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National Front (UK)
|Deputy Leader||Jordan Pont|
|Founded||7 February 1967 (1967-02-07)|
The National Front (NF) is a far-right, fascist political party in the United Kingdom. It is currently led by Tony Martin. A minor party, it has never had its representatives elected to the British or European Parliaments, although it gained a small number of local councillors through defections, and it has had a few of its representatives elected to community councils. Founded in 1967, it reached the height of its electoral support during the mid-1970s, when it was briefly the UK's fourth-largest party in terms of vote share.
The NF was founded by A. K. Chesterton, formerly of the British Union of Fascists, as a merger between his League of Empire Loyalists and the British National Party. It was soon joined by the Greater Britain Movement, whose leader John Tyndall became the Front's chairman in 1972. Under Tyndall's leadership, it capitalised on growing concern about South Asian migration to Britain, rapidly increasing its membership and vote share in urban areas of East London and Northern England. Its public profile was raised through street marches and rallies, which often resulted in clashes with anti-fascist protesters, most notably the 1974 Red Lion Square disorders and the 1977 Battle of Lewisham. In 1982, Tyndall left the National Front to form a new British National Party (BNP). Many NF members defected to Tyndall's BNP, contributing to a substantial decline in the Front's electoral support. During the 1980s, the NF split in two; the Flag NF retained the older ideology, while the Official NF adopted a Third Positionist stance before disbanding in 1990. In 1995, the Flag NF's leadership transformed the party into the National Democrats, although a small splinter group retained the NF name; it continues to contest elections, albeit without success.
Ideologically positioned on the extreme right or far right of British politics, the NF has been characterised as fascist or neo-fascist by political scientists. Different factions have dominated the party at different points in its history, each with its own ideological bent, including neo-Nazis, Strasserites, and racial populists. The party espouses the ethnic nationalist view that only white people should be citizens of the United Kingdom. It calls for an end to non-white migration into the UK, with settled non-white Britons to be stripped of citizenship and deported. A white supremacist group, it promotes biological racism and the white genocide conspiracy theory, calling for global racial separatism and condemning interracial relationships and miscegenation. It espouses anti-semitic conspiracy theories, endorsing Holocaust denial and claiming that Jews dominate the world through both communism and finance capitalism. It promotes economic protectionism, Euroscepticism, and a transformation away from liberal democracy, while its social policies oppose feminism, LGBT rights, and societal permissiveness.
After the BNP, the NF has been the most successful far-right group in British politics since the Second World War. During its history, it has established sub-groups like a trade unionists' association, a youth group, and the Rock Against Communism musical organisation. Only whites are permitted membership of the party and in its heyday most of its support came from White British working and lower middle-class communities in Northern England and East London. The NF has generated much opposition from left-wing and anti-fascist groups throughout its history, and NF members are prohibited by law from membership in various professions.
The National Front began as a coalition of small far-right groups active on the fringes of British politics during the 1960s. The resolve to unite them came in early 1966 from A. K. Chesterton, the leader of the League of Empire Loyalists (LEL). He had a long history in the British fascist movement, having been a member of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in the 1930s. Over the following months, many far-rightists visited Chesterton at his Croydon apartment to discuss the proposal, among them Andrew Fountaine and Philip Maxwell of the British National Party (BNP), John Tyndall and Martin Webster of the Greater Britain Movement (GBM), and David Brown of the Racial Preservation Society (RPS). In principle, everyone agreed with the idea of unification, but personal rivalries made the process difficult.
Combining anti-Semitism and anti-communism with anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism, the LEL had filled a void on the British far-right since the 1950s but had been criticised by some far-rightists for being too elitist and failing to build a mass movement. Chesterton agreed to a merger of the LEL and BNP, and a faction of the RPS decided to join them. The BNP was eager to accelerate integration, in part because it was running out of funds. Chesterton and the BNP agreed that Tyndall's GBM would not be invited to join their new party because of its strong associations with neo-Nazism, as well as the recent arrest of Tyndall and seven other GBM members for illegal weapon possession. Chesterton also met with the neo-Nazi Colin Jordan of the National Socialist Movement, but again deemed it unwise to unite with his group. Chesterton wanted to keep his new party clear of the crude racist sloganeering he thought was holding back the far-right's electoral success; he later stated that "the man who thinks this is a war that can be won by mouthing slogans about 'dirty Jews' and 'filthy niggers' is a maniac whose place should not be in the National Front but in a mental hospital."
