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.