Why Nick Griffin keeps trying to associate himself with Christian issues, and why he should stop

Why Nick Griffin keeps trying to associate himself with Christian issues, and why he should stop

BARKING, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Nick Griffin, lead...

Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party (Getty Images via @daylife)

In a not-unexpected court ruling yesterday, a judge ruled that a Christian Bed and Breakfast owner was in breach of the law in refusing to give the same treatment to a homosexual couple that she would have given to a heterosexual couple. Her case was backed by the Christian Institute.

The case itself was an important continuation of the debate about to what extent the rights of one group should supersede the rights of another. As a matter of law — if all the training I’ve been on about discrimination is correct — the ruling was the only ruling possible. The Christian Institute’s underlying argument was that the law is wrong.

It is entirely appropriate that debates of this kind take place, and right that lobbying groups like the Christian Institute continue to make their case in the public arena.

However, the proceedings and the verdict have been overshadowed by the intervention of Nick Griffin MEP, of the British National Party, who tweeted the address of the couple and appeared to urge his supporters to organise a demonstration outside the couple’s house.

This is not the first time that Griffin and other BNP members have tried to insinuate themselves into debates and news issues which have a Christian tinge. In a separate issue the BBC reported yesterday on peaceful protests in Northern Ireland relating to a Mari Stopes clinic which were mainly led by Christians, but which the BNP had decided to attend, despite having no elected presence in the province. Earlier in the year their attempt to attend an Orange rally prompted a sharp rebuke from the organisers.

Griffin’s own comment is revealing. Mr Griffin told Sky News: “I was very angry in the way in which left-wing political activists and a minority of gay activists are working with left-wing judges to use the Human Rights Act to persecute ordinary people, especially Christians.

It’s the “especially Christians” bit which is revelatory. Why Christians? Griffin has no known link with an established church, does not attend church regularly, and has never made any pronouncements outside of a politics which have a Christian flavour. His comments were immediately denounced by the Christian Institute, and Christians — including myself — have frequently highlighted the disparity between what he believes and the teaching of the New Testament, including ‘love your enemies’, ‘do good to those who persecute you’ and ‘do not judge others’.

From his published oeuvre, Griffin’s only interest in Christianity is in trying to harness it for the promotion of his own political agenda. Of course, he would not be the only person doing this. At a General Election debate I was once baffled by one of the candidates who professed that all of his actions were motivated by love, because he was a Christian. I wouldn’t claim to be able to judge the thoughts and motivations of anyone else, but I have never met anyone else — including some very saintly people — who would go so far as to claim that everything they did was motivated by love. Interestingly, he only said that at that particular debate — which was the Churches Together debate. He never mentioned Christianity at the others. I don’t doubt that he sincerely meant it at the time.

The difference, though, between some other politician trying to pick up a few Christian votes at a Churches Together debate and the BNP is that Griffin actively tries to wade into areas of Christian concern, and does so in the most unChristian way possible. He was censured for the way he described Irish Republicans recently, using an expletive in his tweet.

What we must understand before going any further is that Nick Griffin’s view of ‘Christian’ has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. Griffin has never shown any public interest in Christ’s teachings. The notion of forgiveness is something that never appears in his policies.

Rather, for Griffin, ‘Christian’ is short-hand for ‘Anglo-Saxon White traditional English intolerance’. Not that Griffin wants anyone to realise that when he uses the word. He wants the resonances of the word ‘Christian’ to galvanise those who feel warmly towards Christianity, but don’t actually practise it themselves. The 70% or so who say they are ‘Christian’ in surveys, but probably don’t go to church more than at Christmas, at weddings, and at funerals.

A few years ago we picked up a BNP leaflet in Yardley, Birmingham, which claimed that Muslims from Stechford were attempting to close down Yardley Old Church, a well known landmark which dates back to the Anglo-Saxons. Nobody who actually attended Yardley Old Church would have believed it for a moment. No church in Britain has ever been closed down by pressure from Muslims (though, sadly, historically churches have been closed down because of pressure from other churches). If there is a threat to Yardley Old Church, it is non-attendance by those who reckon to be Christians. The claim was laughable, but to those who did not attend but liked the idea, it may have had some resonance.

A couple of years later a friend of mine picked up a leaflet from the BNP. It talked about the importance of the family, abortion, traditional morality, and such things. Over tea she told us that was impressed with the leaflet and would even consider voting for them. Her husband — was was black — gently pointed out the incongruity of this. Put this down to political naivety, but there was nothing in the leaflet that hinted at racism or intolerance: it had been carefully constructed to appeal to people like her, and to conceal what the BNP is really about.

