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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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.