Review of the Year 2009: The BNP

Still on the fringes, but making more noise than ever
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Indy Politics

The British National Party did not create the political earthquake its devotees yearned for in 2009. But there is no doubt that it sent tremors through the political establishment during the most successful year in its relatively short history. The far-right party won two seats in the European Parliament to add to its toehold on the London Assembly and on councils across England.

Nick Griffin enjoyed unprecedented visibility after he appeared on BBC1's Question Time – an invitation that supporters and detractors alike said conferred respectability on the BNP leader. Above all, his party received more column inches of newspaper coverage, and more minutes of television bulletin time, than at any time since its creation in 1982.

The BNP picked up 6.2 per cent of the vote in June's elections, a modest rise from 4.9 per cent five years earlier.

But it was enough under the proportional electoral system to win seats in North West England and Yorkshire and the Humber for Mr Griffin and the former National Front activist Andrew Brons.

It also demonstrated its ability to target potentially fertile territory, such as Swanley in Kent, where the party pulled off a surprise council by-election victory in February. Four months later, it gained its first three county council seats – in Lancashire, Leicestershire and Hertfordshire.

The BNP can rely on a hard core of support – polls put it at just 2 per cent of the vote – but it tends to prosper when the turn-out is low and support for mainstream parties evenly divided.

Next year, its hopes will rest on its east London heartland of Barking, where Mr Griffin will need a formidable 15.5 per cent swing to oust Labour's Margaret Hodge.

The BNP leader will have the advantage of being better known than ever. The frenzy of publicity accompanying his Question Time appearance has seen to that.

The moot point is whether the exposure benefited Mr Griffin, who was nervous and rambling in the face of an onslaught from panellists and the studio audience. Although there were mutterings on the far-right blogosphere about his performance, the BNP insists many will have seen him as a victim, with Mr Griffin protesting he was subjected to a "lynch mob".

In the meantime, he faces two tricky problems. Following a House of Lords ruling, he needs to win approval from his membership next month for a rule change that would allow non-whites to join the party. The BNP, which spent nearly £600,000 during the European contests, also faces a considerable challenge in raising cash for the general election. In August, Mr Griffin appealed to members: "We need £150,000 to keep the wolves at bay and to ensure our survival!"

The question now is whether the party peaked in 2009 after riding the wave of public hostility to politicians, or whether it has the groundswell of popular support – and resources – to repeat its success in election year.

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