The public is more balanced about the British National Party than Peter Hain and other alarmists. Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time last Thursday has had no effect on the BNP’s rating. There is a big difference between public anxieties that the BNP seeks to exploit and voters’ willingness to back the party.
Two polls since Question Time show no evidence of any BNP bounce. Its support remains in the recent 2 to 3 per cent range: and between 1.5 and 3 per cent over the past year according to Populus. (These ratings are below those recorded by the Greens and the UK Independence Party.) Small fluctuations at this low level do not mean anything because of the margin of error. Moreover, the number having a positive impression of the BNP has fallen from 11 to 9 per cent since June.
Anthony Wells, of UK Polling Report website, concludes: “Despite all the hoo-ha and protests, despite the millions of people who watched Question Time, it doesn’t seem to have made any significant difference to how the public view them, or how likely they are to support them (at least, not yet).”
Not yet is an important caveat. The alarmists have focused on last Saturday’s YouGov poll in the Telegraph identifying 15 per cent who say it was possible that they would vote BNP in a future local, general or European election, and the 7 per cent who say they would “definitely or probably” consider doing so. But the same poll showed BNP support still at just 3 per cent.
An analysis on the Political Betting website of a mass of polling data shows that two thirds of BNP supporters did not vote for any of the big three parties in 2005, and most did not vote at all. Only a fifth are former Labour voters. Overall, they are more likely to be working class than other parties’ voters. The BNP’s real success is in mobilising previous non-voters.
This is not, however, an argument for complacency. There are high levels of support for issues championed by the BNP. An ICM poll for the News of the World had two thirds believing that recent immigrants get more favourable housing and state benefits compared with “Brits”. Three fifths say mainstream parties have “no credible policies” on immigration but only 44 per cent agree that the white working classes have been abandoned by the mainstream parties, with 52 per cent disagreeing.
The BNP matters because it articulates and distorts the fears of the disaffected about being squeezed out of public services. The party will probably win votes in a few areas but it is not a serious electoral threat nationally.