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Leading article: An unwelcome Seventies revival


Recent years have seen a great revival of interest in the Seventies, the decade that brought us, among other things, male perms, flared trousers, the Winter of Discontent and Abigail's Party. But it's not all so innocent. Another Seventies phenomenon that most people will recall with less nostalgia was the National Front, which, as we report today, is also attempting a revival of sorts, fielding 35 mayoral and local election candidates in May, the largest number it has put up for election since 1983.

Most people will probably be surprised to find out that the Front still exists. After a brief, violent sortie on to the political stage in that decade of political and industrial strife, it fizzled out, overwhelmed by its internal divisions and the passionate hostility it had aroused in the wider community. What remained of the far right metamorphosed into the British National Party, which, after briefly scoring some significant successes in the European elections of 2009, gaining two MEPs, then also fell apart, wracked by leadership battles, financial muddles and defections. Only a few years on, the BNP is a shadow of its former self, which is why the ghost of the National Front has returned.

It is something of a mystery why the far right in Britain is so unable to get its act together. The NF hopefuls can only look on with envy at the extraordinary success of similar parties in France, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Italy and Hungary, all countries where the far right is shaking the political establishment and regularly taking between 10 and 20 per cent of the vote. Partly this may be down to the Conservative Party's traditional success in luring most people on the right of the political spectrum into its big tent. The other factor appears to be the peculiarly fissiparous nature of far-right politics in Britain, as a result of which a fairly small number of voters is spread over a whole range of parties, from Ukip and the BNP to the English Democrats and now the NF as well.

Long may this remain the case. At a time when the economics of austerity are opening up fresh divisions in society, the last thing Britain needs is a return to the politics of intolerance and extremism.