Analysis: There is no bounce, but no room for complacency

By Peter Kellner, October 29, 2009

Nick Griffin failed in his attempts on Question Time last week to persuade the British public that he was now a friend of the Jews who believed in the Holocaust and backed Israel’s actions in Gaza. By a margin of five to one, the British public regard him as “still at heart a Holocaust denier”, rather than as someone who “has genuinely changed his mind”. And just over half the electorate think Jews would “have reason to be fearful” if the BNP gained significantly in strength.

It is not surprising that more people, 72 per cent, think Muslims would have reason to be fearful, for Griffin has frequently proclaimed his hostility to Islam. But the fact that so many also consider him hostile to Jews shows that, for most people, his attempts to present a more nuanced face of the pathology of prejudice have fallen flat.

We should not, however, be complacent. Far more people sympathise with large parts of the BNP’s political agenda than would ever vote for the party. Immigration is not popular, and YouGov research has found that millions share the view that white Britons have been let down by successive governments. The BNP brand is tainted, but some of the BNP’s causes strike a chord with many.

Which is why YouGov’s figures should provoke only guarded optimism. For the BNP to “succeed” — that is, to become a serious, divisive force at the heart of British politics — it does not have to win majority approval. It simply has to crank up its support from the two to four per cent it normally enjoys, to, say, 10 per cent — the kind of figure frequently achieved by far right parties on the Continent. It is just possible that Nick Griffin took a small step towards achieving this goal, even as he made the great majority of viewers loathe him more intensely than ever.

Peter Kellner is President of YouGov

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010