Home Political Science & Law Journal Issue Article


2012/1 (No 144)

  • Pages : 224
  • ISBN : 9782707173218
  • DOI : 10.3917/her.144.0182
  • Publisher : La Découverte

Email alert

Your alert request has been correctly taken into account.
You will receive an email when new issues are put online.


Previous Pages 182 - 204 Next

Between August 6 and 10, 2011, shocked and dismayed Britons witnessed a real explosion of violence and damage to property and a large-scale outbreak of looting. With five dead and hundreds injured, the seriousness of the events was undeniable. It would have been reasonable to suppose that certain aspects of British society would have been seriously called into question as a result. However, the vast majority of the public saw these riots as not much more than the actions of youths looking to vent their frustrations and participate in some looting. The British public are thus overall in favor of the government’s measures (viewed as quite harsh outside of the UK), [2]  According to a survey by The Guardian newspaper, the...[2] adopted in the hope that they will dissuade possible repeats of these outbreaks in the future. Several weeks after the events, the press and Scotland Yard continued to release pictures of the looters to encourage people to turn them in to the authorities. Both the first names and last names of all the rioters brought before the courts were also published in the press. Few members of the Labour Party have voiced their opposition to the severity of the measures or pointed the finger of blame at the Conservative government with its budget cuts in education, local communities, and across the whole public sector in general.


This is indicative of a recent change across a large swathe of public opinion concerning troublemakers. They are viewed in these difficult times by many Britons as “profiteers” and this is why the tough response by the Conservative government [3]  The harsh reaction to the student protests in November...[3] has been welcomed. There is no doubt though that this change in the British way of thinking is more deep rooted because it is not merely that a more hardline right wing has emerged in the face of the crisis, but rather that far-right philosophies and tendencies have well and truly infiltrated British society. This change should be seen in connection with the rise of the far-right parties in Europe.


The electoral dynamics in recent years have benefitted both the British National Party (BNP), the flagship party of the British far right, and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which represents the nationalist and anti-European right wing. These dynamics signal a radical change in a whole section of British opinion.

The British National Party (BNP): Defending the White British


For a long time, historians and political observers did not believe that the far right could ever achieve a significant presence in the political sphere in Britain. Indeed, up to now, no far-right party had succeeded in establishing itself in any permanent way in the electoral landscape. The origins of right-wing extremism in England go back to the 1930s with the creation of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). It subscribed to the ambient anti-Semitism of the time, but never took part in any elections and was proscribed and disbanded during the Second World War. The BNP was formed in 1982 following a split in the National Front (NF). As the BNP’s political “ancestor,” the NF was the main far-right party in the United Kingdom for three decades from its formation at the end of the 1960s. A pro-Nazi and revisionist political group, the NF did experience some minor electoral success and was more influential than the British Movement, another extremist party of the time. Its political and electoral high point came in 1979, when the party won just under 200,000 votes (or 0.6% of the vote) in the national elections. Although still active today, the NF is a marginal party and is no longer capable of getting a candidate elected, even at the local level.


The symbol and the real historical starting point of extremism in the United Kingdom came not from a party, however, but from a man: Enoch Powell. A Conservative MP in the constituency of Wolverhampton South West (West Midlands region) for nearly twenty-four years, he held a high office in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Government as Minister for Health from 1960 to 1963. On April 20, 1968, Enoch Powell gave a speech, which bordered on a diatribe, in Birmingham, which was to secure him a place in history. He criticized mass immigration and anti-discriminatory measures, and spoke of possible “rivers of blood” (a reference to a text written by the Roman poet Virgil in the Aeneid) in the future if England did not act to halt the flow of immigrants. Even today, this episode remains one of the most famous events in British political history and is regularly recalled by supporters of the far right.


More than forty years after this famous “rivers of blood” speech, the BNP, which is today led by Nick Griffin (elected to the European Parliament in 2009), can claim more than 20,000 members and occupies a real place on the political scene. Like many far-right groups, it portrays itself as embodying values such as nationalism, protectionism, Euroscepticism, and populism, while at the same time trying not to be openly xenophobic and Islamophobic. Since it was formed, the BNP differed from other parties insofar as it did not allow non-Caucasians to join the party or attend meetings. However, in 2009, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) won a legal case against the BNP by proving that its internal jurisdiction was unconstitutional. Following an Extraordinary General Meeting, the members of the BNP voted to open the party to non-whites in 2010. The fact that the law and public opinion has only focused on this case very recently, however, demonstrates that this clearly racist condition for joining this party had barely aroused any significant hostile reaction in public opinion for almost three decades. The scrutiny it is now under is undoubtedly linked to its recent electoral successes, which have made it a party that is accepted but also unsettling.