In October 1966, the LEL and BNP established a working committee to determine what policies the two parties could agree on; it met twice a month until February 1967. Its initial policy platform revolved around opposition to the political establishment, anti-communism, support for the white minority governments in Rhodesia and South Africa, a ban on migration into Britain, and the repatriation of all settled non-white immigrants to their ancestral nations. They considered various names for the new party, among them the "National Independence Party" and the "British Front", before settling on the "National Front" in December 1966. The National Front (NF) was founded on 7 February 1967; Chesterton became its first chairman. At the time it had approximately 2500 members: 1000 from the BNP, 300 from the LEL, and over 100 from the RPS. The historian Richard Thurlow noted that the NF's formation was "the most significant event on the radical right and fascist fringe of British politics" since the internment of the country's fascists during the Second World War.
Early growth: 1968–1972
The NF's first year was marked by a power struggle between the ex-LEL and ex-BNP factions. The ex-LEL faction were unhappy with the behaviour of ex-BNP members, such as their propensity for political chanting, while the ex-BNP faction criticised Chesterton's elitist pretensions by calling him "the Schoolmaster". At the invitation of the ex-BNP faction, in June 1967, Tyndall discontinued the GBM and called on its members to join the NF. Contravening his earlier commitment to keep him out, Chesterton welcomed Tyndall into the party. Tyndall had written a book titled Six Principles of British Nationalism in which he moved away from explicit neo-Nazism in favour of a more moderate approach; he thought this the most important factor in changing Chesterton's mind on allowing GBM members to join the NF. Tyndall's magazine, Spearhead—which was originally sold as "an organ of National Socialist [i.e. Nazi] opinion in Britain"—dropped its open commitment to neo-Nazism and backed the NF, eventually becoming the party's de facto monthly magazine. The party held its first annual conference in October 1967, which was picketed by anti-fascist demonstrators.
In 1968, Chesterton's leadership was challenged by ex-BNP member Andrew Fountaine. A leadership election produced a strong mandate for Chesterton, and his challengers left the party. Throughout this, Tyndall remained loyal to Chesterton. There were further arguments in the party after the lease ended on its Westminster headquarters. Ex-LEL members wanted another base in Central London, while the ex-GBM and ex-BNP factions favoured moving into the GBM's old headquarters, the "Nationalist Centre" in Tulse Hill. Chesterton backed the ex-LEL position, and rented a small office in Fleet Street. In April 1968, immigration became the foremost political topic in the national media after the Conservative Party politician Enoch Powell made his Rivers of Blood speech, an appeal against non-white immigration into Britain. Although Powell proposed more moderate policies for expelling migrants than the NF, his use of language was similar to theirs, and a growing number of individuals on the right wing of the Conservatives defected to the NF.
The NF fielded 45 candidates in the 1969 local elections; they averaged a vote share of 8%, although a few secured over 10%. The NF focused on these latter seats in the 1970 local elections, fielding 10 candidates: almost all received under 5% of the vote. The party had faced militant left-wing opposition, including a lorry that was driven into its Tulse Hill building in 1969, and to counter this the NF installed a spy in the London anti-fascist movement. Against Chesterton's wishes, NF activists carried out publicity stunts: in December 1968 they marched onto a London Weekend Television show uninvited, and in spring 1969 assaulted two Labour Party ministers at a public meeting, thus accruing a reputation for rowdiness. While Chesterton was holidaying in South Africa, a faction led by Gordon Brown—formerly of Tyndall's GBM—launched a leadership challenge against him. On realising that his support was weak, Chesterton resigned. He was succeeded by John O'Brien in February 1971. O'Brien and his supporters were frustrated that Tyndall and his associate Martin Webster maintained links with neo-Nazi groups like the Northern League; O'Brien unsuccessfully tried to expel Webster from the party. After this failed, O'Brien and his allies left the NF and joined John Davis's National Independence Party in June 1972.
Tyndall's first leadership: 1972–1975
Tyndall became party chairman in July 1972, centralising the NF's activities at a new Croydon headquarters. According to Thurlow, under Tyndall the NF attempted to "convert racial populists" angry about immigration "into fascists". In his history of fascism, Roger Eatwell noted that with Tyndall as chair, "the NF tried hard to hide its neo-Nazism from public view, fearing it might damage popular support." Under Tyndall, the party focused on appealing to the white working-class, and in June 1974 launched the NF Trade Unionists Association. Britain's left-wing recognised the potential threat and fought back by publicising the neo-Nazi past of senior NF members, including photographs of Tyndall wearing a Nazi uniform.
