Social exclusion factors such as lack of qualifications and weak social cohesion far more important
Higher immigration to an area is not to blame for driving the voters into the arms of the BNP, according to a study exploring the roots of its support published today. In fact, the analysis by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) finds that nine out of the top 10 areas for BNP votes actually has a lower than average proportion of recent migrants.
Instead the study which looked at the roots of BNP support across 150 local authority areas suggests that social exclusion, such as lack of qualifications, weak social cohesion and low levels of voter turnout are far more important.
The IPPR researchers say findings show that the idea that politicians need to adopt ever-tougher immigration controls to undermine the BNP is misleading. Instead they need to work harder to build strong communities, strong education systems and rebuild trust in democratic politics so that "marginalised and isolated" people do not feel so disconnected.
The researchers say that the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, argues that in many working-class and lower middle-class areas immigration has brought in so many people that they "totally swamp the existing people …destroying their communities" and leading them to support his party.
"The findings suggest that areas which have higher levels of recent immigration are not more likely to vote for the BNP," says the study. "In fact the more immigration an area has experienced, the lower its support for the far right. It seems that direct contact with migrants dissuades people from supporting the BNP. For example, of the 10 local authorities where the BNP gained most support in the 2009 European elections, nine had lower than average immigration," says the study.
Barking and Dagenham, which has had significantly higher levels of recent migration, is the exception rather than the rule, say the researchers. The study found however that Stoke-on-Trent, Thurrock and Barnsley, which are ranked second, third and fourth in the list of the top 10 BNP share of the vote areas, all have lower than average immigration.
By contrast the three local areas with the lowest levels of social "resilience" in the country, Sandwell, Barking and Dagenham and Stoke-on-Trent, are all found in the top 10 for BNP votes.
The researchers' analysis suggests that the more "resilient" a community is the less likely it is to vote BNP. They measure social resilience of communities by their ability to withstand and adapt in response to shocks and include indicators such as unemployment, level of skills and qualifications, ability to influence local decisions, crime, health, business survival rate and voter turnout. As examples they name Richmond-upon-Thames and Wokingham as the two most resilient communities in the country.
The IPPR calculates that, based on the 2009 European election results, the top 10 most resilient communities in the UK cast fewer votes for the BNP put together than the average UK local authority.
The study acknowledges that immigration is a matter of concern to the British people and has had some negative effects on parts of the UK but say that where people have had significant direct contact with migrants, most are not concerned enough with immigration to vote for the BNP.
The researchers say the implication of their finding that isolation and dejection rather than immigration is driving voters into the hands of the BNP should give politicians and commentators the confidence to resist the idea that much tougher border controls must be introduced in order to regain public support.
"Mainstream politicians need to work harder to build strong communities and strong education systems, and to rebuild trust and confidence in democratic politics so marginalised and vulnerable people do not feel so disconnected," it concludes. "Doing so should allow them to serve the interests of these communities more effectively, and in the process, undercut support for the BNP."