Far-right politics in the United Kingdom
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Far right politics in the United Kingdom have existed since at least the 1930s, with the formation of fascist and anti-semitic movements. It went on to acquire more explicitly racial connotations, being dominated in the 1960s and 1970s by self-proclaimed white nationalist organisations that oppose non-white and Muslim immigration, such as the National Front (NF), the British Movement (BM) and British National Party (BNP). Since the 1980s, the term has mainly been used to describe those who express the wish to preserve what they perceive to be British culture, and those who campaign against the presence of non-indigenous ethnic minorities and what they perceive to be an excessive number of asylum seekers.
The NF and the BNP have been strongly opposed to non-white immigration. They have encouraged the repatriation of ethnic minorities: the NF favours compulsory repatriation, while the BNP favours voluntary repatriation. BNP have had a number of local councillors in some inner-city areas of east London, and towns in Yorkshire and Lancashire, such as Burnley and Keighley. East London has been the bedrock of far-right support in the UK since the 1930s, whereas BNP success in the north of England is a newer phenomenon. The only other part of the country to provide any significant level of support for such views is the West Midlands.
1930's to 1960's
The British far right rose out of the fascist movement. In 1932, Oswald Mosley founded the British Union of Fascists (BUF), which was banned during World War II. Founded in 1954 by A. K. Chesterton, the League of Empire Loyalists became the main British far right group at the time. It was a pressure group rather than a political party, and did not contest elections. Most of its members were part of the Conservative Party, and they were known for politically embarrassing stunts at party conferences. It has been argued[who?] that the majority of this group were more 'Colonel Blimpish' traditionalists, rather than fascists. However, its more extreme elements wanted to make the group more political. This led to a number of splinter groups forming, including the White Defence League and the National Labour Party. These both stood in local elections in 1958, and merged in 1960 to form the British National Party (BNP).
With the decline of the British Empire becoming inevitable, British far-right parties turned their attention to internal matters. The 1950s had seen an increase in immigration to the UK from its former colonies, particularly India, Pakistan, the Caribbean and Uganda. Led by John Bean and Andrew Fountaine, the BNP opposed the admittance of these people to the UK. A number of its rallies, such as one in 1962 in Trafalgar Square, London, ended in race riots. After a few early successes, the party got into difficulties and was destroyed by internal arguments. In 1967 it joined forces with John Tyndall and the remnants of Chesterton's League of Empire Loyalists to form the National Front (NF).
The Conservative Monday Club, a far-right group within the Conservative Party, was formed in 1961. Its stated aim was "to safeguard the liberty of the subject and integrity of the family in accordance with the customs, traditions, and character of the British people". They expressed general opposition to post-colonial states and immigration, as well as support for hard-line loyalism in Northern Ireland.
1970's to 1990's
The NF quickly grew to be the biggest British far right party in the UK. It polled 44% in a local election in Deptford, London, and finished third in three by-elections, although these results were completely atypical of the country as a whole. The party supported extreme loyalism in Northern Ireland, and attracted Conservative Party members who had become disillusioned after Harold Macmillan had recognised the right to independence of the African colonies, and had criticized Apartheid in South Africa. During the 1970s, the NF's rallies became a regular feature of British politics. Election results remained strong in a few working class urban areas, with a number of local council seats won, but the party never came anywhere near winning representation in parliament.
The smaller far right groups maintained anti-immigration policies, but there was a move towards a more inclusionist vision of the UK, and a focus on opposing the European Union. The NF began to support non-white radicals such as Louis Farrakhan. This led to the splintering of the various groups, with radical political soldiers such as a young Nick Griffin forming the Third Way group, and traditionalists creating the Flag Group.
John Tyndall formed the New National Front in 1980, and changed its name to the British National Party (BNP) in 1982. They, alongside the Conservative Monday Club, campaigned against the increasing integration of the UK into the European Union. However, Tyndall's reputation of a 'brutal, street fighting background' and his admiration for Hitler and the Nazis prevented the party from gaining any respectability. They developed a policy of eschewing the traditional far right methods of extra-parliamentary movements, and concentrated instead on the ballot box. Nick Griffin replaced Tyndall as BNP leader in 1999 and introduced several policies to make the party electable. Repatriation of ethnic minorities was made voluntary and several other policies were moderated.
The National Front continued to decline, whilst Nick Griffin and the BNP grew in popularity. Around the turn of the 21st century, the BNP won a number of councillor seats. They continued their anti-immigration, and a damaging BBC documentary led to Griffin being charged with incitement to racial hatred (although he was acquitted). The 2006 local elections brought the BNP the most successful results of any far right party in British history. They gained 33 council seats, the second highest gain of any party at the elections; in Barking and Dagenham, they gained 12 councillor seats. In the 2008 local elections, the party won a record 100 councillor seats, and a seat on the Greater London Assembly, the biggest gains the party has had so far. At the June 2009 European Parliament Election, the BNP gained two Members of the European Parliament for Yorkshire and the Humber and North West England. In October 2009, BNP leader Nick Griffin was allowed on the BBC topical debate show Question Time. His appearance caused much controversy and the show was watched by over 8 million people.
At the 2010 General Election, the BNP fielded 338 candidates across England, Scotland and Wales and won 563,743 votes (1.9% of total) but no seats. Nick Griffin subsequently said he would resign as BNP leader in 2013, and was eventually expelled from the party 2014 as the BNP fell into obscurity. The National Front fielded 17 candidates at the 2010 Election and received 10,784 votes.
The anti-islamist group English Defence League (EDL) started to rise in popularity, appealing to the far-right element, although the group refuses to self-identify as such, distancing themselves from such politics. Founded in 2009, originally from the town of Luton, to protest against what it considers the Islamification of Britain. The group organises demonstrations in towns and cities across England, the largest of which was in Luton on 5 February 2011. Soon after, populist right-wing party UKIP started to gain popularity, although labelled as far-right by a minority of some critics, is not generally considered so. In the 2013 county council elections across England, the party achieved its best ever local government result, polling an average of 23% in the wards where it stood, and returning 147 elected councillors. By March 2014, Ofcom and the BBC awarded UKIP "major party status" for the 2014 European Elections. UKIP received the greatest number of votes (27.49%) of any British party in the 2014 European Parliament election and gained 11 extra MEPs for a total of 24. The party won seats in every region of Great Britain, including its first in Scotland, the first time in over a century that a party other than Labour or Conservatives won the most votes in a UK-wide election.
Although both UKIP and the EDL are not self-identifying as far-right, their rise in popularity generally represents a shift in the electorate towards the right, although far-right parties such as the BNP and National Front have become fringe groups and wield very little media attention or power.
- John Bean
- A. K. Chesterton
- Andrew Fountaine
- Nick Griffin
- Oswald Mosley
- John Tyndall
- Martin Webster
- Stephen Yaxley-Lennon a.k.a. 'Tommy Robinson'
- Pat Condell
- Nigel Farage
- Paul Weston
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- Who are the English Defence League?
- EDL and UAF stage rival protests in Luton
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- Ofcom list of major parties, Ofcom, 3 March 2014
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- "Vote 2014: UK European election results". BBC News. 26 May 2014.
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