The NF capitalised on fears surrounding the arrival of Ugandan Asian refugees in 1972, resulting in rapid growth of the party's membership. Among those who joined were Conservative Monday Club members with much political experience. At the 1973 West Bromwich by-election it gained 16% of the vote, passing the 10% mark in a parliamentary election for the first time. This electoral breakthrough brought them greater media coverage. In the 1973 local elections, the party gained 23% and 16.8% in two Blackburn wards. It also nominated six candidates for that year's Greater London Council (GLC) election, gaining an average vote of 6.3%. 54 candidates were fielded at the February 1974 general election, a sufficient number to guarantee a free party political broadcast. It contested six times as many seats as in 1970, averaging a vote share of 3.2%, slightly less than in 1970. The NF fielded 90 candidates in the October 1974 general election, although none gained 10% and all lost their deposits. By the mid-1970s, the NF's membership had stagnated and in several areas declined. In the 1975 local elections they fielded 60 candidates, far fewer than in previous elections, with only five gaining over 10% of the vote. From 1975 onward the party entered a steady decline.
A faction known as the "Populists" emerged in the party under Roy Painter's leadership. They were frustrated that the NF's directorate was dominated by former BNP and GBM members and believed that Tyndall remained a neo-Nazi. They ensured that John Kingsley Read was elected chairman, with Tyndall demoted to vice chair. Growing strife between the Tyndallites and Populists broke out in the party; Read and the executive committee suspended Tyndall and nine of his supporters from the directorate, before expelling Tyndall from the party altogether. Tyndall took the issue to the High Court, where his expulsion was declared illegal. In frustration at their inability to eject Tyndall and the Tyndallites, Read and his supporters split from the NF to form the National Party (NP) in December 1975. By the end of February 1976, 29 NF branches and groups had defected to the NP, although 101 remained loyal.
Tyndall's second leadership: 1976–1982
In February 1976, Tyndall was restored as the NF leader. The party then capitalised on public anger at the government's agreement to accept Malawian Asian refugees, holding demonstrations to protest the migrants' arrival in the UK. After a resurgence in fortunes for the party in London at the 1977 GLC election, where it improved on its October 1974 general election result, it planned further marches in the city. This included a march through the south-eastern area of Lewisham in August 1977. Their procession was countered by a rival protest, leading to clashes later called the "Battle of Lewisham".
In the 1979 general election, the NF contested the largest number of seats of any insurgent party since Labour in 1918. In the election, it nevertheless "flopped dismally", securing only 1.3% of the total vote, down from 3.1% in the October 1974 general election. This decline may have been due to the increased anti-fascist campaigning of the previous few years, or because the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher had attracted many of the votes that previously went to the Front with its increasingly tough stance on immigration. NF membership had also declined.
Although Tyndall and Webster had been longstanding comrades, in the late 1970s Tyndall began blaming his old friend for the party's problems. Tyndall was upset with Webster's attempts to encourage more skinheads and football hooligans to join the party, as well as allegations that Webster had been making sexual advances toward the party's young men. In October 1979 he urged the NF directorate to call for Webster's resignation, which they refused to do. Tyndall responded by resigning in January 1980. In June 1980, Tyndall founded the New National Front (NNF), which claimed that a third of the NF's membership defected to them.
Strasserites and the Flag Group: 1983–1990
After Tyndall's departure, Webster became party chair, but was ousted in 1983 by a new faction led by Nick Griffin and Joe Pearce. In May 1985, this faction—who adhered to the Strasserite variant of Nazism—secured control of the party's directorate and suspended the membership of their opponents. Their focus was not on attracting electoral support but on developing an activist elite consisting largely of tough working-class urban youths, particularly from the skinhead subculture; its supporters became known as "Political Soldiers". The Strasserites officially reformulated their party along a centralised cadre system at the November 1986 AGM. Their ideology was influenced by their strong links with members of an Italian fascist militia, the Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari (NAR), who were then hiding in London as fugitives after committing the Bologna massacre. Like the NAR, the NF Strasserites emphasised the far-right ideology of the Third Position, which they presented as being opposed to both capitalism and Marxist-oriented socialism. They were also influenced by the Nouvelle Droite, a French far-right movement that advocated long-term strategies of cultural influence to achieve their goals.
