UCL News


UCL research explains BNP gains in local elections

5 May 2006

The rising popularity of the British National Party, borne out in yesterday's local elections, is investigated in a report co-authored by staff from the UCL School of Public Policy.

According to 'The British National Party: the Roots of its Appeal' published by Democratic Audit, one in five people in the UK, and one in four in London, would consider voting for the BNP, which gained at least 15 seats on councils across the country yesterday.

The report documents the findings of a two-year research programme into the BNP, involving analysis of data from 158 wards in 26 local authorities by Professor Helen Margetts, former Director of UCL School of Public Policy, and research fellow David Rowland. Opinion and exit polls and focus groups also informed the report.

"The BNP has in its last seven years grown into a national phenomenon," says Professor Margetts. "It is increasingly a sophisticated party with developing electoral strategies and a money-raising website that stands comparison with those of any other political party."

In last year's general election, the BNP won more than five per cent of the vote in 33 of the seats it contested, as well as a huge 16.9 per cent in Barking, constituency of employment minister Margaret Hodge. Ms Hodge's comments last month that eight out of ten of her constituents were considering voting BNP are deemed by many to have fuelled the party's dramatic success in Barking and Dagenham, where it has won at least 11 seats.

The report has been widely praised for its comprehensiveness and rigour, and for providing a measured counterpoint to the media furore resulting from Ms Hodge's remarks on this emotive subject. It points out that today's BNP is the most successful far right party at the ballot box that Britain has ever seen, and warns against complacency about the sources of this support. Lack of education is potentially a more important factor in BNP support than poverty or deprivation. The party is making gains in areas of skilled or semi-skilled workers, and in predominantly white areas, rather than racially mixed ones.

An image makeover is at the root of this breakthrough, according to the report. Since leader Nick Griffin decided to rid the party of "careless extremism" and overt violence in 1999, the BNP has begun to encroach in particular on Labour's traditional heartlands. Its strategy at last year's general election was to pave the way for yesterday's local elections, focusing on the ring of outer London boroughs such as Dagenham and Hounslow as well as parts of Lancashire, Yorkshire and the West Midlands.

However, in areas where the BNP is making inroads, the party is nevertheless disliked and distrusted. It appears to be prospering on "wake-up call" votes from traditional Labour supporters who feel failed by the party. To quell this opportunistic growth, the report suggests the main political parties spend time re-engaging with their discontented long-time supporters. Local authorities should explain their policies to counter the racialised myths the BNP thrives on, and cooperate with racial equality and multicultural agencies to promote community cohesion.