Sunday, 13 July 2008

Pat Answers

Her dentist is a black Nigerian and they are good friends. Her father was an immigrant from Transylvania. She is Jewish. Ori Golan meets Pat Richardson, a BNP candidate in next month’s local elections.

At first it sounds like the joke about the turkey who was looking forward to Christmas. Then it's astounding: Pat Richardson, a 58-year-old Jewish woman, is running for local elections as a BNP candidate in next month's Epping Forest District Council elections.
For the BNP this is a spectacular coup. The party which mutated from the openly anti-Semitic National Front in the 90s, has long been trying to reinvent itself as a respectable party and discard its reputation as the political home to brutes, criminals and social misfits. In a tactical shift toward mainstream politics, BNP leader, Nick Griffin, declared that the party must rid itself of three H’s: hard talk, hobbysim and Hitler. And what better way to refute charges of anti-Semitism and shed its thuggish image than to enlist a Jewish woman to its ranks?
So how did the BNP find such a prized party stooge?
I meet Richardson in Loughton, her home ground for the past 16 years. Jet-black hair drawn in a tight knot, manicured colourless fingernails, lipstick and a cordial smile, she invites me into her car and suggests a tour of Epping Forest. I am struck by how ordinary she is. She could be the cashier at your local bank, your neighbour, or your favourite aunt. And she may soon be your local councilor, if you live in the Loughton Fairmead ward.
As we drive, she points to schools, houses and the council estate of Debden, explaining what needs to be done to improve life in this semi-rural Tory seat on the borders of Greater London in Essex. We continue down a scenic road which cuts through Epping forest, and then turn into a lay by. "Here we are", she says, bringing the car to a halt. "We can do the interview here." With daylight extinguishing and heavy rain keeping us inside the car, it feels like an illicit meeting of a conspiratorial nature.
Richardson’s involvement with the BNP began two years ago. "I was getting disgruntled with the way things were going", she begins. "I am very much against the European Union. It’s like a massive dictatorship. Plans to build on the green belt, and the open-door policy, bringing in immigrants, also worried me." The BNP had answers to her questions.
With her husband, Tom, she started attending BNP meetings and before long, they joined the party and became active members. A few months ago her BNP branch asked her to stand in the upcoming local elections. She was articulate and persuasive, they told her. Flattered, she accepted. This is her first stint in politics.
Curbing immigration, she says, is one of the appeals of the BNP. "Every country allows a certain amount of traffic, but when all arrows point to England, the system is being drained. When three generations are here and they haven’t worked or contributed a thing, it gets up your nose a bit. They don’t work and seem to spend most of the time having babies. The ones who have integrated are not a problem. Assimilating doesn’t mean that they’ve got to scrub their skin clean, or turn white and do a Michael Jackson, it just means living a normal life, doing their job. The government at the moment is giving money to immigrants, so called ‘asylum seekers,’ who are coming here and are getting everything. But pensioners who are struggling and have to pay council tax, get no concessions."
I put it to her that the BNP is not just calling for an end to immigration, but also campaigning for an all-white Britain and the repatriation of non-white immigrants to ‘their country of ethnic origin’. "Well that is possibly a name", she attempts to explain, "whether it’s achievable…because whatever your aims are, you only normally achieve half. Basically the original English that have been here for centuries were white."
Are you racist? I ask her. "How could I be? I get on with people from all walks of life, all backgrounds. I have a Nigerian dentist. We get on really well." She dismisses the suggestion that according to her party’s stated policies, her dentist should also be expelled. "The BNP would not have her shipped back because she is contributing to society."
"I don’t hide the fact that I am Jewish" she says, but significantly plays it down during our conversation: "Basically, the bits that have stuck are the foody bits and some of the old bible stories." However, an interview she gave to the web-based ‘This is London’, sheds light on her family history.
Both her parents are Jewish. Her father arrived in Britain, aged 13, at the turn of the century from Transylvania with his parents, who spoke mainly Yiddish. Her mother was born in Britain, but was of direct Lithuanian descent. As young girl, Richardson attended a Jewish Sunday school where she learnt Hebrew, and was a member of a Jewish youth club until the age of 15. Her husband had a Jewish grandmother, and their two sons, now 23 and 15, were circumcised at birth in accordance with Jewish tradition.
How does a Jewish candidate find herself sharing the same platform as an antisemitic party? "How can they be antisemitic?" she retorts, "They’ve got me".
