Ukip shares more with the far right than it admits
Our research shows that despite its denials, Ukip’s policies and support base have significant similarities with those of the BNP
My colleague Jocelyn Evans and I have released a report exploring the views of over 2,000 citizens toward violence and armed conflict. The aim was to investigate whether individuals who align themselves with the far right, mainly the British National party, consider preparing for and engaging in armed conflict as “justifiable” actions, and whether they believe that violence between different ethnic, racial or religious groups is inevitable.
Our study is merely a first step into an area that remains under-researched and poorly understood. For this reason, we were careful to present it as exploratory rather than definitive, and were the first to draw attention to its limitations. But as summarised elsewhere, the findings remain striking: almost two-fifths of BNP followers viewed armed conflict as justifiable when defending the national way of life; over three-fifths agreed that violence would be needed to protect their group from threats and almost 90% of those who affiliated with Nick Griffin’s fading party agreed that inter-group violence was inevitable.
But perhaps just as striking is the response from Ukip to the report. We included a large number of Ukip supporters in the study as a rightwing “control” group to our more extreme rightwing BNP group. This owed less to a desire to discredit Ukip than to an attempt to explore variations within the increasingly crowded and fragmented territory to the right of Cameron’s conservatives. Some critics who objected to the approach had clearly not read the report, like one excitable tweeter who claimed we only talked to five Ukippers (the actual figure was 1,505). Others, such as Ukip leader Nigel Farage, wrote a letter in which he claimed the “study is not of the party, but of those who self-define as supporters”, and suggested we might have actually surveyed a group of EDL activists posing as Ukip. Conservative MEP Dan Hannan similarly dismissed the inclusion of Ukip as “ludicrous“.
These criticisms are anchored in the argument that, by including Ukip alongside the more toxic extreme right, we are staining the party by association. But those who read the report will know that we never claim Ukip is an extremist party associated with violence. Rather, from the outset we are careful to describe Ukip as a “more moderate” brand of radical rightwing politics, and acknowledge the party “would strongly reject any association with extremism and violence”. These assertions are backed up by our data: while they also appear deeply concerned about immigration and Islam, Ukip supporters are less intense and less hostile than their BNP rivals. They are also far more likely to consider violence as “never justifiable”.
At the same time, however, Ukip critics tend to ignore the fact that their party does have considerable policy overlaps with the extreme right. Like the BNP, at the last general election Ukip demanded an end to uncontrolled immigration, tighter border controls, the expulsion of illegal immigrants, the removal of benefits for remaining immigrants and an “end the active promotion of the doctrine of multiculturalism by local and national government and all publicly funded bodies”. This radical right pitch to voters included an end to political correctness and a ban on the burqa, and led Ukip to invite Geert Wilders to show an anti-Islam documentary in the House of Lords.
Ukip is not a rightwing extremist party, but on the doorsteps of voters it is often pushing the same message as the extreme right, and this is reflected in our results. Almost half of the Ukip affiliates in our survey ranked either immigration or Muslims in Britain as the most important issues facing Britain today. Over half (51%) rejected the suggestion that Britain has benefited from diversity. Almost two-fifths (37%) backed the idea of repatriating immigrants back to their country of origin, and irrespective of whether they had broken the law. Over three-fifths (64%) would feel “bothered a lot” by the presence of an Islamic institution in their community, which is over twice the national average (31%). And 85% of them disagreed with the suggestion that Islam does not pose a danger to the west, while the equivalent figure among the BNP group was only three points higher.
Nor does this perception of Islam as a threatening religion appear confined to our sample of self-identified Ukippers, as Farage might suggest. At various points, Ukip elites have voiced concern over Muslim “breeding”, party organisers have referred to “Muslim nutters”; UKIP candidates have described Islam as “degenerate”, suggested Britain forcibly repatriate Muslims and endorsed Wilders’ description of Islam as a “retarded ideology”.
Some in the Ukip camp claim that our study is flawed. But our findings are consistent with research by other academics, and also a much larger study last year that drew on a survey of over 4,000 Ukip supporters. As above, it found that a significant portion of the Ukip base closely resembled that of the BNP: while less intense, they comprise a poorer, more working-class and more deeply disconnected wing within the party that is driven not simply by Euroscepticism but also their profound concern about immigration and dissatisfaction with the three main parties. Ukip denies these associations with the radical right, but both parties are pitching a far-right formula and rallying a radical right base.