The Racist Narrative
September 24, 2008
Out canvassing in Clerkenwell, in a towerblock. I knock on the door of a white woman in late middle age, who doesn’t seem particularly pleased to see me. This is nothing new, canvassers are used to being greeted with low level suspicion. I begin my spiel, and ask a few questions about issues affecting the local area.
“Well,” she began, and her eyes darted across the hallway to the door opposite, which a black woman talking loudly into a mobile phone had just entered. “You wouldn’t like it if I told you what’s wrong around here.”
“From your tone, I’m sure I can guess.”
“You know, my daughter, who’s got two little girls, can’t get anything. And Them across the way never do a stroke. That door just bangs all day long”
In Islington, whenever anyone who lives on an estate is talking to someone associated with politics and says something about ‘getting anything’ they mean social housing. It later transpired that her daughter did indeed have ‘something’, which was a one bedroom flat. But since she had two daughters of her own, she wanted more.
I did some further digging. She had voted Lib Dem all her life, up until the last election. She didn’t want to tell me who she’d gone for. But, she said, “I bet you can guess.” And I could. In Clerkenwell, and the rest of old Finsbury, the socialist vote is divided between Labour and the Independent Working Class Association. The IWCA is, in essence, a communist version of the BNP. They employ the same standard of thuggish activists and are only missing an additional ‘W’ from their acronym to sum up what they represent. They do have something else in common with the BNP, and that’s their narrative.
Right now in the campaigning world there’s a lot of people still having Obamagasms over the way in which the candidates have conducted themselves in the US presidential elections. I’ve written about this before, but what seems to have been missed in all the fuss and bother over the narratives of the main parties is that the far right has been using this approach for some time, and it’s been effective. We’ve missed this for several reasons; partly because the things they say on the doorstep don’t get back to us in the way that their campaign literature does, but also because mainstream politicians have a well justified loathing of the BNP and what they stand for. We don’t want to believe that they’re capable of using the same political tricks as lovely Obama.
But they have, and what they’ve done is very clever – in a rather sickening way. The narrative goes like this. The bourgeoisie brought foreign workers over to undercut the wages asked for by British workers. The foreigners are now taking the jobs and the resources (e.g. housing) that should be going to people from round here. When you complain to the Government, they say you’re being racist. But racism is something invented by the bourgeoisie to stop you complaining about Them coming in and taking our jobs and houses. Only the BNP/IWCA are telling the truth about what’s really happening.
It’s a classic Marxist analysis of power; the bourgeoisie are using social ethics to control the working classes. If it’s made immoral to complain about resources being given to Them, then the working classes can no longer do it.
Of course, this is ridiculous. Distributing resources on racial lines is immoral however you cast it. But it’s a narrative that can be seductive for those whose lives are directly affected by inadequate social resources. When someone mutters darkly that there would be enough housing for your daughter to have a place that’ll fit her and her kids if They weren’t here, you’re more inclined to agree if you’re a Clerkenwell grandmother than if you’re a suburban teacher. And it is true that if They left there would be enough social housing in London for the white working classes.
The fact that that social housing wouldn’t be there in the first place if not for the additional wealth brought in by importing workers is neither here nor there; macroeconomic arguments have little relevance for the grannies of Clerkenwell. And outright condemnation of those espousing the racist narrative does nothing except play into the hands of the racists; it’s what results in the response “Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you? Try living down here,”on the doorstep.
I still do not think that the BNP will ever be a major party. But, at present, we are not countering the racist narrative. We need to do better.