(I didn’t vote BNP – they’d have my guts for garters.)
People support the policies of the BNP and UKIP because immigration is the runaway priority for great swathes of voters (p8 – followed by not education, not health, but terrorism).
If you are part of an academic institution, you can perhaps get to the following paper whose authors have seen fit to publish in proprietary journals behind a login (update: see also their 2006 – I think – Democratic Audit report on the roots of BNP appeal).
John and Margetts (2009) aggregate evidence of a substantial latent vote for the far right which has been accruing over time as immigration grew as a national priority.
“Successive UK governments have subscribed to the civic point of view, seeking to promote a tolerant approach to ethnic relations. But the liberal perspective is out of line with public opinion (Statham and Geddes 2006). Ford (2006) reviews the opinion poll evidence that shows the strength of public hostility to immigration that has existed since the 1960s. In the British Election Study of 1970, 23 per cent claimed to believe ‘the government should assist immigrants home’ (Studlar 1978: 54). During the 1970s and 1980s, public opinion shifted to harder views on law and order and immigration (Crewe 1988). Since then attitudes to immigration have solidified. By 2002 the percentage of the population placing immigration as the most important issue had remained constant at over 25 per cent, for a longer period (five years) than any other time since such polls were taken (see Figure 1). This data is supported in 2006 by the State of the Nation poll reported in Table 1, where 35.9 per cent of respondents claimed that immigration was the most important issue facing Britain today.
If someone thinks that this issue is the most important facing the country
it seems likely that they might support a party that prioritises it[.]”
This latent vote took the form of respondents saying, in the State of the Nation poll, that they might vote for the BNP in the future. Respondents most identified with UKIP were more likely than any group other than those identified with the BNP themselves. In 2004, 76% of respondents said that they would “never vote” for the BNP. By the 2006 poll, this had dropped to 55%. Numbers holding strongly negative views about the BNP are also reducing.
The authors investigated latent support in London and found it significantly present:
“We also coded the variable as positive if the respondent claimed the BNP as their party identity or whether they would vote for the BNP ‘if there was a general election tomorrow’. We found that 7.3 per cent of respondents had opted for the BNP in one of these choices. A further 16.4 per cent said that they ‘might vote for’ the BNP in the future, although they had not in any of the tests applied here. Thus over a quarter (25.8 per cent) of respondents in London had either voted for the BNP, identified with it or considered that they might vote for it in the future.”
For voters considering the BNP, UKIP is an attractive choice given its similar discourse on “overcrowding”; in voters’ minds, the relationship between the parties is quite strong. Where we have choices, while voting BNP is embarrassing, and while ‘supply side’ problems such as factionalism in the BNP endure, BNP support remains latent. However, if voters become used to voting for these parties in local and European election contexts, it is more likely that they will do so in a general election.
Clearly, if these barriers are removed, this latency will become actual support.
So that is an overview of the presence of support – but in which circumstances does this sense of ethnic competition a) exist and b) find political expression? I will attempt to read more on this, but not tonight.
To end, Stuart Weir on the threat of the BNP.
John P and Margetts H (2009) The Latent Support for the Extreme Right in British Politics. West European Politics;32(3):496-513.