CST Elections report

30 Jun 2009 by CST

CST has today published its report into the performance of the BNP in this month’s local and European elections. These were breakthrough elections for the BNP: they won two seats in the European Parliament for the first time, and three seats on County Councils, a tier of local government from which they were previously absent. Despite this, things could have been much worse. Given the combination of the recession and the expenses scandal, ideal political conditions for the BNP, their two MEPs perhaps fell short of expectations. The report draws a few conclusions about the BNP’s performance and the new reality that it has created:

The reasons for the BNP’s European success are numerous, but include the collapse of mainstream politics, the lack of political engagement in local areas and the BNP’s success at getting out on the streets in local areas. In policy terms, the BNP have been able to play on mainstream concerns about the economy, crime, housing and unemployment, while also exploiting more traditional far right subjects such as immigration and fears about Islamist extremism. Their use of the issue of migrant workers in particular combines fears about immigration with the reality of rising unemployment.

In general, the BNP benefited (as did most other parties) from the collapse in the Labour vote. However, this should not be complacently dismissed as a protest vote, which can be won back with ease. In recent years the BNP have proven adept at taking what appears to be a protest vote and turning it into a hardened and loyal local support through different electoral cycles. These results are the consequence of several years of hard work by BNP activists to build up a strong core support, particularly in the North West, Yorkshire, West Midlands and parts of the South East and East London.

Nor can some of the long-held assumptions about the dynamics of BNP electoral success be relied upon. For example, there does not appear, in these elections at least, to be a clear correlation between a low turnout and relative success for the BNP. The party did win its two European Parliament seats in regions where the turnout and the Labour vote both fell, but their total vote and their share of the vote also rose in the two regions where the overall turnout rose. In London, two of the BNP’s three best votes came in boroughs with a turnout of 36% or over, while their three worst results came in boroughs with turnouts between 29.2% and 32.4%; the average turnout in London was 33.5%, down from 37.7% in 2004. Nor does there appear to be a correlation between a fall in the UKIP vote and a rise in the vote for the BNP (or vice versa).

The election of two MEPs was a big breakthrough for the BNP and does have serious consequences, but the party failed to match the pre-election predictions of up to seven seats. Despite gaining about 135,000 more votes than four years ago, the BNP share of the vote only rose by 1.3% to 6.2%, below the Green Party’s share. The BNP spent what was for them a large amount of money on the European campaign, about £500,000, and they only just managed to get two people elected.It is possible that this was partly the effect of extensive anti-BNP campaigning, especially in areas like the West Midlands where the BNP missed out on winning a seat. Still, with their three successes in the County Council elections extending their presence in local government, in addition to a seat on the London Assembly and now two MEPs, the BNP can quite reasonably claim to be a fringe party on the right of the political spectrum that is of similar size and standing to the Green Party’s position on the left. With greater standing, though, will come greater scrutiny. Within just a few weeks of the election, the BNP already face the prospect of a legal challenge from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to the racial and ethnic basis of their membership criteria.

The election of two MEPs gives the BNP a large amount of money (Griffin and Brons could earn up to around £2 million each over the five-year term, including salaries, expenses and other allowances), which would enable them to expand their operations across the country. It has already provided them with a large amount of publicity, out of all proportion to their size and influence, and will continue to do so. They now have access to places previously barred to them, for example the House of Commons, and to platforms that were denied to them, for example, local political meetings and possibly even political programmes like BBC’s Question Time. It has given them a huge boost, with more people likely to join as members and more money available to fight more elections. The next step will be fighting seats at the next General Election, which must take place by June 2010. They are likely to concentrate on areas where they already have a large local presence, for example Barking and Dagenham and Stoke-on-Trent. However, due to the political volatility brought about by the expenses scandal and the recession they could be looking to stand in other areas.

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These results will further confirm to the BNP that their elections-based approach is the most likely strategy to bring real results in pursuit of their political goals. It will also strengthen Griffin’s position within the party, despite the internal divisions caused by his leadership style. It is many years since the BNP have held a public march on the streets, or a mass rally of the type that far right groups used to hold on a regular basis in the 1970s and 1980s. While throwing eggs at BNP leaders makes a powerful statement about the offensive nature of the party, while also providing good pictures, the meaningful fight against the BNP will be won and lost on the battleground of mainstream politics. The challenge for the mainstream parties and anti-BNP campaigners is to re-engage with existing and potential BNP voters and their concerns at a local level. There are now several parts of the country where the BNP are a serious political threat and can no longer simply be dismissed as a protest vote. The concerns of their voters need to be addressed by the mainstream parties, not by developing softer versions of BNP policies, but by developing real policies to address their needs while demonstrating why the BNP’s policies do not provide any answers to their problems.

Also worth reading is this analysis from Searchlight’s Nick Lowles, with some fascinating (if rather gloomy) polling, that shows the BNP vote to be hardened, loyal, racist and extremely disaffected:

It is also important to dispel two widely (though separately) held assumptions. Firstly, this is not the protest vote against mainstream parties and useless locally elected representatives that many politicians would like us to believe. It is an increasingly hard and loyal vote which is based on political and economic insecurities and moulded by deep-rooted racial prejudice. This in turn is linked with a second myth, that the way to beat the BNP is simply to tack left and offer more socialistic policies. While this might peel off some BNP supporters who feel economically marginalised, it will not in itself address the strongly held racist views of many BNP voters.

As the YouGov poll (see below) clearly shows, the racism of many BNP voters goes well beyond simple opposition to current immigration and eastern European migrant workers which one might expect if their support for the BNP was prompted simply by economic insecurity. Belief in the intellectual superiority of white people over non-whites, the view of nearly half of BNP voters that black and Asian people can never be British, the almost universal dislike of even moderate Islam and the contempt and suspicion many of their voters have towards a liberal and multicultural society show how hardline much of the BNP support is and how it will take more than a more progressive economic policy to win them back fully.

More importantly, and regularly overlooked by politicians, activists and commentators alike, are issues around identity. As I have discussed before, the BNP is emerging as the voice of a forgotten working class, which increasingly feels left behind and ignored by mainstream society. As the YouGov research confirms, the majority of BNP voters feel that the Labour Party, for many their traditional political home, has moved away from them and is now dominated by a middle-class London elite who care more for Middle England and the interests of minority groups than for them.

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What we can do, however, is make a difference on the ground. And we do. Results in several local authority areas in the European elections showed the BNP vote (both actual and share of the vote) down compared to 2004. Among these areas were Burnley, Pendle and Oldham in the North West, Bradford and Kirklees in West Yorkshire, and Sandwell and Dudley in the West Midlands.

A common factor in all these areas has been the intensity of local anti-BNP campaigns, which has been all year round and not just a leaflet at an election.


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“Since 2003, CST has been a stalwart supporter of ODIHR in its efforts to effectively monitor antisemitic hate crime in the OSCE Region. With its rigorous methodology and innovative partnerships with the British police, it is viewed by many as representing the gold standard for NGO responses to all forms of hate crime. I wish CST all success in its exciting new phase of work.”

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OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights