The far right BNP suffered a “death blow” in the 2012 local elections, according to a leading academic expert, and is likely to now give up on the “ballot box strategy” in favour of demonstrations and campaigning after its worst electoral results for over a decade.
The local elections saw the far right party lose all twelve of the council seats it was defending, with no far right candidates winning council seats anywhere for the first time in local elections since 2001. The party once had a peak of 57 local councillors but is now reduced to just 4. The Hope Not Hate blog contains the most detailed information on the performance of extremist candidates and parties.
“These results are a death blow to Nick Griffin retaining his European seat in 2014,” leading academic expert Matthew Goodwin of Nottingham University told British Future.
The scale of the setback suggests there is no prospect of future electoral recovery for Nick Griffin’s party, he says, completing a very rapid decline from the high-point of winning European Parliament seats just three years ago.
The BNP have not only failed to advance in areas where it had sought to make ground, such as Epping Forest around the Essex-London border or North Tyneside, they have also suffered major reverses in those areas – losing their council seats in Amber Valley, in Rotherham, and in Burnley, which far right activists once imagined they could turn into “heartland” areas.
In these areas, as in Barking at the 2010 General Election, the campaigning of anti-fascist activists in the Hope Not Hate campaign, mainstream parties, trade unionists and other organisations has now been successful in wiping the BNP off the local government map.
Goodwin, author of the authoritative academic study ‘New British Fascism: the rise of the British National Party’ points out that the far right did not win any local council seats between the BNP’s success in Tower Hamlets in 1993 and winning three seats in Burnley the local elections of 2002. The 2012 election results saw the party return to mid-1990s shares of the vote, where it was a very minor political presence.
The BNP, which has been in deep organisational and financial trouble, is likely to respond to electoral meltdown by turning away from contesting future elections, after fielding fewer candidates this year than in the past.
Goodwin says: “Being completely wiped out is likely to lead to the BNP giving up on the ballot box strategy.” Nick Griffin has already spoke about moving his party away from an electoral model in favour of street demonstrations and campaigns.
But, whatever its future focus, the BNP may be squeezed out of any significant presence on any front.
In some areas in these elections, such as Dudley in the West Midlands, the BNP was even polling behind the old National Front, which has tended to retain an appeal for those who have the Nick Griffin-led shift from a violent street image to suits too modernising, and which is now a very marginal political force.
The English Defence League has been the focus of street protests and mobilisations – and of media attention. The EDL is now teaming up with the British Freedom Party, made up of disaffected BNP members, to begin its own electoral activities. The decision to team up with ex-BNP members, though they bring some electoral experience to the EDL, makes it much more difficult for the EDL to maintain a non-extremist image.
A mainstream breakthrough, appealing to disgruntled Conservative or Labour voters, therefore seems very difficult, especially when the Eurosceptic UKIP party is able to offer a more mainstream political and media voice without the same associations with extreme movements. While academic analysis suggests there is some crossover between voters, party leader Nigel Farage has made clear commitments to avoid far right extremist entryism into his Eurosceptic party.
The collapse of the British National Party is in stark contrast to the success of the French National Front, which won nearly one in five votes in the French Presidential election first round, and which is seeking to use the French National Assembly elections to enter mainstream politics.
The British democratic parties still have work to do in ensuring that democratic politics addresses the causes which lead to rejectionist political movements – including anxieties about identity, immigration and Islam, and a sense of political and economic alienation.
But perhaps there may be more hope of doing so in a constructive way as the far right BNP retreat to the margins of British political life.
By Sunder Katwala