It is important to dispel two widely (though separately) held assumptions. Firstly, this is not the protest vote against mainstream parties and useless locally elected representatives that many politicians would like us to believe. It is an increasingly hard and loyal vote which is based on political and economic insecurities and moulded by deep-rooted racial prejudice. This in turn is linked with a second myth, that the way to beat the BNP is simply to tack left and offer more socialistic policies. While this might peel off some BNP supporters who feel economically marginalised, it will not in itself address the strongly held racist views of many BNP voters.
As the YouGov poll (see below) clearly shows, the racism of many BNP voters goes well beyond simple opposition to current immigration and eastern European migrant workers which one might expect if their support for the BNP was prompted simply by economic insecurity. Belief in the intellectual superiority of white people over non-whites, the view of nearly half of BNP voters that black and Asian people can never be British, the almost universal dislike of even moderate Islam and the contempt and suspicion many of their voters have towards a liberal and multicultural society show how hardline much of the BNP support is and how it will take more than a more progressive economic policy to win them back fully.
More importantly, and regularly overlooked by politicians, activists and commentators alike, are issues around identity. As we have discussed before, the BNP is emerging as the voice of a forgotten working class, which increasingly feels left behind and ignored by mainstream society. As the YouGov research confirms, the majority of BNP voters feel that the Labour Party, for many their traditional political home, has moved away from them and is now dominated by a middle-class London elite who care more for Middle England and the interests of minority groups than for them.
Class politics exists but not as we once knew it. The Labour Party, in line with many other centre-left parties across western European and Scandinavia, draws the bulk of its support from the middle class, public sector workers and minority communities, especially in the big cities. The BNP, on the other hand, is the voice of a section of the white working class, particularly in those areas of traditional industry that have experienced the greatest economic and social upheaval over the past twenty years.
Most of the local authorities with the biggest BNP vote are in areas once dominated by the car, steel, coal or ceramic industries. All have gone, and those people able to leave have left. While some new jobs have replaced those lost, the work is generally lower skilled, short-term and further away from their home. In addition to economic difficulties the identity of the areas has collapsed, leaving behind a confused, resentful and alienated minority. This is the cultural war that the BNP has cleverly exploited, particularly by tapping in to people’s paranoia that outside forces are deliberately conspiring against them and giving preferential treatment to others (viewed by most BNP voters as undeserving).
Who votes BNP and why
A new survey into the attitudes of BNP voters has produced some startling revelations. Unsurprisingly BNP voters are overwhelmingly opposed to immigration and asylum seekers but a sizeable number also share the BNP’s hardline attitudes about citizenship and racial superiority.
It shows that BNP voters are predominantly working class, drawn from former Labour-voting households and feel more insecure about their economic prospects.
Conducted by YouGov from 29 May to 4 June, the survey questioned 985 BNP voters as part of a much bigger study of the political views of 32,268 people.
The study tells us that men are twice as likely to support the BNP as women, 44% of BNP voters are aged 35 to 54 and 61% are drawn from the social groups C2DE. One third of BNP voters read The Sun or the Daily Star, whereas only 13% read the Daily Mirror and those reading The Guardian and The Independent are statistically insignificant. One fifth claim to be members of trade unions or trade associations and 36% identify themselves as skilled or semi-skilled manual workers.
On one level the report tells us little new. More BNP supporters regard immigration as one of the key issues facing the country at the moment – 87% compared to 49% among all voters. Again unsurprisingly, 94% of BNP supporters believed that all further immigration should be halted. This compares with 87% of UK Independence Party voters, 68% of Conservative voters, 46% of Labour voters, 43% of Lib Dem voters and even 37% of Green voters.
Only 4% of BNP voters believed that recent immigration had benefited the country.
What is more startling is the strength of the racial attitudes of many BNP voters. In a result that gives the lie to the BNP vote simply being a protest, 44% (compared to 12% of all voters) disagreed with the statement: “non-white British citizens who were born in this country are just as ‘British’ as white citizens born in this country”.
Among BNP voters 21% strongly disagreed with the statement compared to just 1% of Greens and Lib Dems and 2% of Labour and 3% of Conservative voters.
More disturbingly, 31% of BNP voters believed there was a difference in intelligence between the average black Briton and the average white Briton.
Although only 2% of BNP voters deny that six million Jews, Gypsies and others died in the Holocaust, a further 18% accept that the Holocaust occurred but believe it has been exaggerated.
It is clear that the BNP receives support primarily on issues of race, immigration and identity but there is also a clear link with economic insecurity. Several of the questions probed respondents’ views on their current and future economic prospects. BNP voters repeatedly had the most gloomy outlook.
When asked whether they were satisfied that they had enough money to live on comfortably, 74% of BNP voters said no, compared to just 43% of Labour and 50% of Conservative voters.
On whether they were confident that their family would have the opportunities to prosper in the years ahead, 75% of BNP voters said no compared to just 35% of Labour voters.
Over half of BNP voters felt the financial situation of their house- hold would worsen over the next 12 months. In contrast only 29% of Labour voters agreed and 27% thought it would get better.
Again, more BNP voters thought someone in their family would lose their job in the current recession than supporters of other parties.
One of the most startling results was the response to the statement that “there is a major international conspiracy led by Jews and Communists to undermine traditional Christian values in Britain and other western countries”. Amazingly one third of BNP voters completely or partially agreed.
However, the significance of this response actually lies in the feeling of victimisation felt by many BNP supporters and cleverly exploited by the BNP itself. The view that they are losing out because of the conscious action of others is widespread among BNP supporters and it comes out clearly in this survey. Over three quarters of BNP voters believed that white people suffered unfair discrimination whereas only 3% thought Muslims did. Nine out of ten BNP supporters felt that councils allowed immigrant families to jump housing queues.
This feeling of victimisation coupled with a widespread belief that the Labour Party, which most once supported, at best no longer cares about them and at worst conspires against them makes these voters susceptible to the BNP’s big lie. It is hardly a surprise then that so many people in Barking and Dagenham were happy to believe the Africans for Essex myth.
Think of the balance of forces. On one side you have the Labour Party (which 57% of BNP voters think no longer cares about them), politicians (who 78% of BNP voters think are corrupt), senior officers in the council (who only 1% of BNP voters trust a great deal) and immigrants (who 87% of BNP supporters think are a problem and only 4% believe contribute anything positive). Then you have the BNP, the anti-establishment party speaking up for the forgotten white working class.
This survey is both predictable and disturbing. While immigration remains the dominant issue for BNP voters it is clear that they more than any other group feel economically insecure and politically abandoned. What is shocking is the depth of their racism and the alienation from mainstream politics. Support for the BNP goes far beyond being a protest, as some politicians would have us believe, and the racist attitudes will not disappear simply by improving economic conditions.
We should be under no illusion that a long and hard struggle lies ahead.