Ever since first getting acquainted as a small child barely out of nappies with the ever-changing intricacies of electoral politics, I’ve been fascinated by minority parties. Those brave souls on the margins seemed a lot more interesting than the suits in the centre, with their bland promises and disingenuous half-truths. I don’t have to agree with them but, like a botanist or geologist classifying rare specimens, I find them of never-ending interest.
Of course, in those days before the internal combustion engine was invented, the marginal fringe of British politics was underpopulated territory. It mainly consisted of the Communist Party, kept alive by subventions from the former Soviet Union, and SNP/Plaid Cymru in Scotland and Wales, together with an assortment of Independents, proto-fascists and one-man bands of varying degrees of eccentricity.
Over the past 20 or 30 years however there’s been a veritable explosion of the fringe. In the meantime, the SNP and Plaid have become main parties, too successful to retain minor party status, and they’ve even been joined there these days by Ukip and the Greens.
There’s now so many minor parties jostling for attention on the far reaches of electoral visibility that one blog describing them all is impossible. Instead, they warrant a series of pieces, so here’s the first, which looks at the current state of the far right, before moving leftwards in later blogs.
Far right minor parties in Britain are in a sorry state, having been swamped by the Ukip tide. In fact, you can almost feel sorry for the British National Party. Here’s an unashamedly racist party which almost broke through into the big time, only to see its ungrateful supporters run off in droves to vote for a party which denies being racist at all. Ukip’s 1950s nostalgia and its nuttier and more naïve style has proved far more attractive to the media, thus allowing it to attain the major party status denied to the altogether more threatening BNP.
Yet back in 2010 the BNP contested over half the seats, more than the Greens. In fact, the average vote for its 338 candidates – at 3.7% – was higher (just) than the 3.6% achieved by Ukip’s 558 hopefuls. Moreover, the BNP saved a greater proportion of deposits, 21% compared with Ukip’s 18%. In the years from 2006 to 2009 the BNP had come close to making the far right’s first electoral breakthrough, winning over 50 council seats, MEPs and a Greater London Assembly member. Expectations were raised, but the failure to achieve them led to collapse, despite the relatively encouraging showing in 2010. Instead, the BNP only served to ensure the rise of Ukip, by making the latter party seem more acceptable in contrast.
The party duly imploded, resulting in the eventual expulsion of its former Leader Nick Griffin and a catastrophic fall in membership. At present the BNP has just one declared candidate in place – at Boston & Skegness. Many observers reckon it will struggle to put up the 89 candidates needed to qualify for a party political broadcast. However many appear, it’s likely the number won’t be anywhere near 300 and the proportion losing their deposit much higher than last time. Nonetheless, BNP support was always quite concentrated geographically – more so in fact than that of Ukip. Potential reservoirs of support remain in East London and south Essex, the West Midlands or the North West and when the Ukip bubble inevitably bursts expect a resurgence from the BNP.
Or perhaps from one of its successor parties. As in 2012-13 various splinter parties were formed by disillusioned former BNP members These include Patria, standing in England’s Deep South at Bournemouth and Chichester. Or there’s the British Democratic Party, the brainchild of Andrew Brons, former BNP MEP. For a time this looked as if it would take over the far right mantle from the BNP, but its website has become a lot quieter recently and it’s yet to announce any candidates, even though promising it’ll be standing somewhere come May.
These parties tend to be linked by a virulent Islamophobia, which serves as their key message. As it does for LibertyGB also founded in 2013, but whose founder and candidate at Luton is a former Ukip member rather than scion of the BNP.
And then there’s two other parties who pre-exist the BNP’s existential crisis but have also received renegades fleeing that party. These are the English Democrats, who espouse a policy of independence for England, but not devolution to its regions. They’ve named 20 candidates so far, but this is well down on the 107 they put up in 2010, saving one deposit and with an average score of 1.3%. The English Democrats, despite areas of relative strength in South Yorkshire, look to be in danger of being crushed by the Ukip bandwagon.
Finally, there’s the oldest surviving far right party – the National Front – which almost broke through in the 1970s, before being made irrelevant by Thatcherite Conservatism. The NF has a policy for everything and allies its Islamophobia with the defence of rural communities and the rural environment – a sort of cross between the BNP, the Countryside Alliance and an even more right wing version of Ukip. But the NF has its own problems, having suffered internal splits over the past few years and finding itself de-registered by the Electoral Commission.
Overall, the far right’s total of 23 candidates declared so far looks pitiful when compared with the 462 candidates these same parties put up last time, or even the 156 who stood for them in 2005. Ukip has succeeded in monopolising the far right vote, at least temporarily.