The Strasserites described themselves as "radical, youthful and successful", contrasting their approach with the "out-dated conservative policies" of their internal opponents, whom they claimed wanted the NF to be a "reactionary anti-immigrant pressure group". These opponents then formed a rival organisation, the Flag Group, which officially adopted the name "National Front" in January 1987. According to Eatwell, the Flag NF "was essentially a continuation of the racial-populist tradition" used by earlier forms of the party. It had a greater number of working-class leaders than the Strasserite group and accused the latter of being intellectuals self-indulgently pursuing foreign ideological fads. There remained two organisations claiming the name of National Front—that controlled by the Flag Group and the Official National Front run by the Strasserites—until early 1990. In contrast to the Strasserite NF's increased centralisation as a response to perceived state repression, the Flag Group gave autonomy to its branches, seeking to focus on local issues. Following the NF's declining vote share in the late 1970s, both groups had effectively abandoned interest in electoral participation.
Reflecting the Nouvelle Droite's influence, the Strasserite Official NF promoted support for "a broad front of racialists of all colours" who were seeking an end to multi-racial society and capitalism, praising black nationalists like Louis Farrakhan and Marcus Garvey. Their publication, Nationalism Today, featured positive articles on the governments of Libya and Iran, presenting them as part of a global anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist third force in international politics. This may have had tactical as well as ideological motivations, with Libya and Iran viewed as potential sources of funding. This new rhetoric and ideology alienated much of the NF's rank-and-file membership. The Official NF experienced internal problems and in 1989 Griffin, Derek Holland, and Colin Todd split from it to establish their International Third Position group. In March 1990 the Official NF was disbanded by its leaders, Patrick Harrington, Graham Williamson, and David Kerr, who replaced it with a new organisation, the Third Way. This left the Flag Group as the only party using the National Front banner.
Further decline: 1990–present
Over the course of the 1990s, the NF was eclipsed by Tyndall's new British National Party (BNP) as the foremost vehicle on the British far-right. Following the Lansdowne Road football riot of 1995, in which English far-right hooligans attacked Irish supporters, the NF's chairman Ian Anderson sought to escape the negative associations of the name "National Front" by reforming the party as the National Democrats. A small faction broke away from this to form their own group, retaining the National Front name. This party contested the general elections in 1997 and 2001, but made little impact in either. By 2001, the NF had developed close links with Combat 18, a neo-Nazi paramilitary which had been founded by the BNP before breaking from the latter. It continued to organise rallies, several of which were banned by successive Home Secretaries.
In February 2010, a High Court decision forced the BNP to remove the clause from its constitution prohibiting non-white membership. In response, the NF claimed to have received over 1,000 membership enquiries from BNP members and said that BNP branches in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire had discussed defecting. After the English Defence League (EDL), an Islamophobic social movement, emerged in 2009, the NF pursued links but was rebuffed by the EDL, which sought to distance itself from the Front and other older far-right groups. As the EDL declined in the following years, the NF collaborated with some of the street-based far-right protest groups that had split from it, like the North West Infidels and South East Alliance. In March 2015 Kevin Bryan became the NF's chair. After Bryan was injured in a car accident, he was replaced by Aberdeen-based Dave MacDonald in November 2015, with Tony Martin taking over in September 2018.
Far-right politics, fascism, and neo-Nazism
A far right or extreme right party, the National Front had both commonalities and differences with older far-right groups. Political scientists and historians characterise it as fascist, or neo-fascist. The political psychologist Michael Billig noted that the NF displayed many of fascism's recurring traits: an emphasis on nationalism and racism, an anti-Marxist stance, statism and support for capitalism, and a hostile view of democracy and personal freedom.
The historian Martin Durham stated that the NF—like France's National Front and Germany's The Republicans—represented "the direct descendants of classical fascism". The NF rejected the term "fascist" to describe itself. As well as denying its leaders' previous fascist activities, it claimed that it could not be fascist because it took part in elections. The political scientist Stan Taylor argued that this claim was obsolete, for many previous fascist parties—including the British Union of Fascists, the German Nazi Party, and the Italian National Fascist Party—also stood in elections. In avoiding the "fascist" label, the NF was typical of fascist groups operating after the Second World War; these post-war fascists had to contend with the legacy of the war and the Holocaust, and thus tried to hide their intellectual pedigrees from voters. The NF's founders tried to present it as a nationalist party unconnected to historical fascism, recognising that this would be vital if it were to succeed as an electoral force.
As with other politically extreme groups, the image the Front presented to the public was a limited and more moderate version of the ideology of its inner core of members. As noted by Billig, the NF's "ideological core, and its genocidal tendencies, are hidden" so as not to scare off potential recruits sympathetic to its nationalism and anti-immigration stance but not its anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. While noting that its views on race departed considerably "from what is normal or acceptable to the average citizen" in the UK, the political scientist Nigel Fielding observed that many of its other views were grounded in what would be considered "popular common-sense opinion" across the political right. In the 1970s, several NF policies were close to the views common on the right-wing of the Conservative Party, although Tyndall distanced the NF from conservatism, stating in Spearhead that his party did not stand "for some kind of super-reactionary conservatism — more Tory than the Tories", but was a revolutionary force pursuing a radical transformation of Britain.
During its history, the NF contained various factions with distinct ideological positions. From the party's early days until the 1980 Tyndall/Webster split, its ideology and propaganda output was dominated by the ex-GBM faction. According to Wilkinson, this faction's leadership was "deeply imbued with Nazi ideas" and retained "intimate connections with small Neo-Nazi cells in Britain and abroad". According to Thurlow, the ex-GBM faction oversaw "an attempt to portray the essentials of Nazi ideology in more rational language and seemingly reasonable arguments". He added that the party's leadership in this period displayed a "barely concealed Nazism", and that they treated the party as a means by which to attract those with anti-immigrant sentiments and "convert" them "into fascists". Taylor also regarded the 1970s NF as a Nazi outfit because of its specific fixation on anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, a feature not present in all fascist groups. In his words, the NF's "full ideology" was, "in a large number of respects", identical to the original German Nazism.
In the late 1970s, the "Populist" faction grew and challenged the ex-GBM faction's dominance; according to Thurlow, its members were "pseudo-Conservative racial populists", representing the party's "non-fascist and ostensibly more democratic element". After Tyndall and Webster were ousted and replaced by Brons and Anderson, a new faction took control of the party whose members regarded themselves as Strasserite, drawing inspiration from German Nazi Party members Otto Strasser and Gregor Strasser. This faction embraced the Third Position ideology and drew inspiration from Gaddafi's Third International Theory; their views have also been characterised as National Bolshevist.
Ethnic nationalism and racism
The National Front is a British nationalist party, and in its early policy statements declared that it "pledged to work for the restoration of full national sovereignty for Britain in all affairs". It rejected internationalism and thus opposed both liberalism and communism, contrasting their internationalist espousal of universal values with its view that different nations should have their own distinct values. Labelling itself a racial nationalist party, the NF's concept of nationalism was bound up with that of race. NF members typically referred to themselves as "racialists", while Durham stated that the NF was "undeniably a racist organisation". It claimed that humanity divides up into biologically distinct races with their own physical and social characteristics. Although some of its published material referred purely to a division between "white" and "black" races, elsewhere it referred to a wider array of racial groups, among them the "Nordics", "Caucasoids", "Negroids", "Semites", and "Turco-Armonoids". It claimed that within racial groups can be found "nations", a form of "race within a race"; many party activists nevertheless used the terms "race" and "nation" interchangeably.
The NF claimed the existence of a distinct British racial "nation", all the members of which shared common interests; Welsh nationalism and Scottish nationalism were condemned as threats to British racial unity. It viewed class as a false and needless distinction among the British race, rejecting the concept of class war as "nonsense", and—like most fascist groups—tried to attract support across class boundaries. For the NF, patriotism was deemed essential to the cohesion and morale of the British nation, with nationalism being regarded as a vital component of patriotism. Members of the National Front regarded themselves as British patriots, and the party made heavy use of British patriotic symbolism, such as that of the Union flag and of Remembrance Day.
Fielding believed that the "dialectic of insiders and outsiders" was the "linchpin of its ideology", and noted that the NF's "rigid boundaries between in-group and out-group" was typical of the far-right. In its 1974 electoral manifesto, the NF called for a "vigorous birth-rate" among the white British, claiming that any ensuing overpopulation of the UK could be resolved by emigration to the British Commonwealth. Tyndall defended Nazi Germany's lebensraum policy, and under his leadership the NF promoted imperialist views about expanding British territory to serve as "living space" for the country's growing population. As of 1979, the party was combining this policy with eugenicist ideas, calling for the improvement of the quality as well as the quantity of the white British racial group. By 2011, the party's website was utilising the Fourteen Words slogan: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."
