of a handbag of unrealistic populist policies (including 200mph maglev trains). Not all of it is socialist, and some of it is sensible, but it's clear that they believe in a big, redistributive, interfering state. They favour protectionism, nationalisation, and welfare (for those who meet their definition of British), rather than free trade, privatisation, self reliance, and genuine charity.

To characterise the BNP as "far right", as if they are a little bit further along Lady Thatcher's road, is grossly misleading. They have a lot more in common with Old Labour.
If Chris Williams read these comments, he wasn't prepared to pay them any heed. He wrote a follow-up article on the 22nd about a caretaker who'd been duped into donating to the EDL:
The page had a button labelled "support the troops", and he donated one pound. It gave no indication the money was destined for the far-right EDL, he claimed, but the caretaker admitted he had been "stupid".
I couldn't resist a further comment:
I thought we'd done this one to death in the previous article.

I was prepared to accept that Chris Williams was just being careless, but his continued use of the term "far right" to refer to fascist groups suggests malice rather than incompetence.

You can hate fascist thugs, and you can hate Thatcherites, but don't suggest that their political philosophies are similar.

"far right" is a grossly misleading term. I expect it from the BBC and The Guardian, but not from El Reg.
I don't like repeating myself, but I fear that it is the only way to get the message across.


  1. I'm sick to death of seeing exactly the same conflation myself. Keep at it mate!

    Regarding the BNP manifesto by the way, I was struck by the similarities to the Green manifesto: Spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, *takes breath*, spend spend, spend, spend....!

  2. Cheers. Good to know I'm not alone!

    Interesting point about the Greens. I remember reading a Lew Rockwell article on ecofascism:

    "Like today's environmentalists, who place every bug and weed above humans, the Nazis were ardent conservationists. They passed a host of laws to protect "nature and nature's animals," especially "endangered" plants and animals.
    As believers in "organic medicine," the Nazis urged the German people to eat raw fruits and vegetables, since the preservation, sterilization, and pasteurization of food meant "alienation from nature." "

    I haven't verified any of this, but it seems plausible.