Hugh Baker reflects on the BNP’s attempt to sell itself to disaffected Christians
Well, now we know. Not only have UKIP strengthened their position in Europe, but the BNP is now edging towards the mainstream of British politics. The very voting process told you a new tide was on the rise. My council election voting form still followed the time-hallowed ‘Smith: Conservative; Jones: Labour; Robinson: Liberal Democrat’ format, but my European Voting Form gave me a bewildering array of twelve choices, half of them total mysteries to me.
Deeper things than present public disgust at moat cleaning bills are, I think, at work. Whether the traditional parties know it or not, their adoption of post-modern agnosticism is not only accelerating the decline of national morals: it is also deepening the divide between themselves and those who (though they may not be active members of the faith) want to see traditional Christian mores enacted through the body politic.
To take one example: it used to be said that the Labour Party embodied two Ms – Marxism and Methodism. Tony Blair saw clearly that Marxism had become an electoral albatross, and the central purpose of the New Labour project was to dump it. What perhaps no one noticed was that Methodism, also, was quietly sidelined. Just as the rise of a plethora of new Christian denominations signals question marks placed by the public beside those of us who’ve been around for a long time, so also the British now wonder whether a whole new structure is needed to sustain a morally acceptable public life.
At this point, enter the BNP. Whatever we think of them, they do at least understand the spiritual vacuum at the nation’s heart – and are selling themselves
as the people who can fill it. Did you receive a BNP leaflet through your door? It goes straight for the disaffected Christian vote, showing the BNP as the defender of the English (plethora of Union Jacks, images of spitfires) against… the Church of England, portrayed as the willing stooge of an intolerant liberal establishment. New Directions readers may find themselves here with strange allies, for ‘illiberal liberalism’ is a recurring theme throughout its pages.
I half-heard In Our Time on the radio a week or two ago and, wanting to know more, got hold of one of the recently published books they had been talking about: Alan Wolfe’s The Future of Liberalism. Wolfe traces liberalism’s American history, and one thing I have
come to realize in recent days is that liberalism and tolerance, as they grew in the infant United States, were the belief systems of people-who-didn’t-believe-in-very-much. For parvenus in these things like me, Wolfe’s words are revealing. For instance, “Thomas Jefferson was not only a deist but so were, in one form or another, four of the five first American presidents, and the odd man out, John Adams, was a Unitarian…’. Infant America was a refuge for the theologically minimal: that minimalism now threatens to conquer those from whom it once fled.
Wolfe notes the difficulties liberalism has in tolerating those outside the fog of their own vagueness – the orthodox. We, in the same way, have the problem of working out how to remain true to our orthodoxy in belief, communal life and witness, without becoming an enclosed, inward-looking sect. We share this concern with another grouping the BNP has in its sights, our Muslim compatriots.
For the man in the street, if he votes BNP, is not wanting to defend us. He wants to have his cake and eat it; to have the social benefits that centuries of Christian faith have bequeathed us, without the troublesome effort of rediscovering that faith, that it may further preserve those benefits. There is little connection in the public mind between the common weal and our fading faith: it’s our task (and one that could take us three or more generations) to demonstrate, by what we are, that the Cross is, actually, what the British should be voting for.