Its platform centers on the restoration of white demographic supremacy in the United Kingdom, such as it was prior to 1948 (which saw the start of the first wave of immigration). In particular, the party encourages immigrants and their descendants to “go home” and advocates the abolition of all anti-discrimination legislation. On the economy, the BNP denounces the damaging impacts of Thatcherism, globalization, and liberalism, and opts instead for national protectionism. It also favors the reintroduction of corporal punishment and even of the death penalty in certain circumstances. During the 1980s, the party gained a national profile by providing encouragement and support to white families who had begun to take their children out of schools because of the “excessive” number of Muslim students in the classrooms. In 1989, using the slogan “Rights for Whites,” the party organized a march in Savile Town in Yorkshire where parents were very unhappy about the sudden arrival of a significant number of Muslims in their area. This city was well known at the time for being one of the largest immigrant settlement areas, particularly of the Muslim community. It also hosts the Markazi mosque, built in 1982, which was the largest in the country until recently. This march was at the root of the race riots that same year in Dewsbury, a nearby town, where young white BNP supporters confronted young Asians in the city center. Today, Savile Town has a population that is more than 95% Muslim.


Nick Griffin knows how to use the international context and certain events to promote his party. The race riots in Oldham in May 2001, for example, in which young whites and young Muslims confronted each other and which subsequently spread to the towns of Burnley, Bradford, and Leeds, marked the start of sustained media exposure for the BNP. Since then, the party has continued to take a stand against Islam and immigration and the danger they represent for the white Anglo-Saxon classes and their values. The party achieved a historic result in the 2001 General Election following the riots. This reinforced its national strategy as well as the “favorable” news environment at the time, which it was able to use to give it a powerful new impetus.


The two years that followed were more complicated for the party, which had to deal with both external and internal controversies. In 2006, the Guardian newspaper, which has a clearly left-wing-oriented editorial line, revealed that one of its journalists, Ian Cobain, had infiltrated the party for six months. Cobain described the existence of a network of false identities for members of the party, of secret meetings with racist agendas (although the party refrains from making any racist or anti-Semitic comments in public), and of the secret party membership of several big industry and business bosses. In the aftermath of this exposure, the party experienced an internal crisis. Some sixty of its officials were expelled in 2007 for criticizing the way the party was being run and, on the back of national results that had started to improve since he had taken over, the “tyrannical” Nick Griffin had adopted an attitude considered “despotic” by some. Some of those who had been expelled subsequently stood as independent candidates or joined other far-right parties. The good results in the 2009 European elections and Nick Griffin’s announcement that he would be standing down as leader in 2013 promoted a return to calm. Like other far-right groups in Europe, however, the party still faces various scandals. The most recent concerns the party’s finances (it is in debt to the tune of an estimated £500,000) and possible undeclared donations, which are currently being investigated by the Court of Auditors.


The party’s polemicist and reactionary position is not based exclusively on its critique of major current affairs. It sometimes feeds off its respective political or media opponents. In 2008, the controversial website WikiLeaks published an online list of the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of more than 10,000 members supposedly belonging to the party. As a result, these people received anonymous phone calls and were even, in some cases, dismissed from their jobs because of their political beliefs. This episode reinforced the party’s notoriety. They brought out the “victim” card on several occasions and regrouped internally. In 2009, the BBC caused a storm of controversy by inviting the BNP in the form of Nick Griffin onto its flagship political program Question Time for the first time in its history. In spite of many protests from both within the BBC and among the British public, the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, took the view that the BNP’s electoral results justified an invitation. The day the show was recorded, more than two hundred people demonstrated outside the London studios. The BNP claimed that it enrolled 3,000 new members following the appearance of its leader on the program. Griffin believed that he had been unfairly and deliberately attacked on the show and once again portrayed his party as being “harassed” by the media. This was a powerful symbolic event and a section of the press compared it to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s appearance on the program L’heure de vérité (The Moment of Truth) in 1984 when France’s Front National was still in its early stages.


