This book traces the history of the British National Party (BNP), from its Nazi roots to 2011, in an account that restates anti-racist principles. This stance is welcome as Labour’s Ed Miliband joins the chorus scapegoating immigrants.
Its strength is its detailed illustration of how the racist rhetoric of the media and mainstream politicians has boosted the BNP, continually legitimising its poisonous politics. Trilling dismantles the racist myths in turn.
Importantly, Trilling does not let Labour off the hook. He attacks its “triangulation” strategy, the rightward shift first aimed at stealing the Tories’ ground, as a counter to the BNP. “What would it mean to ‘occupy’ the space held by fascists?” he asks. Trilling takes on those who mask concessions to racism as concern for the “white working class”. White working class people are under attack, but this is “nothing to do with their skin colour” – it is about class, he argues.
His emphasis on class and opposition to racialisation is heartening. Revealingly, he describes how the BNP built its base not among workers but among better-off self-employed and business people, searching the Yellow Pages for potential voters in Burnley.
But the book has weaknesses. Firstly, although recently researched, it feels out of date.
The BNP has collapsed after its electoral wipeouts in 2010 and 2011. But the English Defence League (EDL) gets just a few pages tacked on at the end. It is strange that Trilling has not paid more attention to the EDL – the main threat for the past two and a half years.
This book does not provide an overall analysis of the changing shape of the far right in Britain. More weight could also have been given to Islamophobia, now central to racist and fascist agitation across Western Europe.
And there are gaping holes in this account where anti-fascist activity ought to be. Trilling notes the Anti Nazi League’s role in destroying the National Front, but his engaging reportage comes with a writerly detachment. He is not one to issue clarion calls to action, and often misses its importance.
Trilling went to last year’s anti-EDL demo in Tower Hamlets – a key victory – but relates only an anecdote from the pub.
His narrative of the BNP’s rise runs straight through from Derek Beackon’s 1993 election on the Isle of Dogs to the party’s highpoint, gaining two MEPs in 2009. Yet in reality, mass anti-fascist campaigning, culminating in the 60,000-strong march on the BNP’s Welling headquarters in 1993, followed by election campaigning in 1994, forced the BNP back. It could not take another council seat until 2002 – nearly a decade later. Trilling ignores the defeat and glides over the BNP’s wilderness years. But fascists don’t just rise – they can be beaten back. Criticisms aside, Trilling’s eloquent anti-racist voice deserves to be heard.
Bloody Nasty People is published by Verso £14.99