Spot the White

Daniel Trilling, Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain’s Far Right

Verso, 240pp, £14.99, ISBN 9781844679591

reviewed by Mark Olden

Six years ago, an 82-year-old with a shiny head, a pink complexion, and dressed - like the 1950s schoolteacher he once was - in a prim Scottish wool suit, sat in a secluded North Yorkshire farmhouse reflecting on his political life. The interview, which I did for the BBC, was to be the old man’s last TV appearance - and he presented himself as a prophet whom events had vindicated.

‘I saw the multitude of evils that were going to result, and have resulted. We have large parts of our cities that are no longer truly British.’ The very house in Birmingham where he was born was now under ‘coloured occupation’, he said. ‘To me it’s appalling. I can’t think of any cause more worth fighting for ... I look back on the centuries of history of my people, and they have countless times stirred themselves to repel what they regarded as an alien invasion.’ His dying wish, it was abundantly clear, was that they would do so again.

Colin Jordan, Cambridge-graduate, convicted criminal and unrepentant neo-Nazi until his final breath, features in Daniel Trilling’s new book, Bloody Nasty People. The so-called Godfather of British Fascism, with his virulent anti-Semitism and Hitlerian fantasies, held, as one of his 2009 obituaries put it ‘a niche at the extremity of British life’, and Trilling shows how he – and other grotesques, such as John Tyndall and Martin Webster – fit into the lineage of Britain’s far right movement.

Yet this book’s virtue is not in telling the far right’s (already well-documented) history, but in deftly explaining why so many people remain receptive to its ideas today, and how established politicians and the mainstream media provide the British National Party and the English Defence League with the fertile ground on which they operate. The ‘bloody nasty people’ of the title references a Sun headline that followed a BBC exposé of the BNP in 2004 – but, says Trilling, ‘If only it were so easy to separate the “nasty” people from the rest.’

Accordingly, he goes beyond the caricatures, ‘the foaming-at-the-mouth monsters’, and meets ordinary BNP members and sympathisers: the pensioner lamenting how hard it is to ‘spot the white’ in her neighbourhood; the transport workers’ union member who insists he isn’t racist (‘The black Jamaicans, most of them do work, pay their taxes. But it’s the people who come over here and ponce off the state…’); the 18-year-old BNP canvasser with a public school quiff and a Union Jack tie, who says: ‘The rhetoric of the Express and the Mail could come from one of our own newsletters. But then they have to say: “Don’t vote for the fascists!” It’s ridiculous.’

The canvasser wasn’t far wrong: Trilling reminds us how those newspapers (and others) ‘obsessively [linked] asylum seekers with crime and disease; describing them in dehumanising terms such as a “flood” or a “horde”’; and he shows how their invective – just like that of the BNP – has shifted in recent years from asylum seekers to Muslims.

In the book’s powerful climax, Trilling highlights – in passages that will resonate with readers who pick this book up in years to come - how Islamophobia is as commonplace in mainstream discourse today, as anti-black racism was in the past. The BNP may be in electoral decline, but the fear and ignorance that attracted so many to them remains. Bloody Nasty People is an eloquent antidote to it.
Mark Olden is a journalist, TV producer and author of Murder in Notting Hill.