A nice day out of face-painting and bigotry

A nice day out of face-painting and bigotry

Posted by Harley Davidson Friday, August 29, 2008 0 comments
was billed as the Red, White and Blue Festival, the annual rally of the British National Party, but the reality was more akin to any rotary club fundraiser on a sunny August weekend.

It was billed as the Red, White and Blue Festival, the annual rally of the British National Party, but the reality was more akin to any rotary club fundraiser on a sunny August weekend.

There was face painting for the kids, a bouncy castle, the raffle, rock with the party's name running through and even a stall extolling places of interest to visit in Lancashire. It all added to the summer fair atmosphere. Certainly, this was no place for the classic far right stereotypes of skinheads, swastikas and nazi salutes.

We live in the age of makeovers with gardens, houses, and people transformed by a battery of experts before our very eyes most nights on television. No more thorough a job though has been done than with the BNP. It is clearly marketing itself as a party working-class people can relate to. Providing they are white, of course.

There were memories of the bad old days, though these didn't survive beyond the gate leading onto the festival site near the village of Sawley, in the picturesque Ribble Valley. In lay-bys along the A59 approaching the site police Transit vans were parked waiting for any violence. And across the festival entrance a small huddle of protesters from the Anti-Nazi League staged a protest.

"BNP is a Nazi party, smash the BNP," they yelled, but elicited no response. Trapped in a time warp they appear to have failed to realise that their political opponents have moved on and swearing abuse at cars containing children is not pleasant, whatever the views of their parents.
On the site itself a large marquee set up for political oratory was largely empty, as activists preferred to sunbathe outside. Political speeches had been delayed due to the weather. The party's leader Nick Griffin struck an at-one-with-the-people pose working on a stall offering samples of local cheese and then later fetching buckets of water for the face painting.

"Everyone is happy, the sun is shining and it is too much on a beautiful day to sit listening to speeches in a stifling tent," he explained. "This is the third year of the festival and originally it was a morale booster for members and activists. Now it is a valuable showcase. The image portrayed is at variance with what people expect."

In fact, the overall feeling is that it is all rather dull. People greet old friends and catch up on gossip. One older member deplores the volume of the music and bemoans the decline of classical music. An impromptu game of football is organised.

The handling of the media is cordial. Where once there would have been confrontation, stewards now go out of their way to be friendly. A £50 charge for each media organisation is quickly waived. Only Mark Treacy, a candidate in the Oldham local elections and, thanks to his criminal past, on the receiving end of media vitriol, has not bought into the new real politick.

However clever the packaging, though, the views remain the same. At one stall has bulk supplies of cards comparing immigrants to the grey squirrel that has ousted the native red squirrel, and another claims there is no mandate for turning Britain into a multiracial society.

One activist describes the two-day event as an "oasis of monoculture". Surveying children playing he adds: "Some of these kids will in their lifetimes be living in a society where whites are in a minority. Muslims reproduce at 10 times the rate we do. Why should we volunteer for our own extinction?"

Dr Phil Edwards, who sits on the party's policy committee, was a member of the Conservative Party until seven years ago. "The Tories are cowards. Many of them agree with us, but they just haven't got the bottle to come out and say anything." Like many he parrots the line that he is not racist. Rather, he describes himself as "race realist".

However, this wasn't a day for deep political discussion and he quickly settled for a tour of the festival site and a repeat of the message that the BNP are just ordinary people. The sheer ordinariness of the festival is clearly one of its major selling points for the party.

Simon Darby, the event co-ordinator, believes more than a thousand people will visit the festival over the weekend and says the location was not selected out of provocation because of the party's recent local elections success in nearby Burnley, but was seen as a thank you to the party's supporters in the region. Such has been the support for the event that he believes there is now a ready-made branch in the nearby town Clitheroe.

In the distance a Tannoy could be heard. At thought I first it could be the police and the far left. It turned out to be a vintage car rally being held further up the road. It was probably a lot more fun than being at the BNP festival and those who attended were no doubt dedicated. But there is little doubt that it was at the BNP festival that the real fanatics could be found.


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