Very recently, BNP leader Nick Griffin strolled into Metrodeco, quite the thing.
He nodded at some of our regulars, leaned nonchalantly back into his armchair and ordered a smoked salmon sandwich and a Chrysler Breakfast Tea (“White, please love. Not black, definitely not black…”).
He could have been any other customer. His unfashionable Hitleresque barnet was, perhaps, a little unusual in this voguish part of Brighton – but he was, well, normal. In fact, despite recent publicity, I didn’t even recognise him until he unfolded a copy of the Daily Mail.
Sound far fetched? Of course it is – and of course Griffin wasn’t in the tea shop. Apart from the fact he lives hundreds of miles away in a rural backwater near the Welsh border, he and his storm-troopers are openly homophobic and therefore hardly likely to be lunching in the city’s Kemp Town area, one of the most-established gay villages on the planet.
Or are they?
I recently discovered that you can now search the internet for local (supposed) BNP members. An increasingly infamous site allows you to punch in your postcode and within seconds the names of dozens of alleged members within the vicinity – and their postcodes – appear before your eyes. I punched in the postcode for Metrodeco Tea Salon, expecting a blank page…perhaps the odd Mosley nearby, three Himlers and a couple of Mussolinis.
But no! 30 names appeared and they weren’t obvious goose-stepping fascists. I won’t reprint them here because I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the list. Suffice to say, they were names like Smith and Robson. The type of names the dental nurse calls out as you’re waiting for your few remaining teeth to be amputated. Everyday names, seemingly everyday people.
Six of them were so close to the shop it would have been an effort for them to avoid us if they wanted a tea or coffee on a Sunday morning. They’d have had to goose-step around our outside tables and chairs. Come to think of it, I’ve probably served one of them.
The fascist-finder website got me to thinking, what would I actually do if I knew one of these head-bangers was in the shop – ask them to leave? Wait for them to go about their business of their own accord and hope they don’t return? Challenge them to justify their odious beliefs in the hope I could appeal to the reasonable, tolerant person within? Or let them be, acknowledging that – in a free society – people are allowed to believe, even say, what they want, so long as they keep within the law?
I honestly don’t know the answer but maybe it’s something we small Brighton businesses should all be pondering, now that we know their number are (supposedly) among us.
I guess it’s a similar question to that facing the BBC in relation to Griffin’s appearance on Question Time.
Should we give the BNP and its rapt supporters a platform? Should we take them on intellectually and show their creed for the unsupportable tripe it is?
Though the BNP is currently wracked by internal wrangling and financial turmoil, any decent showing on Question Time would galvanise its supporters, give the party UK-wide credence as an electable force and set in motion worrying momentum heading into the General Election in just seven months. Or, as they put it: “If we are successful it will send shockwaves through the media and the establishment and will really propel the BNP into the political premier league.”
So maybe we deny them that debate on the basis that it gives an insignificant – albeit creepy – section of the community a disproportionate amount of attention? That’s what our own Argus used to do – until Unite Against Fascism told them it was better to ‘expose’ them as extremists. Afterall, there is little support for the party in Brighton. In Kemp Town, Griffin has markedly less significance than the fisheries spokesman of the Moroccan nationalist party.
They don’t have a branch (an attempt to open one in Hove was recently seen off by locals). They don’t have any councillors. And they don’t seem to have a presence – but for how long?
Someone far cleverer than me probably has the answers to these problems.
But for now, I’ll settle on this action: if I ever actually do see Griffin strolling carelessly into Metrodeco carrying his Daily Mail – I’ll immediately impose a lifelong ban. And I’ll tell Griffin he’s not welcome either.