The National Front is a white supremacist party. Rejecting the concept of racial equality, it argued that different races can be ranked on a hierarchy based on differing abilities. It believed that the "higher races" struggle against one another for world domination, and that racial segregation was natural and ordained by God. It promoted the conspiracy theory that non-whites were intentionally encouraged to migrate to Britain and other white-majority countries to breed with the indigenous inhabitants and thus bring about "white genocide" through assimilation. It opposed inter-racial marriage and miscegenation—typically referring to the latter as "mongrelisation"—and displayed particular anxiety about black men seducing white women.
The NF claimed that most non-white racial groups were genetically inferior to "Caucasoids and Mongoloids". It claimed that whites are inherently superior to blacks, with the latter contributing nothing to humanity. In the mid-1970s, Tyndall used Spearhead to claim that "the negro has a smaller brain and a much less complex cerebral structure" than white Europeans; in the early 1980s, Nationalism Today carried articles maintaining that black Africans had lower average IQs than white Europeans and thus were unfit "to go to white schools" or "live in white society". In depicting black people, the NF promoted what Billig characterised as "an image of savagery and primitiveness"; its published material presented black people as dirty and unhygienic, infected with disease, and incapable of governing themselves. Spearhead featured references to black people being cannibals, and at least one article claimed they ate dirt and faeces.
The NF claimed its racial prejudice arose from a natural human desire for racial preservation rather than mere hatred; thus, it sought to present itself as being more than a hate group. The party wanted to establish academic support for its racial views, placing great importance on scientific racist publications. Its booklist offered academic and quasi-academic books endorsing scientific racism, and early party literature regularly referenced the work of Hans Eysenck, William Shockley, Arthur Jensen, and Richard Herrnstein. Spearhead and other NF publications repeatedly cited articles from the scientific racist journal Mankind Quarterly. In citing these studies, the party claimed that its views were scientific and that those who rejected them were not. Fielding nevertheless observed that the NF's racial views rely "as much on blind assertion, on faith, as on 'scientific' sources".
Anti-immigrationism and repatriation
The cornerstone of the National Front's manifesto since 1974 has been the compulsory deportation of all non-white immigrants, along with their descendants, as well as the white British partners in mixed-race relationships. It stated that the "repatriation" process could take ten years, adding that before deportation, non-whites would be stripped of British citizenship and placed behind white Britons when it comes to access to welfare, education, and housing. It accompanied this with a call to prohibit future non-white migration to Britain. In the 1970s, the NF stated that it did not oppose the arrival of white immigrants from Commonwealth countries, but called for "firm controls" on the migration of whites from elsewhere.
During its first decade, the party emphasised the claim that it was the politicians who enabled immigration—rather than migrants themselves—who were to blame. In 1969, it stated: "Your enemies are not the coloured immigrants, but the British government which let them come in hundreds of thousands." The NF claimed that non-white migration to Britain was masterminded by communists and promoted by the Labour Party, who believed it would boost their vote, and the Conservative Party, who saw migrants as cheap labour. Its early manifestos and other publications generally avoided describing non-whites with derogatory terms like "wog" or "nigger", although such language was used at party rallies. As it developed, the NF press included racially inflammatory headlines like "Black Savages Terrorize Old Folk" and "Asians Import Bizarre Sex-Murder Rites", also comparing non-white migrants with vermin by describing areas with large African and Asian communities as "immigrant-infested".
The NF linked other political themes to race and immigration, and targeted concerns among the white British population about immigrants being competition for jobs, housing, and welfare. Among the "standard forms of NF propaganda" was the claim that immigrants carried diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis, that they placed a heavy burden on the National Health Service (NHS), and that incompetent and poorly trained migrant staff were detrimental to the NHS. It maintained that school quality was eroded by black pupils, that the employment of black workers left many whites unemployed, and that blacks were a source of crime. It claimed that immigrants evaded taxes, and that they were arrogant, aggressive, and unhygienic in the workplace. This anti-immigrant discourse was similar to that employed against Ashkenazi Jewish migrants in the late 19th century and also echoed the response to gypsies and Huguenots in 17th-century England.
