The BNP may have failed in the May election, but the future is still bright for the far rightby Matthew Goodwin / June 22, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
During the 1979 election, Margaret Thatcher talked tough on immigration, crystallising many voters’ anxieties. The far-right National Front fielded more than 300 candidates, but the party’s expected breakthrough failed to arrive and it descended into bitter infighting. Fast-forward to 2010, when BNP leader Nick Griffin did less well than expected against Labour’s Margaret Hodge in Barking, and his party lost all 12 of its councillors on the local council. Already the BNP has fallen into factionalism, which some hope might mark the end of the far right’s recent successes. As historian Richard Hofstadter wrote in 1955 of third parties in America: it looks as if far right parties are like bees; once they sting, they die.
Yet the BNP actually did not perform that badly—especially for a small party that has long preferred local and European contests (under proportional representation) to costly general elections. It managed an almost three-fold increase in candidates (to 338), while its votes more than doubled to over half a million (about 2 per cent of the total). The party spent £400,000 in a campaign focusing mainly on Barking and Stoke, but its core voters still turned out in areas that saw next to no campaigning. Deposits were saved in more than 70 seats, compared with 34 in 2005.
More broadly, the BNP now operates in an environment growing more favourable to the far right, not less. Record levels of concern over immigration, a recession, persistent economic inequalities, distrust of politicians and the convergence of the three main parties in the centre will continue to provide fertile ground in future local and European polls—and this is even before public spending cuts bite.
Polls say most voters don’t like immigration, want less of it, and simply don’t believe government statistics are honest. But the far right no longer relies solely on this issue. Attitudes to Islam are now just as important. A 2009 YouGov poll suggested 44 per cent of voters agreed that “even in its milder forms Islam poses a danger to western civilisation,” while a recent British Social Attitudes survey showed barely a quarter held any positive views toward Muslims at all.