Table 1 shows that the BNP took some time to break through at national level and that it was only from 1997 onwards that it began to strike a chord. In the thirteen years since then, there has been a fifteen-fold increase in votes for the party. Many opponents have tried to put the 2010 results into perspective by pointing out that it was a logical outcome, given that Nick Griffin’s party had put forward over two hundred candidates more than in 2004. However, the BNP has managed to increase the average number of votes obtained per candidate, which has even placed it slightly ahead of UKIP, a party with many similarities (see below). We can draw two observations from this fact, which allow us to better evaluate the true performance of the BNP. The first is that the new candidates did enough work on the ground to consolidate national results and that the party had therefore chosen its constituencies quite well. The second is that the BNP only had 339 candidates stand out of a possible 650 (533 in England), so it follows that if it continues its territorial expansion, it will be able to reveal its true electoral potential, especially as it is still not very well established in Scotland and Wales.

Table 1 - The Steady Rise of the Bnp Since its First Election

On the European stage, the BNP—following in the footsteps of UKIP who came second to the Conservatives—made the news in 2009 by having two members elected to the European Parliament (its leader, Nick Griffin, in the North West of England constituency and Andrew Brons in Yorkshire). It has also increased its share of the vote nine fold in ten years, approaching the symbolic threshold of one million votes. This election was doubly important for the party because it not only raised its profile within the United Kingdom but, more importantly, it allowed it to sit alongside other far-right parties in the European Parliament and establish its political credibility and visibility. From a geographical point of view, the BNP achieved its best results in these European elections in the four central regions of England, namely the North West, East Midlands, West Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber. These four regions have between 82% and 88% white [4]  The term “white” here means “of British origin.”[4] populations, with levels of immigration and ethnic diversity that are quite high compared to the United Kingdom generally (Greater London has exceptionally high diversity in contrast to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the North East, and the South West of England, which are more than 90% white).

The BNP: A Party That Feeds Off Current Affairs


Even today, the BNP maintains its political line and constantly tries to feed off news headlines by turning them into a symbol of the struggle of white people, whom it views as being under attack from all sides and threatened in its own territory. The main target for their attacks is Islam and everything it stands for. The party campaigns against the spread of street prayers and against the halal meat business (it is particularly critical of the fact that it is served in some schools to young ethnic Britons without their knowledge). It also protests against the freedom of certain imams to preach. The party also has its own newspaper, Voice of Freedom, which has sold thousands of copies. In the wake of the May 2010 general elections, it symbolically ran the headline: “We are now the country’s fourth party” (Voice of Freedom, issue no 115)—in fact, it was ranked in fifth position based on the number of votes obtained, but fourth in terms of the average number of votes per candidate. The BNP is also keen to cooperate and show solidarity with other European far-right political parties by denouncing, for example, the poor media coverage of both their own election victories and those of the Swiss nationalists in 2007. It is not surprising that, almost ten years after 9/11 and the Oldham riots—which lent a significant level of credibility to its discourse—and now against the backdrop of major riots in several English cities in August 2011, the BNP is still benefitting from a current affairs situation which, it claims, proves the validity of its stance. Although it is too early to say whether the violence will have benefitted it, the party has condemned a riot led by immigrants and so-called welfare scroungers. Citing some ethnicity statistics, it focuses on the fact that the non-white rioters taken in for police questioning were significantly over-represented and that they were from forty-four different countries.


This exploitation of ethnicity and demographic statistics, available online to any British citizen, is not new to the party. Since the publication of the 2001 census (carried out every ten years—they are now in the process of publishing the 2011 figures), the BNP has regularly spun the figures in order to develop its vision of a dark and threatening future for the white British if something is not done very soon. The anti-immigration petition, “No to 70 million,” launched by the BNP on 1 November 2011, took only five days to collect more than the 100,000 signatures necessary to be considered for debate in the House of Commons. This “70 million” is a reference to census forecasts, which project a British population of more than 70 million people by the 2020s mainly as a result of ongoing immigration and a high birth rate among non-white populations. The party points out that non-white populations now account for 73% of the overall population growth, that is to say natural growth plus immigration. This was actually the second petition launched by the party shortly after the one calling for a referendum on a possible withdrawal by Great Britain from the European Union. The party is also running another national campaign, which has developed out of the dramatic disappearance of fourteen-year-old Charlene Downes in Blackpool in November 2003. Two Muslim individuals were questioned by the police and taken into custody, but the absence of evidence meant the police were unable to press charges. The BNP have used this case to condemn the spread of mainly Muslim gangs of rapists, which they claim abuse young English girls. In addition to taking over and manipulating this dramatic incident, the BNP makes use of a rather close relationship with child’s mother. She has already appeared in the media in a long interview with Nick Griffin and thanked the party leader for his support and efforts.

