Support for the BNP does not correlate with higher immigration levels, according to a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR).
The study found that, of the 10 areas with the most BNP supporters, nine actually have a lower than average proportion of recent migrants.
As many commentators have long suggested, it appears that BNP votes link instead to social exclusion, with factors such as a lack of qualifications, poor social cohesion, and low voter turnout in an area indicating support for the far right.
Interestingly, the study says that higher immigration actually lessens BNP support:
The findings suggest that areas which have higher levels of recent immigration are not more likely to vote for the BNP. In fact the more immigration an area has experienced, the lower its support for the far right. It seems that direct contact with migrants dissuades people from supporting the BNP. For example, of the 10 local authorities where the BNP gained most support in the 2009 European elections, nine had lower than average immigration.
Across the board, commentators have been calling for an open debate on immigration, which has been lauded as a central point of this election campaign. However, the dividing lines of this discussion are strikingly narrow. Last week’s televised leaders’ debate opened with a question about immigration, which simply paved the way for the three leaders to compete over who could sound the toughest. Noticeably, no-one made the positive case for it, with Nick Clegg’s division of “good” and “bad” immigration coming the closest. This demonstrates the way in which the BNP’s stance on immigration has pervaded the mainstream political debate — a point made by my colleage Daniel Trilling, who has an article in this week’s New Statesman about the BNP’s campaign in Barking and Dagenham.
So, what is the solution? The study suggests building stronger communities and education systems to prevent people from becoming disenfranchised and disconnected. It’s no small order, but ultimately more effective than arbitrary posturing over immigration caps and tougher border controls. If mainstream parties continue to allow extremists to set the perameters of the debate, it will do nothing but validate their views and allow them to be accepted as fact, a process which has sadly already begun.