The NF is anti-Semitic. It claimed that Jews form a biologically distinct race—one of the world's "higher races"—and that they seek to destroy the white "Caucasoid" race by encouraging internal divisions within it and by promoting internationalism and miscegenation to weaken it through racial mixing. This Jewish cabal, the NF argued, orchestrated non-white migration into Britain. The party claimed that the Jewish race did this to plunge other "higher races" in disarray so that they would be left dominant. As related in Spearhead, this achieved, "the Jewish nation would be the only surviving ethnically identifiable population group amid a mongrelised world population", the latter being easier for the Jewish cabal to control. This is a conspiracy theory, and owes much to the 19th century Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian anti-Semitic forgery. It is virtually identical to claims previously articulated by the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Whereas the BUF was explicit in presenting this global conspiracy as being run by Jews, the NF—aware of considerable public disapproval of anti-Semitism following the Holocaust—was more circumspect, using code-words like "Money Power", "internationalist", "cosmopolitan", "alien", "rootless", "shifty", "money-lenders", and "usurers" in place of "Jews".
In the 1970s, the NF rejected the characterisation of its policies as "anti-Semitism". Instead, it called itself "anti-Zionist", claiming that it only opposed "Zionists" rather than all Jews. Within the NF, the word "Zionism" is not used in the commonly understood manner—to describe the ideology promoting the formation of a Jewish state—but rather applied to the Jewish cabal secretly manipulating the world. For instance, one issue of Spearhead stated that "the twin evils of International Finance and International Communism" are "perhaps better described as International Zionism". Fielding observed that in the party, the term "Zionist" was used indiscriminately and without precision, often against any of its critics.
Many of the Front's central members—among them Chesterton, Tyndall, and Webster—had a long history of anti-Semitic activity before joining the party. For instance, in 1963, Tyndall claimed that "Jewry is a world pest wherever it is found in the world today. The Jews are more clever and more financially powerful than other people and have to be eradicated before they destroy the Aryan peoples." In an early edition of Spearhead, Tyndall stated: "if Britain were to become Jew-clean she would have no nigger neighbours to worry about... It is the Jews who are our misfortune: T-h-e J-e-w-s. Do you hear me? THE JEWS?" While some of its senior members had previously called for a genocide of the Jews, the party itself engaged in Holocaust denial, referring to the Holocaust as "the six million myth" in its literature. In promoting Holocaust denial, NF members might be trying to rehabilitate Hitler and the Nazi regime among the British population. It is possible that most senior NF figures were aware that the Holocaust really happened, but denied its occurrence for tactical reasons.
Government and the state
According to Fielding, the NF's commitment to parliamentary democracy was "not ideological but functional." During the 1970s, the Front alleged that the UK's liberal democracy was "bogus democracy" and declared that it would forge "a genuinely democratic political system", introducing public referenda on major issues. In making claims such as that "true democracy is that which is representative of the will of the people", the latter being presented as a monolithic entity, the NF engaged in populist rhetoric. Fielding nevertheless believed that "the essence of the NF ideology is incompatible with democracy" and instead reflects an "elitist tendency" quite at odds with the "populist rhetoric" that it used to promote its message.
The NF saw democracy as a luxury that was subordinate to the cause of preserving the nation. In Spearhead, Tyndall stated that although he would support parliamentary democracy if he thought it in the national interest, "the survival, and the national recovery of Britain stand as top priority over all. We will support whatever political methods are necessary to attain that end." He called for governance by a strong leader, an individual unencumbered by political parties and elections so that they could focus on the national interest rather than the interests of sub-groups or short-term considerations. In Spearhead, Tyndall stated that "it is only in banana republics, where the 'sophisticated' Western institutions of a multi- or two-party system, powerful trade unions and a 'free' press have not yet taken root, that there is still scope for men of real personality and decision to emerge and truly lead." It also expressed support for the retention of the British monarchy, while Fielding believed that had the NF achieved political office it would have marginalised parliament and governed in a totalitarian manner.
Under the party's Strasserite leadership during the 1980s, the NF adopted a radically different position on governance, influenced heavily by the Third International Theory propounded by Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi in The Green Book. It promoted the establishment of communal political structures, with street councils, area councils, county councils, and a National People's Council "for each of the British Nations". In its view of this future, the British population would be armed and trained in military tactics, allowing for the establishment of local militias rather than a state-controlled professional army.