UKIP: Another Atypical Party That Confirms a Change in Public Opinion and in the British Collective Psychology


Founded in 1993 by Alan Sked and other members of the former Anti-Federalist League, UKIP quickly attracted anti-European Conservatives. The party, which claims to have 17,000 members, defines itself as nationalist and populist. It currently has thirteen MEPs (Members of the European Parliament), seventy-five local councilors, and two representatives in the House of Lords. Led by Nigel Farage (MEP), the party’s main political objectives are withdrawal from the European Union and tighter controls on immigration. Although the party presents itself as anti-racist, it has been the subject of a few scandals as a result of xenophobic comments from some of its members. Its representative on the London Council, Paul Wiffen, for example, was suspended for racist remarks after making these comments about the community care system:


You Left-wing scum are all the same, wanting to hand our birthright to Romanian gypsies who beat their wives and children into begging and stealing money they can gamble with, Muslim nutters who want to kill us and put us all under medieval Sharia law, the same Africans who sold their Afro-Caribbean brothers into a slavery that Britain was the first to abolish.


Frank Maloney, the party’s candidate for Mayor of London in 2004 and a candidate in the 2010 General Election, has also been described as a notorious racist and homophobe. Ken Livingstone was prompted to coin a phrase, which is still used today: “UKIP are the British National Party in suits.” Finally, Gary Cartwright, one of the party’s leading campaign managers, is an overt Holocaust denier. The party regularly attacks Islamic fundamentalism and argues for the defense of British heritage through, for example, the teaching of Gaelic languages in schools. In 2009, the BNP tried for an informal alliance with UKIP who refused, despite existing alliances between the two parties in some local elections. UKIP is not representative of the far right in the traditional sense—in other words, openly xenophobic—even if its political agenda is very clearly right wing and its economics are characterized by liberalism. UKIP has had about ten candidates with acquired British nationality stand for them in various elections, but this has only partially “softened” the party’s image in relation to its objectives regarding diversity.


As Table 2 shows, UKIP and its political credo rapidly established a place on the British political scene. Even though it only has 3.1% of the vote, the party achieved a nine fold increase in support in the national elections over 13 years. It is now close to the symbolic threshold of one million votes and has become the fourth largest political force in the country based on number of votes. However, it has never come close to having a Member of Parliament (MP) elected. Its program is actually very rooted in national considerations and it struggles to address problems encountered at a local level. That is why the Green Party or the Independents, which have more of a local presence, have managed to get MPs elected. The best result achieved by a UKIP candidate is actually that of its leader, Nigel Farage, in Buckingham. With 17.4% of the vote (he is the only UKIP candidate to have broken through the 10% threshold), he took third place but failed to defeat Conservative John Bercow, the current newly elected Speaker in the House of Commons.

Table 2 - Ukip Results in the United Kingdom since its First Election

At European level, UKIP was one of the parties that undoubtedly made the biggest impression in the last European elections, achieving the incredible feat of taking second place in the United Kingdom and beating the Labour Party by tens of thousands of votes. The proportional representation system allowed it on this occasion to get representatives elected to the European Parliament and to gain exposure throughout Europe. Even though it lost some 150,000 votes between 2004 and 2009 (a figure that needs to be put into perspective given the fall in turnout of 3.6 points between these two elections), UKIP was able to take advantage of the criticism of the financial crisis and so retain its electorate.

Table 3 - 2009 European Election Results in the United Kingdom

These results also have a symbolic significance because they show that the smaller parties are gaining more votes than previously. Indeed, the three major parties (Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats) obtained 97% of the vote in 1979 as compared with only 88% in 2010.

