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The Conservatives: a ‘polite alternative’ to the BNP?

In an insightful piece in this blog, Matthew Goodwin reported on his research about the UKIP and the BNP, portraying the former as a ‘polite alternative’ to the latter or the ‘BNP in Blazers’. Its more civil face allows UKIP to appeal to voters repelled by the neo-fascist image of the BNP, and to acquire ‘access to mainstream media and political elites’.

Goodwin’s argument is based on an analysis of the kinds of voters attracted to UKIP, in terms of their predisposing characteristics (age, gender, region and social class), as well as their political background, economic expectations and issue preferences. From our own ongoing research on electoral competition we suggest a slightly different perspective that may also help to understand how these parties relate to voters. To achieve that, we focus on the extent to which different parties are ‘fishing in the same pond’, i.e. relying on the same group of people for their support.

We draw our information from a 2009 survey of the adult population in which respondents were asked not only to state which party they would vote for in the case of a general election, but also how probable it was that they would ever vote for each of the parties standing for election. The answers reflect all the electoral preferences that people have for the various parties without constraining them to a single party. Combining all people that express a preference for a particular party yields an estimate of that party’s aggregate appeal to voters, i.e., its potential support. This potential support will rarely be fully fulfilled at any particular election largely because these pools of support overlap so that gains for one party translate into losses for the others that rely on the same potential electorate. Those overlaps are the consequence of people expressing high preferences for more than only one party.

We can display respondents’ preferences in a figure in which UKIP, the BNP and the Conservatives are represented by circles, the sizes of which correspond to their electoral potential. By drawing the circles somewhat on top of each other, we can also represent the size of the groups expressing simultaneous preferences for two, or even for all three of these parties. Doing so yields the figure presented above.

Goodwin and his colleagues are, indeed, correct in suggesting that UKIP can be seen as ‘a polite alternative’ to the BNP: a very large part of the BNP circle overlaps with the UKIP circle. But this also holds for the Conservative party: almost half of BNP supporters express high preferences for the Tories.  So, there happens to be more than one ‘polite alternative’ for BNP supporters. Indeed, this extends even further, as more than 40% of BNP supporters also express strong preferences for the Greens, and little under a quarter of them expressed similar preferences for the Labour party (not pictured here to avoid clutter).

What this research shows therefore is that the Conservatives are – roughly to the same degree as UKIP – the ‘polite alternative’ to the BNP. Put differently, the BNP is the ‘ugly face’ of the other two right-wing parties.

Cees van der Eijk and Eliyahu V. Sapir

Published inBNPBritish PoliticsConservativesThe Far-Right & ExtremismUKIP

21 Comments

  1. UKIP are easily intimidated by accusations of racism, while the BNP are not.

    The best thing to happen is for the two parties to merge and become the British National Independence Party.

    After all, this is what the Liberal Party did with the SDP and now they are in government.

    2 against 3 is better than 1 against 4.

  2. George George

    Now do the same for Labour. The BNP and Labour are far more ideologically similar, and most BNP votes tend to be from disaffected Labour supporters.

    • Chris Chris

      that’s what they say (about Labour and the Greens)

    • Anne Anne

      “But this also holds for the Conservative party: almost half of BNP supporters express high preferences for the Tories… Indeed, this extends even further, as more than 40% of BNP supporters also express strong preferences for the Greens, and little under a quarter of them expressed similar preferences for the Labour party”

  3. Both the author of this post and of the comment above seem to be quite deluded. Ukip are nothing like those vile racists in the slightest. A much more accurate description would be to call BNP a racist version of Old Labour. Ukip are a civic nationalist classical liberal party whereas BNP are authoritarian socialists and ethnic nationalists. Suggesting they should merge is like paying Margaret Thatcher and Tony Benn should be in the same party. Also, the moment someone calls Ukip the ‘BNP in blazers’ they immediately prove that they don’t know much about Ukip.

    • Stuart Stuart

      I completely agree.

    • Anne Anne

      Do you have anything to support this proposition with? An analysis? Some statistics perhaps?
      On the other hand, you have the ability to diagnose people as delusional just by reading their research, so you don’t really need facts, do you? You may not like these findings, but you should try and keep it civil.

  4. It is a class thing. UKIP are bourgeois Eurosceptics and the BNP are proletarian Eurosceptics. Both want grammar schools and both are Islamophobic.

    • What a deluded Marxist perspective. UKIP does very well amongst the working class, in fact according to recent poll break-downs, it is starting to out-poll the Lib Dems amongst the working class, as well as out-polling BNP amongst the working class.

      UKIP are not Islamophobic either, they have many Islamic members, some of whom have stood as UKIP candidates for Westminster!

      I expect you are also grossly simplifying what Eurosceptism is as well. Bob Crow would probably describe himself as a working class eurosceptic, does that make him BNP? I don’t think so! UKIP are anti-EU – they are pro-free trade and co-operation with Europe, and the rest of the world for that matter, but they don’t want to be tied into what is a relic of 20th Century thinking, whereas the BNP are anti-EU, anti-Europe, and anti-Globalisation.

    • Also, regarding grammar schools, the well respected Sutton Trust released a report showing the grammar schools help social mobility, so I don’t know what you’re trying to get at there.

  5. iain b browne iain b browne

    Do you have the Venn diagram George asks for showing Lab/BNP?

  6. Yes, let’s see a Venn diagram with Labour/Green/BNP, so we can see the overlap between the three vaguely socialist parties.

  7. Stuart Stuart

    Two major differences between UKIP and the BNP.
    UKIP are non-racist and right wing. BNP are racist and left wing.

    One similarity.
    Both support leaving the EU.

    I hate it when people refer to the BNP in discussion about UKIP. They are completely different. Grow up.

    • BNP and UKIP support grammar schools. Both are Islamophobic.

  8. Nia Nia

    “What this research shows therefore is that the Conservatives are – roughly to the same degree as UKIP – the ‘polite alternative’ to the BNP. Put differently, the BNP is the ‘ugly face’ of the other two right-wing parties”

    To the above: I’ve pretty much always said this myself. The BNP are almost like the less polite, tactless, less diplomatic and more explicit version of the Tories or UKIP. To put things into perspective, I feel like they share many of the same views and underlying ideologies.
    Finally, there are statistics to prove this.
    As the saying goes, “men lie, women, lie, numbers don’t”.

    • Olly Olly

      Indeed Numbers don’t 40% of BNP supporters support Green
      BNP is the ugly face of the left, they just don’t like admiting it
      As Nick Griffin said [the BNP] are the Labour party your parents voted for

  9. GS GS

    I wonder how many Conservative voters would switch to the BNP as an alternative in a crisis, moving from the centre-right to the far-right as happened in Weimar Germany.

  10. GDS GDS

    if you look at right wing blogs, you will find that there is a huge crossover on issues like benefits and the EU between BNP supporters and the Conservatives Further more there are many attacks on Labour. Contrary to popular opinion it does not attract either disaffected Labour or conservative voters, It simply dovetails with one party certain issues. The Conservatives possibly occasionally attract BNP voters when it looks like immigration might come to the fore.. UkIP are in contrast essentially a single theme party that attracts a large anti EU vote from all the main parties in specific kinds of elections, but can’t sustain support when it comes to general elections. The BNP retains about the same number of voters whatever the election, but only benefits when voter apathy for the other parties makes their vote seem higher. UKIP is a pressure group, the BNP is a few neo fascists.

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