Saturday, 1 December 2012

How Likely is a Far Right Resurgence?

While I accept the basic points advanced, by way of a (sort of) reply to Rob Ford's piece in this month's issue of Progress magazine, here are a few thoughts on the far right. In my opinion there are a number of things working against a revival of the BNP (or a successor organisation) in the short-term. That, of course, comes with the caveat that this is no counsel for complacency.

1. The far right are certainly in decline as all their results from 2010 suggest. Internal ructions, the EDL, fallings out, splits have all played a part. But also the personal costs of far right activism are quite high. The racism of the BNP and EDL are out of step with an increasingly tolerant and accepting culture. Racism is not the done thing, and open BNP membership will likely cost you friends and good relations with some family members.

2. Sticking with the costs theme, anti-fascist activism has continued to make the far right an unpalatable choice for a political career. Putting aside debates on the strategic efficacy of certain approaches, and whether Unite Against Fascism or Hope Not Hate have more of a handle on tackling fascist organisations; getting leaflets shoved through your estate's doors decrying you as a racist, being confronted by anti-fascist demonstrations, sometimes ending up on the wrong-end of local or national media interest, or running the gauntlet of braying anti-fascists outside a count does take its toll. When the far right's fortunes are on the rise, the hassle can be dampened by internal camaraderie and a feeling the political winds have caught in your sails. When they're not and the whole ship is sinking, why bother putting up with it?

3. Labour has finally got its campaigning act together. As this piece by Jane Heggie and Mark Davis notes, it is vitally important Labour parties campaign all year round. The BNP were able to get toeholds in traditional Labour areas partly because, for whatever reason, the regular contacts of leaflet drops, canvassing sessions, party-organised community events did not happen. Campaigning is now taken extremely seriously by the party leadership, and constituency organisations in 'safe' areas who do little between elections are thankfully much rarer these days.

4. The axis of politics has changed. For former Labour supporters, voting Conservative as a protest against the Blair/Brown governments was unthinkable. But that nice be-suited BNP man who talked about Labour betraying white working class people, he seemed worthy of the occasional punt. It certainly forced the Labour establishment to wake up to the needs and aspirations of a taken-for-granted core support. Now, with a right-wing government in power supported by the LibDems, Labour is the main beneficiary of ballot box discontent.

5. The rapid collapse of the National Front after 1979 was helped along partly because the Tories adopted some elements of their programme. Winding the film of history forward to 2012, not only are the Tories of today determined to be seen to be tough on immigration, those lovely people in UKIP are gobbling up the political space for anti-establishment right-wing populism. Unlike the BNP, the whiff of racism about UKIP is much fainter, they have a chunk of the media cheering them on and, crucially, in a certain light Nigel Farage can appear charismatic. UKIP itself presents mainstream politics and the Labour Party its own challenges, but while its star burns brightly in the protest party firmament it is highly doubtful the BNP or any other fascist vehicle can regain the momentum they once possessed.


Paul said...

I think you ignore here the very real potential for the emergence of a virulent extremism within the Conservative Party itself post-2015. The likely UKIP surge is a factor driving this, but it will happen anyway.

Chris said...

The problem for UKIP is that while it ticks the populist boxes when it comes to Islamophobia, immigration and Europe, in economic terms it is too ‘libertarian’ to have any lasting impact, this is because it is a project by specific types of business people. We need to get worried when a ‘respectable’ be-suited far right emerges that combines populism with Keynesianism. Ideologically the right are not in that place at the moment.

The BNP are simply too tainted with being a bunch of knuckle dragging morons to ever become a threat.

Phil said...

Aye Paul, but that's because I don't see that as a *short-term* issue. Besides, Tory extremism is the kiss of death to the party's prospects. UKIP have the whole 'anti-Tory' and 'being new' attributes to draw from.

Phil said...

I think you're right, Chris. There is probably a populist political space in British politics for a Pim Fortuyn-style formation. A right-wing Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment cloaked in a liberal garb, a dashing of authoritarianism, and Keynesian economics could have wide appeal.

But, and it's a big but, the media wouldn't go for it. UKIP not only melds nicely with the outlook of right-wing hacks and press barons, their commitment to a lunatic libertarianism is something that floats their economic boat. If Farage was usurped by an upstart who talk economic policy in a sensible direction, all of a sudden the press fuel would stop pouring into UKIP's motor.

Gary Elsby said...

I think your point of Labour 'doing little' campaigning between elections which let the BNP in is quite valid.

In Stoke-on-Trent, as you know, the BNP lurched forward and certainly on the Council estates.

At that particular time, Labour fought an internal battle with an Elected Mayor and supporters.

The Mayor was removed in an historic referendum and their supporters were roundly defeated.

This left the Labour campaign machine, run by Jane Heggie immasculated and Labour itself scraping for an overall victory which it lost.
The BNP won a few seats.

We have to look a little closer at the criticism you offer as to how the BNP got in.
Not everyone fought a Mayor to extinction and not everyone had someone so dedicated to campaigning as Jane and her Elected Mayor friends.

So levelling a 'no campaigning' tag as for a reason why the BNP got in is quite correctly rebuffed by what I have just wrote.

To suggest that no campaigns were run in this City and 200,000 leflets were not dropped every year is false.

The truth is that in Stoke, an Elected Mayor was extremely divisive internally and externally.

NB. We have no Mayor and no BNP.
The Labour machine at the moment is running its campaign that care homes, day centres, swimming pools, libraries, childrens centres and parks must close.

The BNP are history?

Phil said...

I wasn't talking about Stoke, but as you know the BNP's rise here began well before Mark's election in 2005. So what was in fact going on before then? As far as I can tell, it was a combination of a number of factors of which a lack of consistent campaigning was one . And by the way, occasional leaflet drops without canvassing isn't what I would call consistent campaigning.

Gary Elsby said...

We had an Elected Mayor in 2002 (independent).
I can assure you that campaigning was done to a fine art.
It is a common nonsense put out that Stoke did not do anything at all (a slur by the parachute brigade in sandwell who implanted a a MP and an office boy + 2 gophers to promote all things non Stoke).

The anti Mayor camp run the independent out but they got little consolation in a Labour puppet.
They then ran him out via the referendum.
According to the critics, no campaigning was done at all.

Two Labour Leaders run out of the party, one deputy, and the chief whip run out because he voted against the whip!

The purge went on.....
all in all 500 have now walked out, including the instigator of the referendum (50 years loyal membership), another Leader and many ono councillors, including myself who was bizarrely accused of being 'anti Mayor'.

It becomes silly when I was a pro Mayor actually (until I saw the complete chaos bought to Labour and the open hostility of the public, mainly on areas won by the BNP.

The nonsense that Stoke did not campaign is just that, nonsense.
I can't speak for other outside areas, but readers will recall that Stoke-on-Trent won its independence to run as a unitary authority in 1997 (thanks Tony) and we have been fighting that battle ever siince.

Everything was put in our way of success and everything done to frustrate the democratic process.

As a logical and considered approach to what I saw as a complete rubbishing of both my City, the Labour process and to democracy, please re-read my 2008 election leaflet that Phil describes as 'the worst ever'.
Very truthful, principled and honest.
Please also note that I have never had any ambition to be a councillor and I stepped into a void in a BNP stronghold that the Labour machine refused to support.
Phil describes this seat as a 'must win important seat for Labour'.

Not true, I funded everything myself.

The people you publicise as being true campaigners ran the election.
Guess what Phil, guess who actually was funded.
Pro Mayors anyone?