Low turnout for protests signals BNP’s dwindling public appeal

Analysis: while feeling about migrants is strong in Britain, the BNP’s thuggish image has damaged the party

A group of British National Party  supporters gather outside the Houses of Parliament in London. The protest was one of scores organised on Saturday by the far-right party and its rival, the English Defence League. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

A group of British National Party supporters gather outside the Houses of Parliament in London. The protest was one of scores organised on Saturday by the far-right party and its rival, the English Defence League. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

 

Hemmed in behind police barriers across the road from the Houses of Parliament, the dozens of British National Party supporters looked forlorn. Outside, hundreds of Unite Against Fascism demonstrators had gathered to prevent the BNP marching as they had planned to the Cenotaph on Whitehall. The plan had been to demonstrate in Woolwich, near where drummer Lee Rigby was slain, but the Metropolitan Police, fearing ethnic tensions, had vetoed that.

As it turned out, the BNP was able to deliver but small numbers on to the streets – beginning with dozens and never more than 150. Nearly 60 Unite Against Fascism demonstrators were arrested by police when they ignored warnings – issued after nearly two hours of protest – to move up the street.

Clifford Le May, one of a number of BNP people wearing blue jackets and slacks and regimental-style ties, said: “I’ve put my best suit on today and come out for a peaceful demonstration and this is what’s happened. And to think they call us thugs,” he said.

BNP leader Nick Griffin said they had gathered to oppose Islam in Britain, claiming the British army soldier would not be the last casualty.


English Defence League
The London protest by the BNP was one of scores organised on Saturday by the far-right party and its rival, the English Defence League.

Currently, the EDL, headed by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, whose mother is Irish and father Scottish, has momentum in the battle for young, white recruits.

Indeed, the EDL has begun to be dismissive of the BNP. Last Monday, scores of its members, mocking the BNP’s inability to put numbers on the streets, chanted: “There’s only one Nick Griffin.”

Three years ago, Griffin was the subject of national debate in Britain when he was invited on to the BBC’s Question Time. Griffin had won a seat in the European Parliament, nearly half-a-million voted for it in the 2010 general election.

Since then, matters have not gone well for the far-right party: in the 2012 local elections, its number of votes went from 240,000 to little more than 25,000.

This year, it failed to win a single seat in local elections in May, losing one council seat it had in Lancashire, leaving it now with just two in England. And yet its eclipse happened as popular opinion about immigration hardened. However, the University of Nottingham, which has closely examined the BNP, points out that it has never grown its base, leaving it dependent upon “a small rump of angry white men”.

“By the time they became interested in elections, the party had fallen heavily dependent on a small cadre of inexperienced, extreme and tainted right-wing extremists,” its experts point out.

Deemed toxic because of its history and reputation, it has failed to attract a middle-class, younger and better-educated support base, while vulnerable, too, on the other side to the EDL.


Ukip attraction
For now, the EDL is no more conscious of the need for a political base than the BNP once was, leaving the field free, it could be argued, for the UK Independence Party. Ukip has no interest in tattooed, angry, shaven-headed young white men, but its anti-immigration, Eurosceptic message is attractive to some voters, even if it denies that it is right-wing, let alone far-right.

For now, it seems that parties can make progress in British politics by strongly opposing immigration, by being averse to the EU and doubtful about Islam. But, first, they must pass the respectability test.