Poaching populists: is UKIP rising as a phoenix from the ashes of BNP support?

10438765746_e96d4b2bc8_hLaura Mackenzie‘s new article for POP investigates the different results of UKIP and the British National Party over time. What does explain their opposite degrees of normalization and success within the British political landscape?

We are saying to BNP voters, if you are voting BNP because you are frustrated, upset with the change in your community, but you are doing it holding your nose, because you don’t agree with their racist agenda, come and vote for us”. Thus spake Nigel Farage, leader of the UK’s largest populist party, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), in 2014.

Since then, Farage has claimed to have taken a third of supporters from the populist radical right British National Party (BNP), and his party is enjoying its highest ever level of support since its creation in 1993, having received over 12% of the national vote (nearly 4 million votes) at the general election held on 7th May 2015.  In contrast, the BNP received just over 1,500 votes, down 99.7% since the last general election in 2010.  Is this downward trend in support for the BNP evidence that UKIP has made good on its promises to be the voice of those who are “frustrated [and] upset with the change in [their] community”?  Or has this declining interest merely indicated an inability of the BNP to achieve lasting political and social legitimacy?

The BNP was formed in 1982, based on the principles of the original National Front: national sovereignty; withdrawal from the European Economic Community; a reconfiguration of the British Commonwealth into an association of white ethnic groups; enforced repatriation of non-Europeans; economic nationalism; etc.  The party failed to make any headway throughout the Margaret Thatcher years in the 1980s and early 1990s, with collective support for the far right averaging at approximately 1% during this period.  The party was characterised by an incoherent electoral strategy, contesting elections sporadically and finding support inconsistent at the local level (in 1984, a BNP candidate polled almost 12% of the vote in a council by-election in Sunderland, in the north of England; in contrast, in a by-election in Plymouth in the south in the same year, another candidate received only 15 votes).

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