Nick Griffin campaigning at the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election in February (Christopher Furlong)
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Nick Griffin is gone - but hatred of the political class remains

Despair at the political elite drove the BNP’s rise - and hasn't gone away.

The most notable aspect of Nick Griffin’s ousting as party leader of the British National Party is its sheer irrelevance. It took two days for anybody to notice the results of the BNP’s national executive on Saturday.

The reason is simple. The BNP have ceased to be politically significant. From a peak of 58 councillors in 2009 it now has only two left. In 2009, the BNP won two MEPs, 940,000 votes and over six per cent in the European elections. This May, the BNP won 180,000 votes and barely one per cent of the vote.

The BNP was undermined by Griffin’s abrasive personality and the breakaway British Democratic Party. The BNP once monopolised the far-right scene, but no longer: 149 other candidates from radical and extreme right parties stood in the 2012 local elections. But, as I explored in my investigation into the BNP’s collapse, the British public ultimately did not have time for the BNP’s crude racism. Griffin’s successor – Adam Walker, who received a life ban from teaching last year after chasing down three boys with his car and then slashing their bike tyres – will not be able to change that image. The party is doomed.

Yet triumphalism should be averted. The fundamental reasons for the BNP’s success remain. These were not racism, but in the breakdown in trust for the ruling elite. It is perhaps most visible in the collapse of the two main parties – from sharing 90% of the vote in 1970, the Conservatives and Labour only mustered a combined 65% of the vote in 2010. The fall in membership of the parties has been even more dramatic. To too many, the mainstream parties seem hopelessly incapable of representing them or understanding and improving their lives.

Faith at the political elite drove the BNP’s rise: according to a survey in 2011, 80 per cent of its supporters were dissatisfied with the functioning of democracy in Britain. After Ukip’s victory in this year’s European elections, it would be delusional to imagine that such despair has gone away.

Collapse in British public institutions – not just Parliament - continues to be eroded. Far too many MPs enjoy safe seats, while all main political parties continue to look woefully unlike the population they aspire to represent. Over half of Conservative MPs were privately educated; the majority of Labour candidates in marginal seats have previously worked in politics. Just 25 MPs today have been manual workers, compared to 98 in 1979.

So it is little wonder that electoral turnout has declined steeply: it fell from 77% in 1992 to 65% in 2010 and was significantly worse among young people. The BNP may no longer be the beneficiaries of this discontent – the political class must work to avert its complacency.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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