Illustration by Cei Willis
On Thursday, a small fraction of people in the UK will vote in the European Elections. Looking at the parties contesting my region, "South East", you can sense a bit of a pattern emerging. Aside from the usual options, I can choose from "An Independence From Europe", the BNP, Britain First, the English Democrats, the Christian Peoples Alliance, Liberty GB and cuddly old UKIP. I can’t think of any elections in my lifetime where bigots had a better spread of options.
The rise of all these far-right parties raises some interesting questions, but since this is supposed to be a science column, I’ll ignore all those and tackle this one: Which far right party should you support if you’re a racist bigot who likes science? To find out, I put some questions to some of them.
Or at least, I tried to. It turns out that a lot of these guys aren’t big fans of journalists. The BNP refuse to speak to freelance journalists or students, “Due to draconian anti-free speech measures imposed by the National Union of Students”, which is a reference to the NUS's long-held but now often ignored "No Platform" directive aimed at keeping extremists out of political campus debates. A press officer from Britain First was equally reluctant and patiently explained to me:
"The last item which appeared on VICE relating to Britain First was entitled ‘FAR-RIGHT GOONS WALKED AROUND BRADFORD HARANGUING EVERYONE THIS WEEKEND’. I appreciate that you were not responsible for that article, however I am sure that you can sympathise with our reluctance to assist in any article which will benefit that particular publication.”
So that was a bit awkward. In the end, only the Christian Peoples Alliance, Liberty GB and UKIP replied, and UKIP were – perhaps understandably – too busy to answer the questions I sent them. In desperation, I even left a message on the Stormfront forum asking their members to pitch in and tell me what they wanted from far-right parties on science policy, but my thread was deleted. It was almost as if far-right people had some kind of problem with science, left-wing journalists, or both.
Anyway, let’s look at them in more detail. Britain First is a splinter faction of the BNP, who we all know. The English Democrats want to abolish political correctness and close borders to refugees. None of the three say much about science, although the English Dems are big on engineering, declaring: “The aerospace, electronics, pharmaceutical and engineering industries should be the bedrock of our economy.” This is a shame given that a large number of Britain’s engineers are immigrants.
The BNP, meanwhile, plan to build a network of magnetic levitation trains connecting Britain’s immigrant-free cities. In our new fascist utopia, supermarkets would buy more local produce, power lines would be buried underground to make the countryside prettier (at least the bit of it that's not churning out cheap veg for Tesco) and our energy would be supplied by nuclear power stations and renewables – not because of "climate dogma" but to reduce dependence on imports from dirty foreigners.
The Christian People’s Alliance website looks kind of progressive, like a rogue religious faction of the Green Party. They believe in reducing inequality, challenging the over-consumption of scarce resources, investing in renewable energy and reducing CO2 emissions, even though they told me that, “There has been no increase in the average temperature for the past 15 years so the jury is out on this one. We support all attempts to reduce CO2 emissions whatever the reason is for it.” Of course it isn’t just carbon dioxide affecting the weather – there are also gay people, who the CPA’s leader suggested may have been responsible for the storms that hit the UK recently.
Of course it’s hard to trust the word of academics when they’re just so damned liberal. When I asked the CPA what they’d do to combat liberal bias in British universities – the hubs of our scientific understanding of the world – they told me: “The best way to address it would be to have a Fox News here which is now the most popular TV channel in America. It's amazing that the idea of God existing is an open joke to the BBC. The alternative view of God existing and being very interested in every aspect of society is actually held by large numbers of people and they shouldn't have to go to God TV to find their views expressed.”
Liberty GB, whose website largely consists of a concerned-looking white dude explaining why he’s not racist, were formed to fight against “the hijacking of traditional British culture and institutions by well-organised left-wing 'progressives'”. They particularly hate the humanities, with a university funding policy that they told me would reduce support for “ideology-heavy areas of arts and humanities” while increasing support for science by withdrawing from the EU. This would help Britain create a new generation of scientists and engineers who won’t tackle problems like climate change because it might not exist. They would, however, quite like to build “thorium-based nuclear power generators which will enable us to greatly reduce airborne pollution” and, in common with other far-right groups (and America's Tea Party), they’re keen on renewables as a way to promote energy independence.
So what about the relative moderates in this area, the wishy-washy almost-fascists of UKIP? Their responses have been pretty erratic in previous years, with a particularly aggressive stance on the great climate change conspiracy and some confused views on homeopathy and alternative medicine, which they’re generally sympathetic to because hey, free markets. This year they failed to respond at all, complaining that they were too busy – probably because of their big party in Croydon.
Scouring their website, I couldn’t find anything that really related to science, other than a reference in their European Manifesto to repealing the Climate Change Act. Sensible, since it doesn’t exist. Weirdly, the biggest and most prominent far-right party in these elections seems to have fewer policies than most of the completely crazy fringe groups they’re up against.
What really strikes me most all the above is that once you get past the basic thing that they’re angry about, these parties don’t really have a lot to offer, and that UKIP have the least to offer out of all of them. You might not agree with Liberty GB or the BNP, but at least they’ve taken the time to set out something more detailed than, “Argh, fucking Europe!”
Several parties pay lip service to high-tech industry and there’s an obvious and strong link between nationalism and energy independence, leading a lot of these people to vaunt nuclear and renewables rather than relying on foreign oil and gas. But they don’t seem to have any plan to build Britain’s high-tech economy, or support British science, or preserve England’s green and pleasant lands. Everything they do seems to be defined by their fear and ignorance of other people.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that science is an alien world to them when so much of it – from CERN’s underground collider to the International Space Station soaring overhead – is built on open international collaboration and the free movement of people and ideas across nations. Scientific progress thrives on knowledge and curiosity, while the far right live in a world of ignorance and fear. The two aren’t really that compatible.
So, who should you vote for if you’re a racist bigot who likes science? Well, I quite like the BNP's vision of maglev trains soaring through the Cotswolds and local beer in every pub, so maybe them? Really you’re far better off just not being racist and voting for someone sensible.