UKIP and BNP – Two of a kind or on different planets?on 3 October 2013
Heinz Brandenburg and Anders Widfeldt
For a party whose only real success was the election of two MEPs in 2009, the British National Party has been given a lot of attention in the academic literature. This is apparent, not least in comparison with another British party whose aim is to challenge the established party system – the UK Independence Party. On Google Scholar the entry “British National Party” produces a total of over 5,000 hits, compared to 1,200 hits for “UK Independence Party”. This BNP dominance remains consistent over time. While there is a tendency for UKIP to narrow the gap somewhat in recent years, we never find less than three times as many BNP than UKIP hits.
This imbalance is not exactly intuitive – UKIP has, after all, attracted many more votes than the BNP in elections to the Westminster and EU parliaments. UKIP has been represented in Brussels/Strasbourg since 1999, while the BNP had its first MEPs elected in 2009. One of them has since defected, and there is at the moment very little to suggest that the party will maintain its representation after the EU election next June. UKIP, meanwhile, is tipped by some to become Britain’s biggest party in the EU election, and could well get some seats in the next Westminster election.
One reason why the BNP has been given all this attention is that it, more or less by default, is treated as the British extreme right party in the comparative literature. Books and articles covering the extreme right in Europe tend to focus on the BNP whenever Britain is referred to. If mentioned at all, UKIP tends to be brushed aside as a single-issue anti-EU party, and then ignored. Still, in the 2010 General Election UKIP produced a 7,700 word manifesto covering a wide range of policy areas. Of course EU criticism, with the ultimate aim of an exit, is a key priority, but it also wants to reduce the size of the public sector, increase the use of nuclear power, reinforce law and order and strengthen the military defence. UKIP also advocates a cut in immigration. With such a broad programme, it is questionable whether it qualifies as a single-issue party.
In the EU parliament, UKIP is currently part of the Europe for Freedom and Democracy group (EFD), together with parties such as the True Finns, the Danish People’s Party, Lega Nord, the Slovak National Party, Greek LAOS and the Lithuanian Order and Justice party. The BNP, meanwhile, have sought co-operation with more radical parties in the EU Parliament, such as the French Front National and Hungarian Jobbik. These parties have too few MEPs to form a party group of their own and sit as non-attached parties in the EU parliament.
So, despite obvious differences, not least in origin, both the BNP and UKIP have several things in common. They co-operate with other parties in Europe which are regarded as members of a party family often labelled as extreme/populist/far radical right. It is quite a diverse family, but diversity does not make it unique – there are variations also in, for example, the liberal, conservative and social democratic party families. Party families can be divided into different subgroups and the extreme right family is often divided into a more radical, and a less radical, group. It seems quite clear that the BNP, together with the parties it tends to liaise with, belongs to a more radical subgroup of the extreme right family. UKIP is not as clear-cut, but it is not inconceivable that it, together with several EFD colleagues, could be fitted into the less radical subcategory.
In a recent study on the nature of support for the BNP and UKIP, we made some interesting findings. In general, UKIP is a much more accepted party than the BNP, which is widely despised and seen by about 70% of the British electorate as not electable; UKIP are on average less liked than the three main parties, although not by much. But, aside from their own voters, nobody has a more positive view of the BNP than UKIP voters, and nobody has a more positive view of UKIP than BNP voters.
The BNP fits the electoral profile of a radical right party better than UKIP does, especially insofar as BNP support comes much more from disaffected voters with little trust in others and little satisfaction with democracy. But both parties fit many elements of the typical profile of radical right support – predominantly male, young, lower class, less educated, anti-immigration and anti-EU. Support for both parties also tends to be linked to a right-wing outlook on the economy. This is not surprising regarding UKIP, but somewhat unexpected for the BNP, whose public profile has tended to be welfare chauvinist rather than neo-liberal.
And importantly, the British population does seem to view both parties as being part of the same party family. Attitudes towards UKIP are strongly related to attitudes towards the BNP; in fact, no other pair of British parties comes even close to UKIP and the BNP in terms of how strongly attitudes to one party are associated with attitudes to the other. This suggests that the electoral surge of UKIP and the demise of the BNP in recent years may to some extent have to do with ex-BNP supporters having switched sides and taken to UKIP as a viable second choice.
The pattern that emerges in our research is that the support profiles for both UKIP and the BNP have important differences, but also similarities. Indeed, we find that UKIP has much in common, not only with the BNP, but also with what we know about extreme right parties across Western Europe. Thus, the BNP and UKIP fit rather neatly into separate subgroups of the same, extreme right, party family – the BNP into a more radical one and UKIP into a more moderate grouping.
Thus our argument is that, even though BNP and UKIP may not be two of a kind, they are not on entirely different planets. UKIP representatives would no doubt protest against this, but there is much to suggest that their party belongs to the same party family as BNP, albeit at opposite ends of it. It can of course be debated whether extreme right is the most appropriate label for this family, but that is a separate matter.