Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain's Far Right, By Daniel Trilling

From the seeds of disaffection

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The Independent Culture

'The waters of truth and justice and freedom are once again flowing over this country," the British National Party leader Nick Griffin proclaimed following his election to the European Parliament in 2009. "It's a great victory – we go on from here." Three years on and the BNP's advance has somewhat stalled. Squabbling, skint and threatening to splinter, it still has no representation at Westminster, and sheds council seats at every opportunity.

But then Griffin was always going to struggle to achieve his revolution through the institutions, and Daniel Trilling's Bloody Nasty People offers insights into why. The author presents a vivid history of the party, from its origins among national socialists and empire loyalists, through the command of the man he calls the "Führer of Notting Hill", John Tyndall. Trilling describes Griffin's band of "political soldiers" manoeuvring into position when the organisation was in desperate need of modernisation. Publicly distancing itself from the more violent elements of far-right subculture, its obscure underlying political ideologies – Strasserism, Distributism, "revolutionary" Third Positionism – were purposely concealed from its audience. In Griffin's words, they had to "forget the ideas for a few minutes and think purely about selling them".

Bloody Nasty People takes the reader to the most notorious scenes of the party's recent past. We visit the Isle of Dogs in London's Docklands, site of the BNP's first council seat – dismissed by the Daily Mail as a "nasty little local difficulty", the 1993 campaign gave it a taste for community politics and a platform to stir up racial tensions further afield. We pass through decaying industrial regions where its support grew – Barking and Dagenham, Burnley and Stoke-on-Trent – as Trilling illustrates New Labour's failure to prevent disaffection among its working-class base.

Coinciding with surges in far-right support, ill-conceived statements emanating from a fraught political mainstream are meticulously catalogued. David Blunkett's belief that asylum-seekers were "swamping" British schools; debates launched on the burqa and "Asian grooming" – Trilling notes that the BNP was given "a language in which to clothe its racism and a target on which to focus".