The British National Party (BNP) has launched its campaign for next month’s European Parliament elections, predicting it could win up to seven seats. It appears the party is planning to concentrate most of its efforts on two regions – the North West, where Griffin is standing, and the West Midlands. Politically the European election offers the chance for the BNP to break out of the fringes. A single Member of the European Parliament (MEP) could provide the BNP with as much as £250,000 a year in salaries, resources and office costs, and unlike the useless UK Independence Party (UKIP), the BNP is likely to make this money work for the party.
The party is contesting all 69 seats at stake in the UK mainland regions, on a platform of demanding the country withdraws from the European Union. The BNP only needs a slight improvement on its 2004 vote to get there. The BNP’s main target will be the North West, where the party would need just 9% of the vote to be guaranteed a seat, though it could get one MEP elected with as little as 7.5%, depending on how the votes are distributed among other parties. Griffin has already announced that he will top the party list in this region.
In Yorkshire and The Humber and the West Midlands the BNP needs only a slightly bigger increase to secure seats. In last year’s local elections the BNP averaged respectively 14.1% and 14.5% of the vote in the wards it contested. While the BNP is unlikely to obtain a similar vote across the two regions in the European election, the breadth of BNP support should be cause for concern. The BNP has grown in new areas of the West Midlands and averaged 24.6% of the vote in the 12 wards it contested in Nuneaton & Bedworth in last year’s local elections.
While the bulk of the anti-Europe vote will go to the Conservative Party and to a lesser extent the UKIP, the BNP will go into the election claiming to be the only party combining a position of pulling out of the EU coupled with vocal opposition to migrant workers (as opposed to the UKIP whose agenda tends to be more focused on issues such as the EU constitution). This BNP line is likely to play particularly well in more traditional working class communities, where people feel more threatened economically by migrant workers.
Analysts believe the growing disillusionment with the three main parties, especially Labour, may play into the BNP’s hands. The effects of the economic downturn are just beginning to be felt and many economists are predicting that worse is to come. At the moment many people, particularly social groups which have provided the BNP with the bulk of its voting base, appear to be returning to Labour. This is probably in the hope that the Government can save them from the worst consequences of the economic decline. But as the recession continues and people lose their jobs and homes, public anger may increase. Much of it will be directed at the Government but some will be directed at migrant workers and immigrants who will increasingly be blamed for taking jobs.
Successs for the BNP in the European Parliament elections would give the BNP a chance to entrench and legitimise itself as a political force in Britain and across Europe. It would become Britain’s fifth biggest party – with its MEPs able to draw in over £350,000 every year from the European Union. With increased funding and profile the BNP would also be able to link up with other European far right groups in the parliament, such as France’s Front National, Italy’s Northern League and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang.
In general, UK voters have avoided voting on mass for extreme right groups and the BNP has some way to go before it becomes a major political force. However, the recent surge in BNP support is cause for concern. To oppose the recent activities of the BNP, a broad-based movement needs to be developed, to mobilise people in a mass campaign. This movement needs to involve left wing and democratic organizations from across the political spectrum, including the trade union. Even a small rise in the anti-BNP vote could make all the difference by increasing the number of votes to win a seat in the European parliament. This work has the potential to go beyond the European elections and help to lay the basis for longer-term anti-fascist campaigning.
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This post was written by Christopher Vasey