- The Washington Times - Monday, May 6, 2002

LONDON A new and slicker image, a carefully packaged message that feeds on the oxygen of publicity and a certain respect for the tactics of a renegade French rightist have combined to catapult the far-right British National Party back into the mainstream for the first time in nearly a decade.
The victories in local elections across England last week were numerically modest three town-hall seats in a racially distressed northern mill town. But these and BNP leader Nick Griffin's declaration that "this is only the start" were sufficient to send a shock wave across Britain's political landscape.
It was the strongest response since World War II to the whites-only, anti-immigration policies of the BNP and its ideological predecessor, the National Front, in a country where antagonism to immigrants legal and illegal asylum seekers and non-whites is on the rise along with racial violence and anti-Semitism.
The NF, often portrayed with good reason as a ragtag band of skinheads bent on beating up "coloreds" and other opponents, generating violence at soccer matches and painting swastikas on anything that stands still, got nowhere at the polls. The difference between the BNP and the NF is one of image.
The British National Party preaches the same message: "We, the native British people, will be an ethnic minority in our own country within 60 years." Its party manifesto advocates cash incentives to persuade immigrants to quit Britain's shores and return to their "land of ethnic origin."
The difference is that the message is being delivered not by skinheads and fists but by smartly dressed men and women with British flag pins in their lapels, targeting not only "poor whites" but civil engineers, teachers, nurses, police inspectors and insurance brokers with, remarkably, promises to "protect them from racial discrimination."
For its spiritual sustenance, the BNP had Jean-Marie Le Pen, the anti-immigrant candidate who rode the same anxieties to a place in the second round of the French presidential election yesterday. Mr. Le Pen's breakthrough had a decided impact on like-minded voters in England.
Until Thursday, the best the BNP had done was win a single seat in east London in 1993. This time it tripled its take three council seats in Burnley, a mill town that saw racial clashes between Asian and white youths last summer.
The BNP fielded 68 candidates in all, and it lost the other 65 contests. But it won 26 percent of the ballots in Burnley, as well as 27 percent in another mill town, Oldham. In all 68 races, it averaged 18 percent nearly one vote in every five.
The BNP is still far from becoming a major political player in Britain. Against the peak membership of 17,000 that made the National Front the fourth-largest party in the nation in the 1970s, the BNP's hard core probably numbers in the hundreds rather than thousands.
Still, the BNP vote "was simply the best far-right performance in English local elections since the heyday of the National Front in the late 1970s," said John Curtice, deputy director of the Center for Research into Elections and Social Trends.
Mr. Curtice said the party's pure nationalism "enables it to appeal to a wider audience to those who are unsure about Britain's place in a world subject to growing globalization, a feeling that we cannot assume is only a minority taste in a country that clearly still has a rich vein of Euroskepticism."
Nick Griffin saw it clearly enough from his viewpoint. The "ordinary white people" who shook his hand, he said, "feel our win has reduced racial tension."


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