The UK has three main political parties – Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat. Traditionally the Conservatives have been to the right of the political spectrum, Labour has been on the left and the Liberals have taken the centre ground. However, in the last 10 to 15 years Labour and the Conservatives have both moved closer to the centre. The UK’s political system has space for many other parties representing a wider range of political views.
The UK has an ambivalent relationship with overt displays of flag-waving nationalism. The country’s relationship with the Union Jack flag, in particular, has been troubled. In the past it was hijacked as a symbol of the extreme right wing. In recent years the growing trend has been to display the flags of the constituent parts of the UK. So, for example, when England plays in the Football World Cup the team’s supporters will be awash with the St George’s Cross flag rather than the Union Jack.
The UK in the 1930s
During the 1930s the UK was caught up in the wave of support for fascist parties which swept through Europe in the run up to the Second World War. This manifested itself in the British Union of Fascists (BUF) headed by Oswald Mosley. Mosley and his followers were vocal in their espousal of extreme right-wing policies and were specifically anti-Communist and anti-Jewish. The BUF even had its own uniformed division – the notorious black shirts.
Mosley continued to be involved in politics until the 1960s, campaigning on an anti-immigration ticket. However, the defeat of European fascism in the Second World War effectively ended any likelihood of the BUF coming to power.
The UK in the 1970s
A further wave of right-wing politics came to prominence from the end of the 1960s onwards. The most visible political representation of this was the National Front – an aggressively pro-white, anti-immigration group. The National Front probably did more than any other organisation to tarnish the image of the Union Jack by adopting it as their symbol. However, when Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing Conservative administration came to power in 1979, the National Front’s anti-immigration stance was effectively usurped and the party was rendered obsolete. It was no longer necessary to support a fringe party.
The UK Today
The British National Party (BNP) is seen by some as a direct descendent of the National Front, although the party itself firmly refutes such allegations. Their stated aim is to preserve the “Britishness” of the UK and to ensure that ethnic minorities remain in the minority – although the legality of this has been seriously called into question by the British courts (see below). The BNP currently has about 60 local councillors and 2 MEPs. The party appears to be gathering new supporters from voters who feel let down by the main political parties. In part, the BNP has achieved this by adopting an apparently sensible stance on some issues such as crime and the accountability of MPs.
The BNP’s policies on immigration include:
- an immediate end to all new immigration unless there are exceptional circumstances;
- the deportation of all who are in the UK unlawfully;
- providing grants to residents “of foreign descent” who wish leave the UK
There was considerable disquiet in 2009 when the BNP succeeded in getting elected to the European Parliament, which some saw as a legitimisation of a basically racist and unlawful organisation. However, with more credibility comes greater accountability. In March 2010 a judge banned the BNP from recruiting new members because their constitution was unlawful and incompatible with equality laws. The judge ordered the removal of an anti-immigration clause and one which insists on maintaining the British majority. The Judge also changed the wording of the BNP’s constitution so that members no longer have to pledge to support all of the party’s policies.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) was founded on the belief that the UK should withdraw from the European Union. They too believe in maintaining or restoring the “Britishness” of the UK. However, UKIP concedes that being from an ethnic minority is not incompatible with “Britishness” and seeks to distance itself from other “extremist parties”. Nonetheless, their policies on immigration include an immediate five-year freeze on new immigrants, with stricter rules to apply thereafter. UKIP also proposes a 10-year probationary period for new citizens.
Whilst it seems unlikely that either the BNP or UKIP will become a major political party, let alone receive a majority in a general election, their growing popularity may be a reflection of the concerns felt by some sections of the UK population about the current immigration system.