British politics changed dramatically on June 4 as British voters, sickened by the corruption of the governing Labour Party and reluctant to embrace the opposition Tories, pinned their hopes on smaller parties. Among the big winners was the British National Party (BNP), which broke through into serious politics by winning two seats in the European Parliament.
When ballots were counted three days after the vote, the first BNP victory to be announced was that of long-time nationalist activist, Andrew Brons, who won a seat in the Yorkshire and Humber region of North East England with 9.8 percent of the vote. Hours later, the British political and media establishment reacted with even greater dismay to the news that BNP leader Nick Griffin had won a second seat for the BNP in the North West region with 8 percent. (The Euro-elections are run by proportional representation. Voters vote for parties, not individual candidates, and seats are distributed accordingly.) It was a historic achievement. No British nationalist political party had ever won a parliamentary seat of any kind, and now the BNP holds two, just as BNP spokesmen were predicting.
Mr. Griffin’s victory is particularly satisfying, given the media vilification he suffered during the campaign. The press did not even try to hide its bias, routinely smearing him as a “fascist” and a “racist.” On election day the tabloid newspaper Daily Sun ran a large bright orange banner ad that blared, “Stop Nick Griffin,” with a link to an anti-BNP website run by the far-left, anti-white organization Searchlight.
On election night, a violent crowd of “anti-racist” agitators tried to prevent Mr. Griffin from attending the vote count at the Manchester town hall, surrounding his car and pelting it with eggs as they screamed, “Fascist scum.” He had to give up his car and ride to the town hall in a police van.
Mr. Griffin won by the thinnest margin, and it was 2 a.m. before officials were able to announce the result. When the BNP leader finally took the stage at Manchester town hall the other newly elected Euro-MPs walked off in protest. Undeterred, Mr. Griffin told the crowd that BNP success would “transform British politics.” Of his election, he said, “This is ordinary decent people . . . kicking back against racism, because racism in this country is now directed overwhelmingly against people who look like me.” He added: “We’re here to look after our people because no one else will. For the last 50 years, more and more of the people of Britain have watched with concern, growing dismay, and sometimes anger as an out-of-touch political elite has transformed our country before our very eyes.”
The establishment politicians reacted with typical contempt for the electorate. Sir Robert Atkins, the head of the Conservative Party list in the North West (see last month’s article on the BNP for how the Euro-elections are run), described the BNP as “an aberration” and called Mr. Griffin’s success a “sad day for British politics.” Arlene McCarthy, who headed the Labour list, told the crowd the BNP was “a party whose members include convicted rapists.” BNP supporters replied with, “Get back to the trough!” a reference to the continuing UK parliament expenses scandal, which has undermined support for the Labour Party.
At the vote count in Yorkshire, the BNP’s first Euro-MP Andrew Brons denounced the “onslaught against us” by the media and other parties. “Despite the lies, despite the money, despite the misrepresentation, we’ve been able to win through,” he said. The dapper and articulate Mr. Brons had been teaching politics and government at Harrogate College before reentering politics under the BNP banner.
Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown will face further pressure to resign after the BNP breakthrough and his own party’s meager showing in the Euro-elections. Says one unnamed senior party leader, “It is one thing to lose to the Tories, but actually to do so badly that we are letting in the fascists is quite another.” Health Secretary Andy Burnham agreed: “It is a sad moment. There are concerns about immigration. The Government have to get a response to those concerns. We have got to understand why people have voted for the BNP. We should redouble our determination to take them on and take them out of British politics.”
Although the results were overshadowed by the Euro-Parliament campaign, the BNP also broke through in county council elections held the same day, winning a seat each in Lancashire, Leicestershire, and Hertfordshire. In addition to these three seats, the BNP now has 55 town councilors and 50 borough and other local councilors. Mr. Griffin wants to make the BNP a mainstream political party, and these victories will go a long way towards achieving that goal. The party will now get government funding, which will help it contest future elections and make it harder for the media to dismiss the BNP as a fringe party and ignore its positions.
Mr. Griffin and Mr. Brons are likely to play an important role in any parliamentary group formed by European nationalists. Nationalists did well all across Europe as support for the left collapsed on the continent as it did in Britain. In Austria, the Freedom Party won 13 percent of the vote and will send two members to the European Parliament. In Denmark, Pia Kjaersgaard’s Danish People’s Party won 14.4 percent and will send two members.
Renegade Dutch politician Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party stunned the establishment by winning 17 percent of the vote and coming in just behind the ruling Christian Democrats. In Hungary, a new party called the Movement for a Better Hungary, which campaigns on the slogan “Hungary belongs to the Hungarians,” was the third-place finisher with 15 percent of the vote.
An exception to the encouraging record was the National Front in France, which saw its percentage of the vote drop from 9.8 percent in 2004 to 6.3 percent, with the result that it is sending only three Euro-MPs to Strasbourg. Martin Schulz, leader of the European Parliament’s Socialist bloc, summed up the feelings of the left: “It’s a sad evening for social democracy in Europe. We are particularly disappointed. It’s a bitter evening for us.”