Confessions of a Political Animal

March 4, 2009

The BNP and the fear of the other


Does the above chart show that multi-culturalism works?

By itself, no, but it could be read as making some interesting points about the impact that experience of diversity has on the likelihood of people to support far-right, anti-immigration parties, such as the BNP. The Animal’s chart doesn’t tell us anything particularly new – it is a well known fact that the BNP does best in heavily white areas – but after inputting the data for it, I was surprised at just how strong the correlation was. The chart plots the proportion of the population in each London ward that is of white ethnicity (caveat emptor: these figures are from the 2001 census. From a social scientist’s perspective, 2011 just can’t come soon enough) against the vote share achieved by the BNP in the cross-London Assembly list section of the May 2008 elections. This is probably the most appropriate election to use, as it requires voters to select a party, rather than a candidate, thus removing mostpersonality factors: this was also the BNP’s strongest section, with their overall vote share narrowly propelling Richard Barnbrook into the London Assembly.

My second chart confirms the picture hinted at by the first:


So, what should we take away from these figures? Well, the left hand end of both charts certainly isn’t a surprise. I think it’s pretty much a given that, barring the inevitable few exceptions, the BNP’s voter base is white. So, in wards where the white population is less than a fifth of the total population (London’s lowest is in Ealing’s Southall Broadway ward, with 11.8% white), the party is going to find it impossible to build up much of a voter base.  And this is borne out by the figures: in the second decile of wards (the first is empty), the BNP struggles to achieve a 2% mean vote share.

It’s further to the right (so to speak) that things get more interesting. After all, if we are to believe the BNP’s rhetoric, mass immigration, multi-culturalism and diversity are contributing to making London an unliveable hell-hole for the ‘indigenous’ white population. So surely, where the BNP ought to be harvesting its vote are those areas with a large ‘non-indigenous’ population, but where there is also a significant, apparently downtrodden white population, watching in envy as the goddam forriners (of the first, second, fourth, fifth or whatever generation) lap up the jobs, benefits, government handouts, houses, school places, hospital beds, women and the last Rollo in the tube? Well, er, no actually. The figures suggest, quite simply, that familiarity breeds not contempt, but acceptance.

Across London, the average proportion of the population that is of white ethnicity is (or was) 71.8% – but in wards with a 70-80% white population, the BNP vote averages at 4.15%, significantly below the 5.42% they achieved across London as a whole. And whilst there is a very slight increase (to 4.36%) in the decile immediately below, the average vote share stays within the same range or below for all wards with an above average non-white population. Contrary to what the BNP’s rhetoric ought to suggest, it is in wards with an above average white population that see much higher average vote shares for the party.

The scatter graph demonstrates this phenomena still better. In 102 wards, the BNP achieved a vote share in excess of 10%, but only 10 of these were wards with an above-average (for London) non-white population. In 18 wards, the vote share was above 20%: these wards have a mean white population of 90.7%. The BNP’s highest vote share (38.47%) was achieved in Barking & Dagenham’s Mayesbrook ward, which is 92.58% white. For the BNP to achive above a 20% vote share in London, a prequisite seems to be that the ward’s population should be at least 80% white. It should be noted that all of the wards with an above 20% vote share are in just two boroughs (Barking & Dagenham and Havering). There is, however, a much broader range of boroughs, mainly from outer London, represented in the 10-20% range.

The correlation isn’t perfect, of course. It is clear from the graph that in the majority of wards, the BNP polls in low single figures, regardless of their ethnic makeup. Indeed, the party’s worst result was 0.69% achieved in Garden Suburb ward in Barnet, which is 84.6% white. This particular case, however, is likely to be explicable by 37.1% of the ward’s population being Jewish, a group with just as much reason to avoid the far right.

So, is the BNP’s limited success a result of ghettoisation and manufactured fear of the ‘other’? To an extent I feel it is, particularly in London. That isn’t to say there aren’t a myriad of other issues that feed into the distribution of support – the decline in manufacturing, the feeling of abandonment from both Labour and Conservative traditional supporters, genuine concerns about the effects of neo-liberal globalisation (the inadvertent defence of which is a very easy trap into which anti-racists can fall). But broadly speaking, the patterns in the graphs above suggest that diverse societies are popular with the people who live in them, but are viewed with suspicion by those on the fringes. And that suspicion is fertile ground for extremists and peddlers of hate.



  1. Interesting post, Animal. Perhaps moving BME people into Barking would reduce the vote for the BNP. While one always has to be wary of confusion correlation with causation, the closeness of mean BNP vote for the third to eighth deciles suggests to me that, as you say, this is an issue of the BNP conflating race with what are fundamentally socioeconomic issues in Barking, Dagenham etc.

    I’d be interested to see if the correlation was as strong if you factored in turnout. My suspicion is that disenchantment with Labour, Conservative & Liberals leads to people staying at home (rather than voting BNP) meaning that the effect of those who do vote BNP is magnified.

    Is there any chance you could post (or send me) the raw data?

    Comment by Dave Cole — March 4, 2009 @ 3:06 pm | Reply

  2. “Perhaps moving BME people into Barking would reduce the vote for the BNP.”
    In the long term, I think it would. The problem is, it would be so controversial in the short term (they’re taking our houses!) that I think it would propel the control of the borough into the BNP’s hands. I don’t really know how you get round it – you can build as much new housing as you like in the Thames Gateway, but if the politics of an area make it look unwelcoming to BME communities, they’re probably not going to move. I suppose we can try US-style ‘busing’ to create mixed schools, but that’s pretty controversial too. I think in the end, as you say, you simply have to tackle the underlying socio-economic issues and work to uncouple the race issue.

    “Is there any chance you could post (or send me) the raw data?”
    Have emailed it to you. If anyone else would like it, leave a message.

    Comment by Political Animal — March 4, 2009 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

  3. […] support outside of about five boroughs in total is a cause for some optimism – as we noted here before, the demographic appeal of the BNP in London is limited, and there are few signs of that appeal […]

    Pingback by Party like it’s 2008 – sort of. « Confessions of a Political Animal — June 10, 2009 @ 3:46 pm | Reply

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