Nick Cohen: “being a member of the BNP is like being a member of the Liberal Democrats”

Oh, all right. Yes, there was a context:

Many in Upper Beeding agree that being a member of the BNP is like being a member of the Liberal Democrats, a choice that has no effect on personal standing or moral worth.

The case is of a BNP activist in Sussex who was trying to be co-opted onto the parish council. Not as a card-carrying BNP member, of course. Just as someone who helps out at the local school, and wants to help out on the parish council, a body which generally, though not invariably, doesn’t make political decisions. The consensus of some of her neighbours was apparently that her political allegiance carries the same weight as any other and shouldn’t therefore interfere with her capacity to contribute to her community. Others were aghast at the very idea.

To separate out the two strands, this is about (1) the moral and personal implications of an extremist political position, and (2) the capacity of an individual holding such a position to do harm via whatever political channel is under discussion. On point (1) I don’t believe the distressed gentlefolk of Upper Beeding have a leg to stand on, from a liberal point of view. They and I, much as we might wish to, can’t systematically prove that every BNP member is fundamentally evil and amoral, even if we could agree on a definition of what that is, and by the law of averages not all of them can be.

One would be on far safer ground ditching the facile argument that an elected position is “not political” just because it doesn’t actually involve setting immigration policy. Taken to its logical extreme, this would mean that someone whose political beliefs included a fervent commitment to killing all ducks could also be elected to a parish council – where they would doubtless use their powers to unleash a Hideous Reign of Duck Terror. As ever, liberalism is the clarifier – is there a scenario, however unlikely, in which enough harm could potentially come to enough people (or ducks) to make this what is technically known as a “bloody stupid idea”?

Unfortunately the spirit of liberalism does not inform every choice made in every village hall, and without some central guiding tenet like this what you get instead are an awful lot of people who happen to enjoy holding an awkward cuss position because they believe it makes them look objective and intellectual. The motion to co-opt the BNP member, Donna Bailey, was defeated, but only just. She then forced a by-election which took place last Thursday with the following result:

BAILEY, Donna Rita – 277 votes
DAVOUDI, Becki – 196 votes
SHAW, Joyce Florence – 297 ELECTED

773 votes were cast with 3 ballot papers rejected.
Turnout was 32%



  1. Excellent post as usual, but you’ve typo’d “intead”.

    I am also hungover this morning, having had a similar idea to Jennie’s of drinking on a Saturday evening. Maybe it’ll catch on.

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