The Gradual Acceptance of a Less Ephemeral Far Right at the Root of the Rapid Rise of a Community-Based Extremism


For a long time, the perception was that there was no possible place for the far right in British politics. The United Kingdom believed that, with its Constitution (thought to be a bastion against extremism), it was able to resist the wave of anti-immigration racism symbolized by Enoch Powell’s speech. Roger Eatwell, a British historian specializing in the study of fascism, summarizes this vision as “pervasive, consensual, [. . .] non-violent, nourishing a deep rooted [sic] civility which seems to militate against radical and activist philosophies” (John et al. 2005a, 5). The occasional spikes in electoral support for the National Front in the past and the current results for the British National Party are not considered a danger to the body politic, but rather the ephemeral blooming of a small party at the margins of the political system. It is impossible therefore to conceive of these parties as potential forces in the political system. However, the electoral breakthroughs are indisputable as is the evidence from some studies that public perception of these parties seems to be increasingly less negative. It is becoming difficult, therefore, to deny that these parties have become genuinely established, whether they are “moderate” like UKIP or more “hard line” like the BNP.

Opinion Poll on Political Parties in London 2004
Source: London Poll, 2004.
Uk Opinion Poll, 2010
Source: State of the Nation Survey, 2010.

These two surveys give the lowest support ratings for the BNP. Other private organizations suggest higher levels of support. YouGov, for example, conducted a survey shortly after the appearance of Nick Griffin on the BBC and claimed to have found that 22% of people in its sample were likely to vote for the BNP at some point. Moreover, the space or gap that they have created in the psychological and political sphere has undoubtedly contributed to the development of minority groups that are even more extremist and sensationalistic. The English Defence League (EDL), for example, symbolizes this change in mentality and the radical break it represents with the very strong sense of civic culture in Britain. The organization was founded in 2009 in response to demonstrations by extremist Islamist organizations against British soldiers returning from Afghanistan. [5]  The “Al-Muhajiroun” group, which was the main instigator...[5] The EDL operates in a militia-like fashion and claims thousands of members among its thirty-six national “divisions” and several tens of thousands of supporters on social networks. Its primary goal is the fight against Islamist extremism and against supporters of the introduction of Sharia law in the United Kingdom. Over the last two years, it has organized more than thirty demonstrations across the country, gathering together anywhere from about ten to nearly 3,000 protesters. Their biggest demonstration took place in February 2011 in Luton (where the EDL was founded) when “defense” organizations came from Norway, [6]  Anders Breivik, the perpetrator of the Oslo massacres...[6] Sweden, France, and the Netherlands to take part under the spotlight of international journalists. The organization has close links with football hooligan and skinhead groups and takes great care to ensure that demonstrations are held on match days where possible in order to mobilize the maximum possible turnout. Just like the BNP, the EDL boasts of having special divisions for its gay, Jewish, and even Sikh members (there is also a Scottish Defence League) and it also relies on current affairs and news headlines to choose its campaign topics. Hence, it participated in the campaign supporting the investigation into the disappearance of Charlene Downes and distributed the petitions initiated by the BNP. It regularly holds counter-demonstrations in response to Islamist associations, such as Muslims Against Crusades, and it is also, at the same time, the target of counter-demonstrations by Unite Against Fascism, an anti-racist organization supported by most of the major parties.


The EDL has boasted that it played an important role in the mobilization of whites during the August 2011 riots to “protect” their properties and districts. In the districts of Enfield and Eltham in London, several of its members patrolled to disperse potential looters and some in Eltham were involved in clashes with the police. The fact that the EDL, a racist far-right organization, could have patrolled alongside ordinary citizens to protect their neighborhoods from looters sums up perfectly the British public’s general acceptance of extremist demonstrations. They no longer seem shocked or outraged. The modest popularity of the EDL has not escaped the notice of the main political leaders in the country either. David Cameron, for example, declared while campaigning in May 2010: “The EDL are terrible people, we would always keep these groups under review and if we needed to ban them, we would ban them or any groups which incite hatred” [7]  http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/da...[7]


Matthew Goodwin, an expert on British far right, talks about an unprecedented scenario:


The reason why the EDL’s adoption of Islamophobia is particularly significant is that unlike the 1970s, when the National Front was embracing anti-Semitism, there are now sections of the media and the British establishment that are relatively sympathetic towards Islamophobia [. . .]. The point for your average voter is that if they see the EDL marching through their streets shouting about how the neighborhood is about to be swamped by Muslims or how the UK is going to be Islamified by 2040, they are also receiving these cues from other sections of British society [. . .] the message of the EDL may well be legitimized if that continues. [8]  http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2010/may/28/english-...[8]

