By Dr Robert Ford of the University of Manchester and and Dr Matthew Goodwin of the University of Nottingham, co-editor of The New Extremism in 21st Century Britain. The authors would like to thank Joe Twyman at YouGov for assistance with the data.
The BNP’s attempt to become a ‘modernized’ radical right party has failed. The party is in turmoil, and Nick Griffin faces a growing grassroots rebellion. A disappointing general election, empty war chests and costly legal battles have left its foot soldiers demoralized and divided: some demand a re-launched (and Griffin-free) BNP; others have deserted to establish a rival party; and some are even calling for a merger with their arch rival, UKIP. Even Griffin concedes they are ‘sick and tired of losing’ and, in an attempt to quell the rebels, has announced he will step down by 2015.
To add to his problems, at the recent by-election in Oldham the party saw its support slump to 4.5% (down from 11% in 2001), even losing its deposit in an area it once described as “our territory”. The party was also pushed into fifth place by UKIP, a particularly hard pill for BNP activists to swallow. Despite a decade-long effort by Griffin to rehabilitate his party, upwards of 80% of Britons continue to express negative feelings toward the BNP. Put simply, the BNP will never be seen as an acceptable option by most voters. As one BNP blogger urged his fellow members, ‘it’s time to wake up’.
But if the BNP declines, the causes which propelled its rise – public anxiety about Islam and immigration and hostility to the political mainstream – remain in place. Since 2001, they have also been joined by a financial crisis, parliamentary expenses scandal and, more recently, seemingly ‘new’ issues such as ‘Muslim sex gangs’. These issues look set to remain salient. Will public concern over them find a new outlet if the BNP falls apart?