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By James McKean
“That is a racist question”. One question into the interview and it was clear that the chairman of the BNP, Britain’s most extreme far-right political party, was going to conform to stereotype. The Cambridge graduate objected to being asked to define the meaning of ‘British’ when, as he diplomatically put it, “it’s so self-evident” – maybe I should have just asked him when I sought to answer that very same question in my article this week?
On second thoughts, maybe not, for what followed was a ‘racist’ rant (surely he won’t mind me using his own terminology?) in which he argued that being ‘British’ is simply “a matter of being an indigenous person of this island”. From what I could glean from the compelling case put forward, no one need justify their ‘Britishness’ so long as their ancestors have lived “in Britain since the end of the last ice age”. According to Griffin, who made an inordinate number of references to Australian aborigines and native American Indians, it is only by your ancestors having been in Britain since its inception (which apparently means since the last ice age?!) that you can define yourself as ‘British’. Although, obviously, to do so would be invariably racist given that “it’s so self-evident”.
Upon further probing, however, it soon became clear that the term ‘British’ holds two distinct meanings for Griffin: as well as being “ethnically” British, one can have a British civic identity. It is this latter identity, which he asserts refers to the “legal meaning” of being British and allows you, inter alia, to hold a British passport and fight wars in the name of Britain. What is to be made of a second-generation Brit in proud possession of a UK passport thus becomes unclear, at least with respect to BNP policy – a semi-Brit perhaps?!
Quick to mock the deficiencies of the current Citizenship Test for those seeking permanent residence in the UK, the ex-National Front member readily accepted my request that he offer his suggestions as how best to modify it. Again, slightly less naivety on my part might have prevented a second spiel, this time on the inadequacies of the British education system. Yes, Griffin deems it “unfair” and “unreasonable” to make “foreigners” learn about British history, until such a time when the teaching of history in our schools stops ignoring the development of the British people’s own cultural identity. Having corrected him that the Magna Carta does in fact appear on the national curriculum, Griffin merely changed example and referred me to the BBC’s “writing-out” of Guy Fawkes. It seemed we had moved from discussing the failures of Britain’s education policy to a full-scale attack of the nation state.
If I thought switching his attention to the issue of Scottish independence would have helped resettle the waters, I was soon proved wrong. “Scotland doesn’t have a desire for independence,” I was told defiantly. Instead, Griffin made the case that it was the English, and not the Scottish, or rather, as he would later term them, “the Celtic fringe”, who were the “people most hard done by”. Yet, even my acceptance of the popularity of this latter point within England could not tame his reaction to my mentioning The English Democrats. Having only wished to gain a better understanding of this party’s relationship with the BNP, I was treated to a torrent of scathing remarks directed towards the former. The English Democrats, I was told, “aren’t popular, are a tenth of our [BNP’s] size and only by an electoral fluke, did they gain one mayor”. Just to stress this point that there is evidently no love lost between the two parties, Griffin went on to call the federalist political party “a tiny little thing”.
Given Griffin’s position as an MEP, the interview fittingly ended with a discussion of the French Presidential elections and what this might mean for Europe. Whilst the BNP chairman predictably regurgitated his party’s manifesto that the European sovereign states ought to go their separate ways, he also revealed himself to be somewhat of a mystic: once France “has been through the Euro grinder” he prophesised, “the [French] people who support the European Union will be lucky to get out of their parliamentary seats with their lives”. In typical Griffin fashion, he added a little parting explanatory note: “because that’s what the French are like”.