The Far Right in London: An Undeniable Advance and a Very Powerful Symbolism


Tables 4 and 5 give the results for the three parties on the first and second votes. [9]  In the United Kingdom, several elections comprise a...[9] The National Front is nothing more than residual. Although support for UKIP has increased over the period 2000 to 2008, it has not been able to repeat its 2004 results and has lost tens of thousands of votes, both in the Mayoral and the Assembly elections. There has been slow but steady progress for the BNP and it has undoubtedly picked up some of the votes lost by UKIP. This has enabled it to overtake UKIP and achieve more than 5% of the votes on each of the two elections in the second preference vote. UKIP suffered major losses in the Assembly, giving up its two seats. With Richard Barnbrook, the BNP managed to make its debut and took fifth place in the second vote. Table 6 illustrates the links between the two parties: 49.2% of BNP voters chose UKIP as their second vote while 21.9% of UKIP voters chose the BNP. A total 35.7% of UKIP voters marked the Conservatives as their second choice. The rivalry and proximity between the two parties is undeniable, both within the capital and in the rest of the country.

Table 4 - History of the Three Parties in London Elections*

* Overall turnout

Table 5 - History of the Composition of the London Assembly
Table 6 - Concordance of Votes Between Ukip and the Bnp

Table 7 shows that the BNP and UKIP achieved lower results in London than they did nationally in the European elections. UKIP was down 4.7 points and the BNP down by only 1.2 points. However, only the BNP advanced between 2004 and 2009. While UKIP votes have increased threefold since 1999, there has been a fivefold increase in BNP votes. The results of the local elections demonstrate the difficulties that the two parties have had in becoming established in the capital. Their support comes mainly from East London and from Outer London districts more generally, where there are a greater number of white populations and whites have the greatest representation (see maps 1 and 2). This configuration is explained by the fact that their electorates are largely from the white middle or working classes. The BNP, which is the fifth largest party despite its modest results, received nearly a third of its votes in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.

Table 7 - History of the Three Parties and Their Results in London in the Three Types of National Elections

Note that the English Democrats Party achieved 1.4% of the vote in London in the European elections. In terms of beliefs, this party is very close to UKIP and the BNP, particularly on the subject of immigration.

The Borough of Barking and Dagenham: A Symbol of London in All Respects


Located about fifteen kilometers from the center of London, the borough currently has around 165,000 residents with one of the highest rates of population growth in the United Kingdom. The number of residents is projected to reach 205,000 by 2020. This trend is marked by a huge rise in the number of non-whites within a borough that has always had a mainly white, middle or working class population. In the space of just two decades, the district has very rapidly become “non-white.” Non-whites have settled mainly in the west of the district, bordering the district of Newham, which has the highest non-white population (60%) in the whole of London. This change continues to pose a great challenge in terms of cohesiveness in the district. In 2006, the BNP managed to get twelve councilors elected in the local elections, transforming Barking and Dagenham, traditionally a Labour stronghold, into a real national symbol of the far right. The symbol is all the more potent for the fact that the historic Ford plant located in the area has gone from providing 40,000 jobs at its peak in the early 1960s to barely 4,000 in 2011. Despite the fact that Nick Griffin’s party was unable to retain any of its councilors in 2010 owing to strong anti-BNP mobilization (several thousand leaflets distributed, media gatherings, turnout up twenty-one points compared to 2006), the party continues to win votes there. Both demographically and geographically, the district seems to “straddle” the multicultural center of London on the one side and a suburb (characterized by the districts of what was formerly Outer London) that was historically almost exclusively white on the other. The recent proximity of these two populations within the district logically provides an appropriate backdrop for reflection on and observation of the perceptions and political opinions shared by local populations. The BNP results combined with the poor economic health of the district and a large number of racial incidents make this a good environment for studying identity and ethnicity issues and the place they have within the British political system. The BNP’s emergence in the district has engendered an increased awareness within both the Labour Party (which won all of the council seats in 2010) at local level and more widely in central government in London. The district has been placed at the heart of a number of major renovation and regeneration projects. [10]  The district occupies a strategic place in the Thames...[10] Over the next two decades, the borough will undergo its largest transformation since it underwent urbanization at the end of the nineteenth century. Apart from the obvious objectives of job creation and improvements in the standard of living and attractiveness of the area, the policies have clearly placed the theme of social (and therefore ethno-religious) cohesion at the center of the government’s ambitions for the district. The social cohesion project in this borough is the subject of a special and quasi-strategic focus on the theme, both in London and at national level. The 2006 local elections showed the peculiarity of the electoral geography of the district. The “white heart,” responsible for electing the BNP councilors, clearly stands out. In a multicultural capital where British white populations are in a minority in many areas, [11]  In London, white Britons will represent less than 50%...[11] the study of social cohesion and resentments between populations is paramount given the recent resonance there has been with the far right.

