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BNP down plays 'race card' to boost legitimacy says new LSE research

The British National Party (BNP) has attempted to boost its legitimacy by downplaying the issue of race according to new research from LSE.

The research(1) published in the current issue of The Political Quarterly shows that the BNP, whilst maintaining its anti-immigration stance, has shifted its language from emphasising a nationalism based on race to one based on British values and institutions. The researchers argue that this is an attempt to replicate the success of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and its more inclusive, non-racist, idea of British nationality with 'common citizenship and shared values'.

Union JackDaphne Halikiopoulou from LSE's Department of Government and Sofia Vasilopoulou, from LSE's European Institute, analysed party manifestos from before and after 1999 –  when Nick Griffin took over the party's leadership and began a reform agenda.

Sofia Vasilopoulou said: 'The BNP's post 1999 manifestos are characterised by a rhetoric shift. Although race still figures, it is less prominent and no longer forms the premise of its nationalist agenda. Instead, the BNP has increasingly talked about its agenda using elements of British national identity which unite rather than divide, such as "democracy", "freedom", and "liberty" – all values that the party has previously rejected as "liberal sickness"'.

According to the research, in the process of modernising, the BNP has gradually begun to mirror UKIP's language using similar ideas such as 'freedom' in its literature. It advocates, for example, freedom from the EU, from the state and freedom of speech. This replicates UKIP's claims that they, 'are the only party left that genuinely believes in freedom – freedom for the individual, freedom for businesses and local communities, freedom from patronising political correctness and from intolerance and injustice.'

Opposition to the EU is the main area where the BNP's language most resembles that of UKIP. The BNP has gradually adopted UKIP's argument that being part of the EU deprives the British people of their political right to democratic self-government. Both parties see the EU's political, economic and welfare systems as alien to the UK.  And while the BNP still criticises the EU as a threat to the 'homogeneity of the British nation, this is no longer central to its anti-EU argument. 

Immigration is another issue core to both parties' agendas and one where the BNP has also moved towards UKIP's position. Before 1999 the BNP opposed immigration on the basis that it caused racial problems. After 1999, in line with UKIP's approach, its opposition to immigration has increasingly focused on the social and economic problems they claim it causes such as unemployment and welfare dependency.

Daphne Halikiopoulou said: 'We are definitely not saying that the BNP is no longer an extreme right racist party. Indeed its use of more inclusive rhetoric makes it more dangerous because it makes it more difficult to identify it as such.'


Notes to editors

(1)Towards a civic narrative: British national identity and the transformation of the BNP   (subscription necessary)

Posted: 10 December 2010

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