The British National Party is outperforming the major parties online, according to a new analysis of the far-right strategy in the run up to next month's European elections.
Fresh evidence suggests that the BNP is outdoing Labour and the Conservatives in luring visitors to its website, where it outlines policies such as halting immigration, the reintroduction of corporal punishment and the return of the death penalty.
The statistics came as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York urged voters yesterday not to let the ongoing MPs' expenses scandal convince them to vote BNP in June.
Dr Matthew Goodwin of Manchester University and editor of The New Extremism in 21st Century Britain, argues that the BNP is engaged in an "unprecedented" cyber-campaign. Figures from Alexa, which measure the level of traffic to internet sites over the past three months, reveal the BNP is far ahead of the other mainstream parties' websites. The BNP's site is ranked globally as the 46,000th most popular site on the internet.
The Conservatives sit in 165,000th place, the Liberal Democrats are 198,000th leaving Labour way back about 248,000th. The relative popularities are confirmed by Google Trends for websites, which reveals online interest in the BNP persistently spiking ahead of the mainstream parties.
The figures from Alexa also show the BNP registering more traffic than highly publicised political blogs such as Guido Fawkes. They also reveal that once logged on, surfers spend twice the amount of time checking out the BNP's ideas compared to those on the Conservative website – 6.3 minutes a day compared to 2.7 minutes. But the figures don't take account of the fact that Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem blogging and internet sites are far more profuse.
Dr Goodwin argues that the BNP under Nick Griffin is now augmenting grass roots support through the electronic media. For example text messages sent to random numbers seek a small donation to party funds and ask recipients to forward the plea to family and friends. Voters who make inquiries are directed to a party call centre. Dr Goodwin says: "The BNP's shift to an Obama-style online strategy enables it to circumvent the tactics used by other parties to starve it of publicity and also shows up the dangers of that approach."
He concludes that the BNP is "sidestepping a hostile press by delivering its message direct to the desktop". Meanwhile, a leaked BNP "education and training" document circulated among activists and seen by The Independent gives detailed advice to its supporters to exploit "the growing power of cyberspace media".
It warns against linking unofficial blogs with the main party website, promoting "barking mad" conspiracy theories and poor standards of English. It concludes: "We should use such sites to 'bring the horse as close as possible to the water' and once they find that they agree with our policies, hopefully they'll drink."
Dan Hodges of the anti-racist group Searchlight said the web traffic figures massively overstated the true level of interest in the far-right party and accused the BNP of massaging the numbers.
"On the basis of their web hits they are more popular than all the mainstream parties combined but that is just not the case. It does not reflect the level of support," he said.