Labour & the BNP
I was thinking recently (probably at about 3am, so forgive me if it is a little disjointed) about the apparent rise of the BNP. Now, the question as to whether the BNP is a far-right party or a far-left one arises every so often, to the screaming disagreement of those on the moderate right and left. A look at their economic programme would certainly suggest that they are left wing, as Dan Hannan says:
It favours nationalisation, higher taxes, protectionism and (though it keeps quiet about this) republicanism. It markets itself as "the Labour Party your parents voted for". Its manifesto calls for "the selective exclusion of foreign-made goods from British markets and the reduction of foreign imports," and promises to "restore our economy and land to British ownership" and "to give workers a stake in the success and prosperity of the enterprises whose profits their labour creates by encouraging worker shareholder and co-operative schemes".
But to look solely at the BNP’s economic policy to determine their politics seems a little inadequate.
As might be expected, I think that the BNP, insofar as it fits at all onto the left-right spectrum, is a left-wing party. But I don’t particularly draw this from their policies, but from their tactics. The BNP is an electoral threat to the Labour Party, and not to the Conservatives. Its councillors are predominantly in Labour areas (or what were or should be Labour areas). It is much stronger in Burnley and Bradford than in Haywards Heath and Bradford-on-Avon.
But why does a party that might be specifically designed to be Harriet Harman’s antithesis pose such a threat to Labour? One of the things I was doing while waiting for my wife to go into labour, was watching the BBC coverage of the ’79 election (I know). A lot of attention was focused then on the National Front, with coverage of their rise during the late 1970s, and the possible breakthrough they might achieve. They were annihilated, averaging only 1.6% of the vote and getting the worst result of any party ever to have contested more than 100 seats. 1983 was even worse.
Now there are two possible interpretations of this, and the recent rise of the BNP. One is that extremist groups flourish when there is a weak Conservative opposition, but when the Tories look strong, the extremist voters flock back to them. That’s pretty much the conventional wisdom.
But the other view is that these groups flourish under Labour Governments not because of the weakness of the Conservatives, but because white working class voters (who are much more likely to vote Labour than Conservative), when they feel abandoned by the Government have nowhere else to turn to. The visceral anti-Toryism that still lingers in the North means that they won’t turn to the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats are too much of a middle class, right-on party to be attractive. And there’s no-one else. In Scotland, by way of contrast, when people are sick of Labour, there’s a ready alternative in the form of the SNP – whose support has been massively increased by a Labour Government.
So there’s my theory on the rise of the BNP. It has succeeded because the Labour party in power has alienated a group of its voters who feel that they have no other mainstream party to represent them. Does that make the BNP a left-wing party? Perhaps, but what looks certain is that they have a left-wing electorate.