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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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.