If you are a Christian reading this, then I would urge you on every occasion that Griffin attempts to link himself to Christians, or presents himself as defending the rights of Christians, to immediately repudiate it, and make clear to anyone listening what the difference between Christianity and the BNP really is.

If you are Nick Griffin reading this, then let me urge you: read the New Testament, join a church, attend an Alpha course, find out what Jesus Christ was really about. You may decide that it’s time you stopped trying to link yourself to Christians. Or, better, you may decide that it’s time to follow a radically different way, and renounce the BNP and everything it stands for,

In the nation’s interests

I have received howls of protest over the last few days from Lib Dem members, people who voted Lib Dem but usually vote Labour, and people who have never voted Lib Dem and never intend to. Some have demanded that Nick Clegg immediately fall into line behind Cameron and stop negotiating for ‘party advantage’. Some have insisted that for Clegg to co-ally would be a betrayal of all that is most sacred. Some have told me that talking to Labour was equivalent to state treachery, and Clegg can never be trusted again. By email, phone, Facebook, txt, tweet and even visits to my door, and, bizarrest of all, an email sent from Australia by someone I had never heard of directed to all Lib Dem candidates who contested the election, it’s been made clear to me that whatever Nick Clegg did, not everyone would be happy.

I have to confess I’ve struggled to get quite as emotionally caught up in this as some people. Those of us who stand for parliament do so with an underlying notion of public service. Of course we want our party to win. And there is always personal ambition: we want to be in there, making the decisions, with our fingers on the turning of the world. But nobody would go through the five weeks of gruelling punishment, preceded by four years of selection and campaigning, preceded in turn by how ever many years of becoming involved and going through a candidate approval process, unless there was more than simply the desire for our team to win.

Nick Clegg was always honour-bound to make his decision in the nation’s best interests. Anything less would have simply ruled him unfit to be a party leader.

The only question was: what decision would be in the nation’s best interests?

I will put my cards on the table: after last year’s expenses debacle, and this year’s scandal over the Ashcroft million, electoral reform seems to me to be one of the nation’s most important and pressing concerns. The result of the General Election — no clear majority in parliament, nothing like a majority in the popular vote (Tories polled only 12% more than Lib Dems, lest we forget, but gained more than five times as many seats) — demonstrates very clearly that the public are not satisfied.

But, although pressing, electoral reform is not the most pressing concern. I do not accept the view of the scaremongerers that Britain is about to go the way of Greece. David Cameron has already had to eat his words that a hung parliament would spell economic disaster. But it is true that the economy is right at the top of the list of things that need to be fixed now, and fixed right.

A coalition with Labour was always a long-shot, and Clegg was right to honour his election pledge and talk first to the party with the most votes. But he was also right to at least attempt a deal with Labour. This was not treachery, as some of the Tory press and some of my own correspondents have suggested, but a necessary and entirely honourable step: Clegg was duty bound to explore both feasible possibilities as he decided for the United Kingdom who should be the next prime minister.

For the record, I think it would have been possible to do it. (I do not say that it would have necessarily been the best thing, but I do say that it would have been possible). Those who argued that this was undemocratic forget the very shaky ground on which they stand: Labour and the Lib Dems between them gained more than 50% of the popular vote, although, because of our misrepresentative system, this was not quite 50% of the seats in parliament. Labour certainly seemed ready to promise a much swifter, much surer route to electoral reform. And Gordon Brown nobly was willing to accept Nick Clegg’s other election promise — that, whatever happened, Brown would not continue as Prime Minister.

But it was Labour MPs themselves who made it quite clear that they had no real interest in staying in government. From the point that (then, still) government ministers went on the record in public stating this, the chances of a deal with Labour were over.

Many Lib Dem voters find the coalition with the Conservatives distasteful. I personally remained on good terms with all the candidates in the Stratford election, except for the BNP who never attended any of the debates and with whom I never spoke. But there have been instances where Tory attacks were brutal and unfounded. And we have endured the jeers and scorn of the Tory press barons for more than a generation.

It is certainly true that very few will have voted Lib Dem with the aim of putting David Cameron in government.

But Nick Clegg still had to put the nation’s interest ahead of his own. The choice between a Conservative minority government which would be almost certain to fall in recriminations within six months, in which time it would have made little real progress in tackling the economic crisis, and none at all in electoral reform, or a true Lib Dem Con coalition, was one that simply could not be made in any other way from the way it has been made.

