The death of the British far right

An EDL supporter, we are led to believe
An EDL supporter, we are led to believe
Adam Bienkov By

The British far right is in a state of historic and apparently terminal decline.

Where once they looked set to make significant electoral breakthroughs in the UK, most far-right organisations now look set to vanish altogether.

A new report by anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate out today reveals the movement has been pushed right to the fringes of British politics, with most of its leading organisations in outright disarray.

Of all Britain's far-right organisations, the BNP has suffered the biggest decline in recent years. This decline has caught many people by surprise. Just a few years ago, the party seemed on the brink of becoming a significant electoral force. Now they have all but died as a going concern.


Continuing financial troubles, dire electoral performances and the departure of Nick Griffin have left the BNP a broken and residual force in British politics. This decline is all the more remarkable when you consider that six years ago, when Griffin appeared on Question Time, many warned it could herald the launch of the party into the mainstream. Instead it heralded the start of their demise.

By the end of last year's European and local elections, the party had lost all their MEPs and all but two of their councillors. Since then Griffin has been replaced by disgraced former teacher Adam Walker. Walker is best known for receiving a driving ban and a suspended sentence after chasing three children down in his car, before slashing their bike tyres with a knife. He is unlikely to be sat alongside David Dimbleby any time soon.

Britain's smaller far-right groups have done little better. The EDL, which once looked set to become a dangerous new force on the streets, has in the past couple of years suffered a series of setbacks including the departure of charismatic leader Stephen Lennon, known as Tommy Robinson. Without Robinson, the EDL has lost its focus, its face and much of its support. If 2014 was the EDL's big moment then that moment has surely now passed.

The only other significant force left on the far right is Britain First. Britain First are best known for their surprisingly successful Facebook page which mixes outrage over Islamic extremism with shareable pictures about British soldiers and animal cruelty. However, a Hope Not Hate report released last year revealed that behind the social media facade lay an organisation led by religious fundamentalists intent on starting a holy war on Britain's streets. The shocking report was deeply damaging to Britain First and caused the departure of their founder and driving force, Jim Dowson. Since then the group have faded back into their online ghetto, with their only significant hit of the year being a rather unfortunate photo with the BBC's Nick Robinson during the Rochester by-election count.

However, even that social-media driven event was revealing. I was at the count that night and the sight of Britain First's leadership slouching awkwardly around a table in matching branded hoodies waiting for the result was far more comical than intimidating. 

In the end there wasn't much for them to wait for. While the group may have millions of people engaging with their Facebook page every day, in the real world their candidate Jayda Fransen received a grand total of 56 votes or 0.1% of the popular vote. If anyone is about to start a far-right revolution on Britain's streets it isn't going to be this lot.

The death of Britain's far right is all the more remarkable given how much the issues they feed on have risen in the public mind. Immigration, which was once mostly a far-right concern, is now the leading issue among voters and many mainstream politicians. The Islamist attacks in Paris and Woolwich have also helped create what should be perfect conditions for far right organisations.

Their total failure to benefit from this is often credited to the rise of Ukip. However, the rise of Nigel Farage's party and the concerns they represent actually masks a longer-term shift in British culture and society away from the far and hard right. While concern over immigration is at recent historical highs, that concern is overwhelmingly concentrated in older and more rural populations. For younger and more urban voters, immigration and cultural identity are increasingly becoming irrelevant.

It is no great accident that Ukip's strongholds are in faded seaside towns with high percentages of pensioners and low percentages of immigrants. As Matthew Parris recently got in trouble for suggesting, Britain's future does not lie in such places. The future of Britain lies in its large towns and cities.

Repeated opinion polling has shown that concern over immigration is at its highest in areas with the fewest immigrants and lowest in areas with high immigrant populations. It is this fact above all else that is killing off the far right in Britain.

The far right once hoped that rising immigration would propel their movement into the mainstream of British politics. The reality is that it is slowly killing them off.

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