It’s precisely that, which has infuriated the Jewish community. Chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Lord Janner says he is shocked that any Jewish person would stand as a BNP candidate: "The BNP is a far right racist party with nazi and fascist roots. If they are attacking Muslims or other recent immigrants today, it will be Jews tomorrow as it was yesterday. This woman should be treated with contempt".
Is she familiar with some of the things that the party leader, Nick Griffin, has said about the holocaust?
"He queried the figures," she replies. It was more than that, I tell her. I quote Griffin’s own words: I am well aware that orthodox opinion is that six million Jews were gassed and cremated or turned into soap and lampshades. Orthodox opinion also once held that the earth is flat. […] The extermination tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie and latter witch hysteria.
Her response is rather astonishing: "My husband found something totally independent of all this: orthodox thinking will not acknowledge dinosaurs because they came before the date that the world supposedly started," she chuckles. "Attitudes change, and priorities change," she concludes.
"You find a lot of not only Jews but orthodox people in all walks of life, they seem to be very sensitive and find insult where none is intended. I believe that there are some debates going on even in universities in Israel, reassessing the figures. Nobody is denying what happened and that it was a terrible thing. We’ve had terrible things all through the last century."
But the Holocaust was unique, no?
"Well that is what some would query. It was the way it was done: the people that died initially thought they were being sent somewhere safe, somewhere nice and didn’t realise. Otherwise I don’t think they would have got on the trucks that willingly. I don’t see why it keeps being harped upon because there were other major tragedies in the 20th century which seem just to get skimmed over."
The idea that the BNP is selling out its core principles for electoral advantage is eating away at the organisation from the inside. The Stormfront White Nationalist Information Center is a web-based supermarket of online hate, stocking its shelves with many forms of anti-Semitism and racism. A fierce debate is raging on its interactive web pages whether a Jewish BNP candidature is compatible with the party’s ideology. John Tyndall, founding chairman of the BNP, says of Richardson’s nomination: There will be some in the party who will describe this latest move as ‘clever’: We don not think it is in the least bit clever. […] As in the case of the short-lived candidate with the Black son-in-law, it is a stunt too far.
Unaware of the controversy, she brushes it away. "They are only supporters. If they are all that keen, why aren’t they standing? Why give flack to someone who’s doing more for the party?"
With elections only a month away, Richardson is hopeful. Going by what she says, her star is in the ascent. "I have received support from local people, and very positive feedback from people wanting to join, or pleased to see us canvassing. A rabbi’s widow, an elderly woman, phoned me out of the blue to say not to worry what the papers say and that I’ve got a lot more support – even amongst Jewish people – than I think."
Steven Barnes, the current councillor for Fairmead Ward admits that there is a level of support for the BNP in this area. Whether it is enough to get a candidate elected, he says, remains to be seen.
"If I am elected", she says enthusiastically, "I would fight against additional building on the green belt. I would fight for old people - they should get a fairer deal. And schools: teachers are buried in paper work; they barely get time to prepare lessons. Paper work is also getting to the police. That is why they are reluctant to go out on small calls. When they do go out and get somebody to court, you get these smart-arse lawyers or these out-of-touch judges and they just get off with a walk round the park, picking up pieces of paper."
Are there ever moments of doubts or regrets?
"Since signing up I have never been more sure that what I am doing is right. You know you get a gut feeling about something and I know it feels right."
Pat Richardson is an idealist, dedicated to a better Britain and motivated by genuine concerns: law and order, green issues, care for the elderly and welfare policies. But she is also a misguided, gullible stooge. The BNP is a party whose ideology is predicated on hate, bigotry and racism, and in her political naiveté Richardson has become an apologist for its illegal, immoral and inconsistent policies. Her arguments are incoherent, evasive and at times ignorant. She identifies complex social problems and peddles the BNP’s simplistic, quick-fix solutions which will fix nothing and solve even less. She is trying to be decent and, at the same time, promote the policies of the BNP, but doing a botched job of both because decency and racism are antonyms.
"My intentions are good," she says on several occasions. That may be so. But it is not enough: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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