The solution is not perfect. David Cameron could have divested himself of the lacklustre George Osborne. If having Vince Cable as chancellor was too much to swallow (though it would have pleased the nation, and the markets), Ken Clarke was waiting in the wings, the only member of Cameron’s team who had ever served in a senior role in a government. There could have been (and should have) a commitment to a referendum on true electoral reform, not merely the disproportional Alternative Vote (AV) system. If the Conservatives believe that the public has no appetite for electoral reform, then they should have agreed to a referendum on the real issue. If they were willing to accept a grudging compromise and no more, they should have offered a simple bill on AV as Labour did, and left it at that. The nation is to be put to the trouble and expense of a referendum without being allowed to vote on the real topic of discussion.

Nonetheless, the prospect of an autumn election has receded to the horizon. Cameron’s lightweight team will be strongly bolstered by 5 Lib Dem cabinet ministers, and a total of 20 Lib Dems across his ministries.

Lib Dem fortunes at the next election will almost certainly suffer, and there will equally certainly be a spate of recriminations and even member-resignations. And this is the true mark of Nick Clegg’s leadership: at personal cost, he has put the interests of the nation first.

Deserving the name ‘evil’?

According to the BBC, Nick Griffin MEP, leader of the BNP, says that the EU should sink boats carrying illegal immigrants to prevent them entering Europe. Have we therefore come to the point at which an elected politician is actually advocating murder? Griffin — again, according to the BBC — says no. Instead, he is reported as saying: “I didn’t say anyone should be murdered at sea – I say boats should be sunk, they can throw them a life raft and they can go back to Libya.”

Back last summer, I took part in a fact-finding tour of Armenia, organised by World Vision. We spent part of one day at the museum of the Armenian Genocide. This was an atrocity which took place during and after the first world war, when, according to Armenian sources, 1.5 million died. Turkey continues to deny that a genocide took place, and, putting the figure at 300,000 and maintaining that the deaths were a result of a number of factors, but without a guiding, national Turkish attempt to destroy the Armenian people. Whichever way you look at it, one thing that both Armenians and Turks agree on is that many died from starvation and the other privations of being forcibly evicted from one part of Turkey and sent somewhere else.

Of course, nobody with any actual authority is going to pay the slightest bit of attention to what Nick Griffin says — especially now that his party has failed to find any other friends in Europe. But the rhetoric of placing people in mortal peril, and then making the most perfunctory gesture at saving them, is eerily reminiscent of the Armenian holocaust.

I have argued strongly that we need to begin to re-calibrate our language in politics. The arrival of the BNP means that we need to soften some of the jibes and insults we have tossed at each other over the years, in order to have words with which to describe their policies. We should do this in any case, simply because they bring politics into disrepute: it is time for the British political class to grow up and leave the playground behind. I don’t want to refer to Nick Griffin as purely ‘evil’. As of yet, he has not (at least, to my knowledge) organised violent attacks on people, nor has he ever had the national moral authority to make the slightest difference to how we run our courts, our police, our public services, or, most importantly, our immigration policy. But this new rhetoric leads me towards using the word ‘evil’ to describe what he is about.

In one sense, it is good that Griffin is now unmasking himself, as a pedlar of malevolent, unworkable fantasies.

But in another sense, he has taken the British national political conversation into territory it has not seen since before the Second World War.

And this is bad. Very bad indeed.

Taxpayer, voter, citizen or stakeholder?

Here’s another question to try at home. Are you a taxpayer, a voter, a citizen, or a stakeholder? Of course, you are quite possibly all four, but which are you really? The nuances are quite different — but if we allow ourselves to be guided into one or other, the consequences are profound.

It was Aristotle ((Politics, Book V)) who suggested there were six kinds of government — three good, and three bad. Good governments, he suggested, were monarchies, aristocracies and polities. Bad governments were tyrannies, oligarchies and — indeed — democracies. That’s probably an arrangement which would surprise most modern people, but Aristotle uses the words in a slightly (or entirely) different sense. A monarchy, to Aristotle, was government by a single benign ruler, whereas tyranny was a government by a single, selfish, ruler. Aristotle’s monarchy had no particular connotations of hereditary monarchy, though he probably would have naturally seen things in that light. After all, he was tutor to Alexander, who rose to power because his father was Philip of Macedon. Aristocracy, to Aristotle, was government by the few noble — that is to say, by those who were better, more virtuous, more able to govern. We would probably talk about a meritocracy. An oligarchy was government by a few who acted selfishly. A democracy was government by the commoners, acting selfishly, whereas polity was a society governed by all for the benefit of all. Or more or less. You don’t want to spend too much time in Aristotle, because he goes on to expound the importance of slavery as an institution.