Map 1 - Cumulative Results for the Bnp and Ukip in London in the 2009 European Elections
Map 2 - Cumulative Results for the Bnp and Ukip in London in the 2010 General Election in the Seventy-Three London Constituencies

A New Crisis for the BNP: A British Far Right Incapable of Uniting?


The party has suffered a significant loss of local councilors in the last two years, down from fifty-two to only seventeen. Many of its councilors have therefore failed to respond to significant anti-BNP mobilizations and regain the confidence of local voters. Although the party’s support appears to be increasing nationally, a decline seems to have set in at local level. This is indicative of its difficulty in becoming established and advancing outside of proportional representation elections like the European and London elections. The BNP has not been able to distance itself from scandals and many people strongly criticize the lack of scrutiny of elected representatives and candidates at local level and even of the machismo behavior of its leaders.

Map 3 - Diversity in the Borough of Barking and Dagenham and the 2006 Local Elections
Table 8 - History of the Bnp in Local Elections*,**

* As a result of various scandals and an insufficient presence on the councils, eight BNP Councilors were relieved of their duties in the months following the election.

** 2009 is not shown here as the party had decided to stake everything on the European elections.


Although the BNP has gradually managed to put forward an increasing number of candidates, we can see that support for the party peaked between 2004 and 2006. These are the most appropriate years to analyze the average votes per candidate because local elections do not renew all the local councilor and mayoral posts every election. The election of 2011, however, does present one important fact, which is that far-right candidates split into several parties. For the first time in history, no fewer than seven parties put forward candidates. The English Democrats, who had already become well known for winning nearly 300,000 votes in the 2009 European elections, put forward 136 candidates in 2011, fifteen of whom were former BNP members. This marked an improvement for the party on its eighty-four candidates in 2009 and 107 in 2010. The NF had the next highest number of candidates with twenty-one, the English First Party had ten candidates, and the Democratic Nationalists had three (all ex-BNP). The three other minor parties put forward one candidate each and six ex-BNP members stood as independents. While the far right has proven that it can be a presence on the electoral stage and that British society now seems more inclined to accept it in various forms, it must prove itself capable of forming a unified alliance in the future if it intends to survive politically. The possibility of a UKIP-BNP alliance seems unlikely, however, and Nick Griffin’s party currently seems closer to imploding than to seeing any possible upturn in its fortunes. Therein lies the principal challenge for the British far right. They must find a formula that will unite these different far-right strands into one single party with one leader (similar to Jean-Marie Le Pen in France or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands) in order to become well established at local level and have elected representatives. The 2012 London elections will provide an early indication of the situation for the far-right parties in advance of the 2014 (European and local elections) and 2015 (national elections) election campaigns, which will show whether or not they have managed to evolve. There is a final issue, which concerns the policies undertaken by the Conservatives. Their austerity plan (which envisages 300,000 job losses in the public sector) and pension reforms have already resulted in many protest demonstrations across the country. Faced with the financial crisis and the current environment, David Cameron’s government’s position may well shift further to the right of the Conservative Party. This has already been seen in the French right during Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign. This possibility of a more hardline realignment of the Conservatives could impact on some of the major topics already addressed by the far right and so further divide British public opinion, which has in any case already marked an undeniable break with its political history.


