Nov 2008

Coming soon: House for sale in Golders Green

As you may have read elsewhere (given how long I’ve been away from this place, chances are you’ve already read about most of the stuff I’ll be covering over the next couple of weeks), the complete membership list for the British National Party (BNP) has been leaked and published online (there’s some question about the legality of linking directly to the list, but I’m fairly certain I’m allowed to point out that it’s been published on Wikileaks, and is therefore one cat unlikely to be rebagged any time soon).

The list includes full names and addresses as well as telephone numbers, email addresses and — for many members — all manner of other additional information (age, profession, hobbies, etc.) as well as the occasional comment added, presumably, by the database administrator. My personal favourite of these comments is “No ‘promotional material’ requested. Concerned about his job”.

Oh dear.

Like most people who’ve seen the document, I immediately searched the text for various postcodes. With over 13,000 names on the list there’s a fair chance, after all, that I’ve had a BNP member or two as a neighbour in the past. In fact, during my time in England I had no less than nine addresses (as well as a brief period of no-fixed-abode) and it seems was never more than a mile away from a hardcore racist. Even when I lived in a small village in Hampshire.

Two geographical oddities stood out though. Firstly, I was bemused to notice that there are two members who live in Ireland. I presume they are ex-patriot Brits rather than Irish citizens who’ve decided to join the ultra-right British nationalists. Ex-pats, eh? There’s another word for them, isn’t there? Now, if I could only remember it… ah, that’s right: immigrants!

I don’t know; they come over here, steal our jobs……

I noticed the other geographical oddity when I checked to see if there were any BNP members in London NW11. I lived there for two years. Lovely place. Better known as Golders Green. And it turns out there is one. Only one, I grant you, but even so.

For those who aren’t aware, Golders Green is the heart of the London Jewish community. Something tells me there’ll be the tinkling of broken glass on Ravenscroft Avenue sometime soon.

Yeah it’s funny, but there’s more to it than that

I’m not going to deny the fact that I’m finding this whole debacle very amusing. When a far-right organisation with openly racist policies screws up in such a spectacular fashion it’s hard not to laugh. And it does appear to have been a case of shooting themselves in the foot. It was a disaffected member who published the list, not some shadowy left-wing conspiracy. However, neither can I deny that I’m somewhat ambivalent about the whole thing.

On a general note, it demonstrates the dangers of centralised databases. How long will we have to wait, I wonder, until the first disaffected employee of the UK’s National Identity Register skips town with a copy of the biometric details of everyone in the country? I don’t know how much that kind of data would be worth to, for example, a Moscow crime syndicate but I suspect it’d be enough to make it worthwhile for our hypothetical disgruntled IT contractor.

And before anyone says, “oh but that couldn’t happen ‘cos the Identity Register will be far more secure” let me point out that only a fricking idiot believes that they can create a 100% secure database. Especially one that has to be accessed by a whole range of different services on an almost continuous basis. In fact, for a bunch of reasons, I’d put money on the National Identity Register being fundamentally less secure than the British National Party membership database.

That, however, is far from the extent of my unease regarding the publication of this data.

Firstly, it’s a safe bet that some of the people on that list are not BNP supporting racists. I notice, for instance, that there are several “family memberships” that include the names of quite a few under-16s. I wouldn’t like to be held accountable today for the views I held when I was 14 (they weren’t racist views, incidentally, just silly and painfully misguided). Beyond that, we have no way of knowing that a given “family membership” wasn’t purchased by one overzealous family-member on behalf of their horrified kids.

On top of that, I’d like to relate a minor event from my own youth. I once decided — with a friend — to sign up for and “infiltrate with the aim of discrediting” the scientologists. Needless to say, it was a ridiculous idea (scientologists do such a good job at discrediting themselves it’s hard to know what we could have achieved even if we’d succeeded) and it never went very far. Nonetheless, it would not surprise me to discover that my name, along with an out-of-date address, can be found somewhere in the dianetics archives.

Of the 13,500 names on the BNP membership list, there’s probably no more than one or two silly leftist youngsters who thought they could do some damage by signing up and attacking the organisation from within. All the same, just by looking at a list of names and addresses it’s impossible to tell who that one or two might be. Please bear that in mind before passing judgment.

Another issue… this time from a Ken MacLeod novel rather than my own youth, but still very relevant. In one of his early books (might even be The Star Fraction, his glorious first novel) one of the characters regularly messes with the head of an old rival by signing him up to various organisations and mailing-lists that he finds objectionable. Again, maybe no one on the BNP list falls into that category, but it would be a mistake to automatically assume every single name on it belongs to a hardcore racist.

Clearly the vast majority do. But there will be the handful of fifth-columnists, investigative journalists, agents of political rivals and so forth.

On top of all that there’s also the (much more likely) possibility of mistaken identity. We’ve all heard the stories about the pediatrician whose house was attacked by braindead anti-paedophile vigilantes. Memo to braying mobs: make sure you have the right Mr. Jones in Lincoln won’t you? ‘Cos the other one is a retired solicitor who worked for the Refugee Council and he’s got a heart condition.

Bunch of tossers

All that said, there’s no doubt that the 13,500 names on the list almost certainly include 13,300 racist scumbags. And while I have no problem with anyone who seeks to ridicule them for those views, I’m very uncomfortable with the idea that it should go any further than “ridicule” (at least as long as they are merely “views” and not “activities”). Nonetheless, those who hold sensitive jobs (police and teachers primarily) should be investigated, and if they’re not part of the 200 decent people who I’ve generously assumed are on the list, then they should be fired. The British National Party is a legal political party and I hope it goes without saying that I’m not a fan of the concept “thoughtcrime”. If you want to hold those views, then you are entitled to do so and shouldn’t be punished for it.

However, if you self-define as a racist activist dedicated to driving immigrants out of a country, then you must accept that there are certain jobs that aren’t appropriate for you. “Police officer” is one of those jobs. Full stop. And I’d argue that “school teacher” falls into that category too.

When all’s said and done though, and despite the seriousness with which we should all take the far right, my primary reaction to all this is still one of mirth. It’s hard not to relish the spectacle of the BNP giving itself a good kicking. And to add an hilarious dash of irony to the proceedings, Justin at Chicken Yoghurt points out that

The crowning jewel of the story is that the BNP, who only this month called the Human Rights Act ‘surely one of the most pernicious pieces of legislation ever passed by the mother of Parliaments,’ and reiterated its promise to repeal it when the party – don’t laugh – becomes a ‘British Nationalist government’, have now asked the police to investigate breaches of the Human Rights Act.

It appears that the stalwart members of the Master Race are eager to wrap themselves in the European flag when it suits. As is their right of course. After all, they’re only human.

Posted in: Opinion