In Birmingham's city centre, there is - what was supposed to be - a demonstration. A loudspeaker is broadcasting nationalist songs, some celebrating "Britishness", others about how immigrants are stealing benefits from the hard-working folk of the west Midlands. No more than ten people are standing next to a banner that says "Solidarity". The font is very similar to Poland's Solidarity movement, but when I point this out to the man seemingly in charge of the "demonstration" (the only one wearing a suit), he laughs.
"haha. I thought the same thing when I first saw it. But no, it has nothing to do with Lech Walesa."
No, of course not. This is the UK's radical Solidarity union, now defending a teacher named Adam Walker. He is a BNP member and organiser, and from his school laptop he wrote in an online forum about his views that immigrants were "filth" and "savage animals". The General Teaching Council threatened to fire him, and no other union would represent him until Solidarity stepped in. This is why I'm here, filming a short video on the BNP testing the limits of free speech, and often facing a violent reaction when they do.
I don't like the BNP. This isn't a particularly controversial thing to say. But here's where I have to face up to a tricky problem, not to mention a mob of United Against Fascism activists, because I also don't like limiting freedom of speech. I was horrified (and a little confused) when I filmed the UAF and other friendly, socialist defenders of freedom rioting outside the BBC, willing to tear down the gates to stop Nick Griffin from appearing on television.
Explain: a campaigning group established to defend our freedom from fascism, now campaigning to have a politician banned from television? It's a long discussion, and I'm only going to introduce (not try to conclude) it here, but suffice to say this is why I'm in Birmingham. To explore these questions with a camera and microphone. And this is why I was talking to people like Mr. Solidarity, and walking alongside Nick Griffin filming his PR stunt. He applauds the 'victory for freedom of speech' when Mr. Walker emerges from his tribunal victorious, cleared of the charges, allowed to continue teaching.
And this is what I felt, after a long conversation and spending half a day with members, and the leader, of the BNP. Nothing. I didn't feel anger. I didn't feel hate. UAF was there, yelling at Nick to kill himself. I didn't feel compelled to join in. Why? I would have expected to feel something. SOMETHING! But I felt nothing standing next to Nick and Mr. Solidarity (I never got his name), even after he told me early on in our conversation "We're not linked to the BNP'" and then continually referred to the BNP as "we".
Nick just seemed like a politician. A fairly ordinary, slimy, racist politician. Mr. Solidarity seemed even more personable, and if I hadn't seen him fawn over Nick when he finally made an appearance, I probably would have left Birmingham thinking "meh, he was alright. A bit racist, but alright..."
Why was it that I wasn't compelled to join UAF in shouting "Follow your leader! Kill yourself like Adolf Hitler!" (other than the fact that their attempt at writing a catchy slogan was pretty poor.) Why didn't I feel hate? I don't get it. I was actually...I hesitate to say it...interested in interviewing them. (Nick's people have agreed to an interview for this film). I was intrigued by the opportunity to talk to them and stand so close to the man himself and realise he had no devil horns. He is, after all, at the end of his political career, and the BNP were all but destroyed in the May 6 elections. Maybe it was the fact that so few journalists actually would interview them that intrigued me. Maybe I actually enjoyed the BNP's polite attempts to engage someone who was so clearly not in their target demographic.
Maybe I was tempted to ask "so, how much would you actually pay me to be voluntarily repatriated?"
We could have collaborated. "Nick, if you help me create a state to return to, I'll agree to move there. What do you say?"
More to come...