  • Anwar, Muhammad. 2001. “The Participation of Ethnic Minorities in British Politics.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 27 (3): 533–49.
  • Bowyer, Benjamin. 2008. “Local Context and Extreme Right Support in England: The BNP in the 2002 and 2003 Local Elections.” Electoral Studies 27 (4):611–20.
  • Cantle, Ted. 2011. Far Right Electoral and Other Activity: the Challenge for Community Cohesion. Institute of Community Cohesion.
  • Eatwell, Roger, and Matthew J. Goodwin, eds. 2010. The New Extremism in 21st Century Britain. London: Routledge.
  • Harris, Gareth. 2010. “The British National Party: A Small Large Party or a Large Small Party?” Research paper, Department of Politics, Birkbeck, University of London.
  • John, Peter, Helen Margetts, David Rowland, and Stuart Weir. 2005a. The BNP: The Roots of Its Appeal. Human Rights Centre, University of Essex: Democratic Audit.
  • John, Peter, Helen Margetts, David Rowland, and Stuart Weir. 2005b. The Far Right in London: A Challenge for Local Democracy. York: The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd.
  • Joly, Danièle. 2007. L’Émeute: Ce que la France peut apprendre du Royaume-Uni. Paris: Denoël.
  • Rhodes, James. 2006. “The Local Politics of the British National Party.” Sage Race Relations Abstracts 31 (4): 5–20.
  • Whitaker, Richard, and Philip Lynch. 2010. Exploring the Nature of Support for UKIP: The 2009 European Elections and Beyond. Leicester: University of Leicester.


[1] Doctoral candidate at the Institut français de géopolitique [French Institute of Geopolitics], University of Paris-VIII.

[2] According to a survey by The Guardian newspaper, the sentences are 25% longer than normal.http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/aug/18/full-picture-of-riot-sentenceshttp://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/sep/05/riot-jail-sentences-crown-courts

[3] The harsh reaction to the student protests in November 2010 had already made an impression.

[4] The term “white” here means “of British origin.”

[5] The “Al-Muhajiroun” group, which was the main instigator of the event, was banned in January 2010 along with three other organizations under the UK Terrorism Act 2000. However, “Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah”—some of its members were also present at the demonstration—is still active and portrays itself as the successor to the banned organizations.

[6] Anders Breivik, the perpetrator of the Oslo massacres on 22 July 2011, had strong links with the organization and claims to have taken part in one of its meetings in Newcastle.

[7] http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/david-cameron-makes-dash-to-west-124267

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2010/may/28/english-defence-league-protest-bnp

[9] In the United Kingdom, several elections comprise a Supplementary Vote system. This means the voter marks their preferred candidate for the first ballot and another candidate as second choice.

[10] The district occupies a strategic place in the Thames Gateway Project, the largest urban project in Europe, stretching from London to the English Channel.

[11] In London, white Britons will represent less than 50% of the population by the 2020s.



The last decade has marked a significant change in both politics and the way people think in Britain. Far-right parties and movements have made real electoral advances and now occupy a significant place in the British political landscape. While British civic culture has historically acted as a bulwark against extremist tendencies, events since the turn of the century (the 9/11 attacks, the London bombings in 2005, the financial crisis) and the emergence of rather well-organized political parties, such as the British National Party (BNP) and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), have facilitated this ideological and electoral infiltration by extremist anti-immigration and anti-European attitudes in the United Kingdom. With the rise of the far right and the financial crisis in Europe, Britain, which has just experienced its worst riots in thirty years, is now facing a pivotal moment in its history.


  1. The British National Party (BNP): Defending the White British
  2. The BNP: A Party That Feeds Off Current Affairs
  3. UKIP: Another Atypical Party That Confirms a Change in Public Opinion and in the British Collective Psychology
  4. The Gradual Acceptance of a Less Ephemeral Far Right at the Root of the Rapid Rise of a Community-Based Extremism
  5. The Far Right in London: An Undeniable Advance and a Very Powerful Symbolism
  6. The Borough of Barking and Dagenham: A Symbol of London in All Respects
  7. A New Crisis for the BNP: A British Far Right Incapable of Uniting?

Translated from the French by JPD Systems

To cite this article

Kevin Braouezec, “ L'extrême droite au Royaume-Uni : une réelle imprégnation idéologique dans l'espace politique et public au cours de la dernière décennie ”, Hérodote 1/2012 (n° 144) , p. 182-204
URL : www.cairn.info/revue-herodote-2012-1-page-182.htm.
DOI : 10.3917/her.144.0182.

Previous Pages 182 - 204 Next
© 2010-2014 Cairn.info
back to top

Message sent

Your email address has been saved.
We will notify you when this article becomes available in English.