Part one of SRtRC's interview focuses on the Far-Right and Daniel's book 'Bloody Nasty People'
“It’s not like the underlying attitudes to immigration, or to Islam, suddenly appeared in the 2000s: one of the reasons for the growth was due to the BNP improving its operations, and overhauling its image to present a ‘friendly face’ to voters, which it did after the election of Nick Griffin as party leader in 1999."
Daniel Trilling, on the rise of the BNP
Daniel Trilling is the Assistant Editor at the New Statesman and is the author of ‘Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain’s Far-Right’ (published 2012).
‘Bloody Nasty People…’ charts the rise of the BNP over the past 10 years and details the emergence of the English Defence League. The book also explores how mainstream politicians have underestimated the far-right in Britain and while pursuing policies that have contributed to the growth of far-right movements.
Daniel is also a member of SRtRC’s Writers Against Racism and we were able to speak to him recently about the Far-Right, the EDL, immigration and how it is debated.
In part one of the interview, we asked Daniel about the rise of the Far-Right and ‘Bloody Nasty People…’.
What do you consider to be the main factors in the growth of the far right?
“In the last 10 years we have seen a growth - and subsequent decline - in the BNP at electoral level. For the first time, they were winning multiple seats in local councils; culminating in the party winning two seats in the European parliament in 2009. Shortly after that we saw the rapid rise of the English Defence League as a street movement, attracting thousands of supporters to their demos, at least during the first couple of years of their existence.
“It’s not like the underlying attitudes to immigration, or to Islam, suddenly appeared in the 2000s: one of the reasons for the growth was due to the BNP improving its operations, and overhauling its image to present a ‘friendly face’ to voters, which it did after the election of Nick Griffin as party leader in 1999.
“Griffin took a political party which was Neo-Nazi in origin and changed its public image, without abandoning its far right ideals. It sought out issues across mainstream politics that it could exploit, in order to win support from voters who may not have agreed with all of their ideas but saw them as a legitimate choice at the ballot box.
“During the end of the 90’s and the beginning of the new millennium, we saw a growth in a wide spread panic over asylum seekers and witnessed a very poor response to this from New Labour. During the following decade we also saw a growth in anti-immigration sentiment that contributed towards the ability of the BNP to start winning seats.
“Coupled with this, the same period saw increasing distrust of the mainstream political parties, with the public feeling that these parties no longer represented ‘ordinary’ people anymore. This feeling was particularly raw in certain areas of Britain like Stoke-On-Trent, Burnley and other parts of Lancashire and certain areas of London, including Barking and Dagenham; and it was in these areas where the BNP started to gain momentum and take seats locally.”
One of the issues that comes out of your book ‘Bloody Nasty People’ is (that there is) a stereotypical view that far right groups represent ‘working class people’. Do you think that there is any validity in statements like this?
“That stereotype was one of the things I most wanted to challenge in writing the book. It just doesn’t fit with what you find when you examine the issue closely. Most obviously, if you look at the people who are running or fronting these organisations, they don’t fit with the ‘working class, proletariat’ stereotype at all. Griffin, for example, was privately educated and is a Cambridge graduate. A significant number of other senior figures throughout the years were university-educated professionals.
“The BNP’s intention was never to be a ‘party of the working class’. Ideally, it would also have liked to win the votes of disgruntled, well-off Tories - the kind that make up a significant part of UKIP’s vote - but they were never able to, so what they were left with was pockets of discontent in formerly industrialised areas of the UK such as those mentioned above.
“Yet even in those areas, it wasn’t the poorest who voted BNP. If we take Burnley for example, back in 2002 it was the outlying, more rural areas which helped secure votes for the BNP. As the party developed, they were clearly also picking up votes from the working class, but it is important to recognise that the BNP were never intentionally representative of any one social group. It was only a small minority of people who were voting for the BNP, irrespective of their background.”