Racist party forced not to be racist?

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The BNP have agreed to amend their constitution so that they do not discriminate on the grounds of race and religion. Here’s a BBC News report on the story (complete with a video featuring that moron Richard Barnbrook talking into two phones at the same time in the background). The BNP were forced to do this because the Equalities and Human Rights Commission had brought a legal case against their constitutional ban on non-whites becoming party members.

Here is the EHRC press release:

BNP: Commission wins legal case over constitution and membership criteria 
  
The Equality and Human Rights Commission announced today that it has won its legal case against the British National Party. The Commission has agreed to adjourn the case following the BNP’s confirmation that it will accept the Commission’s requirement that it change its constitution and membership criteria.  The BNP has also agreed to not accept any new members until its new constitution comes into force.
 
In an order issued at the Central London County Court this morning, the BNP has agreed to use all reasonable endeavours to revise its constitution so that it does not discriminate, either directly or indirectly on any “protected characteristic” – for example on the grounds of race, ethnic or religious status – as defined in clause 4 of the Equality Bill. These changes must be carried out as soon as reasonably practicable, and no later than three months from today.
 
The order also states that from 15th October 2009, until the new constitution comes into effect, BNP Chairman Nick Griffin will close the membership of the Party to all new membership applications and prevent the Party from accepting into membership any new member.
 
The case has been adjourned until 16th January 2010.
 
John Wadham, Group Director Legal at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “We are pleased that the Party has conceded this case and agreed to all of the Commission’s requirements. Political parties, like any other organisation are obliged to respect the law and not discriminate against people. 
 
“It is unfortunate that the BNP spent several months before conceding and dealing properly with our legal requirements. We will be monitoring the BNP’s compliance with this court order on membership, and its other legal obligations, including to its constituents.”
 
Background to the case:
The Commission has a statutory duty, under the Equality Act 2006, to enforce the provisions of the Act and to work towards the elimination of unlawful discrimination. This duty includes preventing discrimination by political parties.
 
The Commission sent a letter before action on 22nd June 2009 to the BNP setting out its concerns about the party’s constitution and membership criteria which appear to restrict membership to those within what the BNP regards as particular “ethnic groups” and those whose skin colour is white. This exclusion is contrary to the Race Relations Act which the party is legally obliged to comply with.
 
The Commission asked the BNP to provide written undertakings that it would amend its constitution and membership criteria to ensure and to make transparent that it does not discriminate against potential or actual members on racial grounds. 
 
Following the BNP’s failure to comply with these requirements, on 24 August 2009, the Commission issued county court proceedings (under sections 24 and 25(5) of the Equality Act) against the Nick Griffin and two other party officials, Simon Darby and Tanya Jane Lumby.

Whilst I would be pleased to see the BNP lose a lot of money if it has to pay for the costs of the case, I’m not entirely comfortable with this situation.

As a fellow Paintbrusher has argued previously, the best way for anti-fascists to defeat the BNP is politically –  through political activism amongst the communities where people are voting for them.  Taking them on legally may have a place in these efforts (the Public Order Act 1936 is generally thought to have helped damage Mosley and the BUF) but should not be relied upon.

The headline at Yahoo UK is ‘BNP to accept non-whites’. People glancing at Yahoo’s summary of today’s news events could interpret that as the BNP voluntarily doing away with their racist rules. Even the BBC story’s headline – ‘BNP to consider non-white members’ – sounds like the BNP leadership choosing to moderate itself rather than being forced to comply with the law. Will people understand that a legal case had been brought against the BNP and that Nick Griffin is accepting defeat?

There is a danger that the outcome of the case will change the BNP cosmetically, allowing them to declare that they are no longer racist in the eyes of the law, but of course will not alter the racist political ideology at the heart of the party and will not undermine their popular appeal. Could this case in fact make the BNP seem more mainstream and respectable and make it harder to expose them as extremists? 

On top of this, the BNP will claim to their supporters that the party’s internal affairs are being interfered with by the ‘Politically Correct elite’ etc who are sneakily using their legal power to damage the BNP because they cannot defeat them fairly in democratic debate. The BNP will bang on about the supposed legal double standard which allows the formation of organisations such as the National Black Police Association but does not allow a ‘rights for whites’ political party. Perhaps this will reinforce the sense of alienation and victimhood felt by many BNP voters.

In our democracy we cannot use the law to force racists to stop holding racist views. Political solutions are required for dealing with the growth of the BNP. Although this case has been a legal defeat for the BNP, we cannot be sure that it is politically an anti-fascist victory.   

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