I discovered an interesting fact last week: police and prison officers are not allowed to be members of the British National Party.
It is written into their contracts, and a number of years ago, when a BNP membership list was leaked to the press, police chiefs and prison governors pored over the details to ensure none of their employees were named.
When I heard this, it struck me as both undemocratic and pointless. Now I agree that many of us might view the BNP and their policies as unpalatable, to say the least. Their website states that “towns and cities all over our beautiful country now resemble parts of Africa or Asia” and refers to “foreigners” costing us millions. So many of us can probably also see the logic this ban.
But there are two major contradictions here. First, the BNP is a legitimate political party in the UK, satisfying the conditions set out by the Electoral Commission and as such, with its three councillors and two MEPs, has influence over the running of public services in some areas.
It is conceivable that a BNP councillor could be on a police board, overseeing the operation of a force that they themselves could not be a member of, because of their political beliefs; and all the time adhering to an ideology that the police officers themselves would be banned from following.
The second anomaly is that other public servants do not have such restrictions enforced upon them: it is not in the contracts of teachers, for example, or social workers, that they cannot be members of the BNP.
Presumably the reason for this restriction is to protect the public from the influence of a party that does not see all people in the UK as equal. But, by not applying it to all public servants, we are not really protecting people, are we? Aren’t teachers, with their influence over the young and impressionable, and social workers, with their life-changing skills, as capable of making an impact with their beliefs as police and prison officers?
Even if we did apply the restrictions to all public servants, we would still face the fundamental contradiction that our laws would create the potential for a party to be in charge of services run by public servants contractually banned from the same ideology as their leaders? And if we banned the party? Well, what price our democracy?
The fact is that bans like this do not work, no matter how they are applied. This whole messy situation has come about because politicians and others have comforted themselves by believing that if you ban those people who officially declare their allegiance to an extreme, racist and right wing ideology from dealing with the public, then the public are safe.
Wrong. We all have thoughts and most us do not belong to a political party. This is tokenism. Other public sector bodies have not implemented a ban because they understand that you can’t outlaw people’s thoughts.