It was a long, long goodbye, but goodbye it is to the British National Party. Long the public face of racism in the UK, they finally seem to have shuffled out of British politics, exiting stage right. Prior to this weekend’s European Election the party had two MEPs, Andrew Brons and Chairman Nick Griffin. Brons stood down, apparently because the BNP is no longer extreme enough for his tastes, and last night saw Nick Griffin loose his seat in the North West by a significant margin. Having received less than 2% of the vote one is safe to assume that Griffin will not be troubling the nation as an elected politicians in the near or even distant future.
It has been a long time since the heady days of 2009, when Griffin was on the BBC’s Question Time trying to present the BNP as the presentable face of British far-right. When the show descended into chaos, the audience unwilling to question him on anything other than his party’s racisms, Griffin was quick to implicate the BBC in a conspiracy to smear his party (if that sounds familiar, it is because UKIP have been making the same claims every time they face difficult questions from the media). Indeed the media was busy questioning the BNP’s new veneer of respectability and found it to be paper thin. But for a time, riding high on the back of their strong showing in that years European poll and given ample opportunities to promote his party, it looked for a while like Griffin had succeeded in making the BNP more than just a home for ex-National Front members and miniature Enoch Powells.
Alas, for him at least, he just didn’t have the charisma that Nigel Farage has shown is required to keep a party of racist in check. But then again, it seems unlikely that Griffin ever wanted too. Having not convinced anyone that the BNP was any more than the front for fascists to gather behind, Griffin simply reverted to type and has, with every passing year, been more and more open about just how much he hates non-whites, Jews, immigrants and anyone else who crosses his path. He became more of a gimmick than a firebrand, hosting a bizarre BNP cookery show on YouTube which saw him teaching his fellow patriots how to cook a hearty ‘British’ stew. He is now quoted, following his defeat last night, to have proudly confirmed that he and his party is indeed racist. Not exactly an earth shattering revelation but surprising in it’s honesty.
And what of the BNP at large? Never as popular as it claimed and with those who swung its way in protest scared off by the exposure of just how racists the party is, support has plummeted since 2009. Left with just a rump of hardened racists and neo-nazis, the party might have limped on were it not for the rise of a number of other far-right groups, even more extreme in their politics. The EDL offered a chance for thugs to partake in violent protests against ‘Islamification’ while the new found popularity of Britain First, the far-right’s social media giant, has provided another outlet for xenophobic hatred. Having tried to clean up for public consumption the BNP lost much of its appeal to the rotten core it depended on for support and, having failed to gain enough votes as a ‘respectable’ party, has been left with nothing. One suspects that many of those who flocked to the ‘new BNP’ in 2009 are now firmly behind UKIP, who have succeeded like no other in making the far-right look respectable.
With a dwindling share of the vote, a shrinking membership and little to no public profile, the final, fatal wound for the BNP has been financial. Even before Nick Griffin was declared bankrupt at the start of this year, the party’s finances were questionable at best. Now they have lost Griffin’s funding from Europe there will be, once his salary stops, no regular cash flowing in and the party will have to beg its remaining members for donations. In the modern landscape of slick political broadcasts, mass mailing and coordinated social media campaigns, a party working with peanuts can never hope to prosper. We’ve seen the back of the BNP, but not the back of the far-right. So while news of their downfall is perhaps cause for a moment of celebration one must remember that the hatred that fuelled their rise has not gone away but moved elsewhere.