Fast forward a couple of thousand years, and we see the American presidential system showing some signs of the single, benign ruler. Some would say that Tony Blair was taking us fast down that route when in office. Let’s explore that for a moment. The problem with a single, benign, ruler, is that he can still be singly, benignly wrong. It’s a brave man today who would defend the second Iraq war, but, at the time, it was clear that Tony Blair really believed it was the right thing to do. The Blair government was often accused of spin and playing games, but it was when Blair acted in good conscience and with enormous conviction that he made the greatest mistake of his premiership. Blair talked incessantly, at least in the beginning, about a stakeholder society, and this is a notion which fits well with his style of premiership. The single ruler will make the decisions, but everyone has a stake in their outcomes, and so we ought all to behave well together, because this will result in better outcomes.

The term ‘stakeholder’ betrayed — I think — more of the Blair agenda than it was intended. If you have ever used the simple business tool the stakeholder analysis, then you will know that stakeholders are categorised by their interest and their influence. Those with high interest and high influence are engaged, those with low interest and high influence are kept informed, those with low interest and low influence are, simply, ignored. In a stakeholder society, the monarch, overlord, president, executive prime-minister, or what you will, makes judgements about who he can safely ignore, and who he must assiduously court — in other words, his courtiers. Take away the ruffs and frills of the court of Elizabeth I, and you see something alarmingly close to the stakeholder economy which existed under the government of Tony Blair in the time of Elizabeth II.

I suspect nobody alive today would defend aristocracy as a form of government if that meant allowing hereditary peers to lead us. But our civil service — a shadow government if ever there was one — is a meritocracy: a self-selecting government by the few brightest and best. We could argue about how bright and how best civil servants really are, but their entire framework, recruitment process and rewards system is designed to promote the most able at the expense of the least able. Given the amount of power which senior civil-servants wield, we should accept that, at least to some extent, we live in that very aristocracy.

But think again. An oligarchy is government by the few acting selfishly. But this is exactly the way in which we behave when we describe ourselves as ‘the taxpayer’, at least, if we do so to distinguish ourselves from benefit-claimants, asylum seekers, children in school, students in college, or pensioners. I’m always astonished when I hear people describe themselves in those terms, but I hear it often. Do we really believe that payment of taxes makes us more able or deserving of being allowed to run the country? And, if we do so, do we really want to make money the measure of all things? One would hope not. But, in the light of the recent MP expenses and second-jobs scandals, we give a strong impression that the only thing we are looking for in our politicians is cheap, value-for-money, bargain-basement politics. I don’t, won’t, and never have defended MPs who pilfered the public purse for personal profit. But the more we focus on that particular aspect of their conduct, the more we push ourselves into the mould of a tax-payer oligarchy.

We protest, strongly, if anyone tries to suggest that democracy is not the best thing there can be. Certainly, as a Liberal-Democrat, I would strongly assert democracy over monarchy, aristocracy and oligarchy. But perhaps we should side with Aristotle a little. When voters vote selfishly, we see the tyranny of the 51% majority. Voters can arbitrarily choose parties — such as the BNP — whose programme involves the removal of the rights of minorities. Voters can arbitrarily vote to punish the very wealthy, or, indeed, the very poor. As elections come up, politicians may posture on taking away the benefit rights of single mothers, or gypsies, or the under 25s who appear to be not working hard enough to find a diminishing number of jobs. If we see ourselves purely as voters, and we vote on a purely selfish basis, we discover very quickly the limits of the social contract.

The liberal-democracy in which we live, or, at least, the one in which some of us live, is made up not of stakeholders nor taxpayers nor voters, but of citizens. It is the Aristotelian ‘polity’ — a state where all participate in governance, for the benefit of all. Our participation is irrespective of the amount of taxes we pay, and also irrespective of the extent to which we contribute towards the particular kind of society that our overlord believes is best for us. Whether we have high interest or low interest in the government’s favourite programme, we can, and should, play an active role in our public life. And we should do so irrespective of whether a particular politician promises us personal advantage over our neighbours.

Taxpayer, voter, citizen, stakeholder. Just words. But their use in the daily dialogue of media and politics fundamentally shapes our perceptions. Do we care most if our MPs claim more or less expensive, or do we care most (without ignoring their expenses) whether or not they are good MPs? Do we care most that politicians offer us more, or do we care about the general good of society? Are we content to let our ‘betters’ run the country, while we enjoy the Olympic Games, Big Brother and low food prices (circuses and bread, thus)? To what extent are we prepared to use our voices and our votes to protect the unpopular — the group which is always the most vulnerable in a democracy.

We should choose our words carefully.

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