From National Front to BNP to UKIP: The Rise of Right Wing Populism (A.L.Shaw, New Left Project)


The first part of this essay showed that post-1930s right-wing populist groups pursued a fundamentally bilateral electoral strategy split between their ‘officer class’ (party leaders and deputies) and the ‘rank and file’. The notionally anti-elitist platform propounded by the officer class consistently sought to portray Britain being dominated by an anti-British elitist conspiracy. Immigration was repeatedly offered as one leading manifestation of this; consequently, the rank and file view most often appealed to anti-immigration sentiment. This encouraged and legitimised the vilification of vulnerable minorities by its leaders and the rank and file as an authentic and principled people’s reprisal against their dominating elites. This helped sustain the movements to a greater extent than anti-elitism alone could manage. UKIP’s electoral strategy and aspects of its ideology clearly mirrors this approach – but with far greater success than anything witnessed before.

John Tyndall and Martin Webster co-led the National Front (NF) – Britain’s second most electorally successful (neo) fascist group (after the present British National Party). In a foreshadowing of the British National Party’s subsequent attempts to do likewise, Tyndall sought to make the NF more respectable by cloaking its increasingly unacceptable anti-Semitism from public view while retaining it as its ideological core. A letter of March 1967 records:

I have […] sought to modify our propaganda, though not, of course, the essence of our ideology. […] pure Nazi literature is something that must be used now more as something to circulate privately as a means of training and enlightening the partially converted than as a public selling line.[1]

Tyndall accordingly refashioned NF rank and file literature along pan-nationalist lines that retained its avowed commitment to anti-immigration and obligatory repatriation. Through its youth publication Bulldog he extended its anti-elitist fight to the classroom with brazen face-to-face thuggish threats against allegedly left-wing teachers.[2] By this time, with his Six Principles of British Nationalism of 1966, he had also reverted to more Mosleyan territory with his calls for a new national leadership style, and greater emphasis on economic nationalism, corporatism, protectionism and the need for empire. Echoing similar rationales of the Union Movement (as discussed in Part I), he argued Britain should form a post-imperial alliance with “the older Dominions – the hard core of the Commonwealth – not as subordinate colonies but as free and equal partners,” namely Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Rhodesia,[3] to counterbalance the economic power of the USSR and the USA. Britain, lacking their domestic purchasing power, should

 find a very large and growing market which we can control and organise ourselves, combatting foreign competition by protective tariffs and mobilising our productive forces to cater for this market in full.[4]

Some regional results during the late 1960s and the 1970s were surprisingly good (at least for a new party), indicating Tyndall’s revised approach was having some success.[5]  However, these results appear to have buoyed the NF’s confidence to its detriment. In 1979 their share of the national vote peaked at only 0.6%, a general election that irreparably damaged the party with all 303 candidates losing their parliamentary deposits. Margaret Thatcher’s Powellist stance on immigration, partially appropriating NF territory, is commonly cited as possibly the principal cause for the Front’s sudden slump following its earlier gains.

The defeat cost Tyndall the NF leadership. He went on to found the New National Front, which he incorporated into the new British National Party (BNP), which he headed until his replacement by Nick Griffin in 1999. The later Tyndall claimed to have modified aspects of his views – particularly in respect of anti-Semitism. In a 1999 interview, six years before his death, he was still committed to the view that a multifaceted elite including “some”, not all, Jews and “some Gentile agents” including post-Edward Heath politicians had betrayed the British people through the “black invasion and the Asian invasion” and the surrender of sovereignty to the European Union (EU).

from Pocket

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