I always knew that dealing with the BNP would be difficult. Until now, we have mostly ignored them, but I sense that we have reached a tipping point and that it makes more sense now to challenge their policies and be sure that those voting for them know exactly what they are voting for.
I blogged about this dilemna - to report or to ignore - previously and received a reasonable amount of feedback, almost all of which came down on the side of reporting, with the notable exception of someone employed full-time to worry about social cohesion who felt that it was still best to ignore. With the election of a BNP county councillor in Coalville, we have decided that we cannot ignore the situation.
Tomorrow, we run a two-page thought piece on how it was that Coalville came to elect a BNP councillor. The two main parties both say that they didn't take the far-right organisation seriously enough and paid the penalty. The sitting Labour candidate admits that half way through the count when he knew he'd lost, he found himself in the peculiar position of hoping his Tory opponent would take the seat. It wasn't to be. It is easy to run away with the idea that the BNP candidate, Graham Partner, was swept to power by a huge protest vote. In fact, 62% of the electorate didn't vote for anyone and 73% of those who did vote, didn't vote for the BNP. The votes that were cast were spread amongst the candidates, leaving Mr Partner elected with a majority of 86. To be fair, the BNP is not the first party to benefit from our first-past-the-post electorial system which frequently sees people elected with a very small percentage of the possible vote.
Tomorrow's article by Lee Marlow makes for an interesting read, but it is the follow-up piece by Adam Wakelin that we are planning for Saturday which presents a bigger challenge for me as editor. Adam is a great writer, but his article is not an analysis, it's an interview with Mr Partner. I read an early draft this afternoon and was left feeling a little uneasy.
It's not that Adam hasn't asked the right questions or that he doesn't have the right background - he's got a great line about repatriation based round the fact that his own wife is 'brown-skinned' - it's more to do with the fact that Mr Partner is, in Adam's words, not a monster. Mr Partner describes BNP leader Nick Griffin as a prat, Hitler as a lunatic and he voted Labour most of his life before becoming interested in the BNP five years ago.
This all chimes with a discussion I had with the editor of the Stoke Sentinel whose paper circulates in an area which has elected a number of BNP councillors to its city council. He told me that it is very difficult because BNP councillors don't spend their time making racist comments, they spend their time being seen to do good things in the community. Of course, they don't want to spend their time talking about their racist policies and it's difficult to mention them every time you write about something they say which is not racist.
I've asked that Adam goes back on his feature and is more explicit about the racist policies and gets Mr Partner to talk more about them. In the meantime, I'm grateful that our lawyers have agreed that it is ok to say that the BNP are racist, fascist bigots ...