International institutions and relations
The Front opposed UK membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), deeming it a threat to British national sovereignty, and seeing the EEC as part of the international Jewish conspiracy's plan for a one world government. In March 1975 it sought affiliation with the National Referendum Campaign (NRC), then campaigning for the UK to leave the EEC in that year's referendum. After the NRC rejected the offer, NF members disrupted an NRC meeting at London's Conway Hall. To replace the EEC, the NF called for stronger UK links with the "White countries" of the British Commonwealth, namely Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but also the white-minority governments of Rhodesia and South Africa. According to the Front, this would "strengthen the ethnic, cultural and family ties between peoples of British stock all over the world". It stated that an NF-led UK would not remain allied to the United States because the latter was dominated by the Jewish world conspiracy, and called for withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, with Britain instead boosting its defensive capabilities by producing more nuclear weapons. It also called for withdrawal from the United Nations, claiming that the organisation was a "major weapon of International Finance" and unduly impacted by a "Communist and AfroAsian [sic] influence".
During the 1970s the Front was British unionist, advocating for the unity of the United Kingdom. From the late 1960s onward, it supported the Ulster Unionists, deeming Irish republicanism a communist conspiracy to undermine British unity. As NF leader, Tyndall insisted that Britain must "destroy [Irish] republicanism, not just violent republicanism – as represented by the IRA – but republicanism in every shape and form". The NF argued that the UK had been too soft in dealing with militant Irish republicans; it argued that military courts should replace civil ones, that IRA members should be interned, and that those guilty of sabotage or murder should be executed. In the early 1970s it alleged that the Irish Republic was harbouring republican militants, "an act of war" that required trade sanctions. In the 1970s the NF endorsed the right-wing Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party, but many Ulster Unionists were suspicious of the NF; in 1973 the Ulster Defence Association proscribed it as "a neo-Nazi movement". In 1985—by which time Strasserites dominated the NF—it called on Northern Ireland to unilaterally declare independence from the UK in response to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
During the 1970s, the Front claimed to be neither capitalist nor socialist, advocating an economic system drawing on both. It endorsed private enterprise but rejected laissez-faire capitalism, claiming that the latter places the interests of business above that of the nation. It promoted economic nationalism, calling for maximum national self-sufficiency and a rejection of international free trade. In this, it wanted to separate Britain from the international financial system, which it believed was controlled by the Jewish conspiracy. The NF opposed foreign ownership of British industry, arguing that North Sea Oil production should only be in the hands of British companies. Its policies were protectionist and monetarist, advocating the state control of banking and financial services, and calling for a state bank to provide interest free loans to fund the construction of municipal housing. These economic views were common across Britain's far-right, for instance being akin to those of Oswald Mosley and his BUF. Its opposition to unrestricted free markets led various Conservatives to regard it as a socialist party, a classification not endorsed by academic observers.
After the Strasserite faction took control of the party in the 1980s, it adopted distributist policies, maintaining the emphasis on an economic system neither capitalist nor socialist. In the party's material from 1980, it claimed that "Capitalism and Communism" were "twin evils" to be overcome by "Revolutionary Nationalism". In keeping with the Strasserite's distributist doctrine, the 1980s NF called for all large business and industry to be broken up and redistributed into a tripartite system: small privately owned enterprises, workers' co-operatives, and—in the case of financial institutions and heavy industry—nationalised enterprises. Retaining the party's longstanding economic nationalism, the Strasserite leadership called for the abolition of the stock exchange, with the introduction of import controls and bans on the export of capital. As a solution to unemployment, the party stated that it would encourage urban-to-rural migration, with heavily mechanised agriculture being replaced by small, privately owned, labour-intensive farms. This policy was likely influenced by the far-right's general antipathy toward urban living and its belief in the superiority of rural life.
The NF adopted a strong anti-permissive stance, claiming that what it perceived as the growing permissiveness of British society was orchestrated by the Jewish conspiracy. Tyndall called for a moral "regeneration" penetrating "every sphere of work and leisure", with an NF government criminalising "the promotion of art, literature or entertainment by which public moral standards might be endangered". Although it placed little importance on religion, during the 1970s, the party claimed that God had set forth absolute moral values. While it endorsed Ulster loyalism it did not share its emphasis on defending Protestantism.
The party is anti-feminist, and highly critical of changes to traditional gender roles: Spearhead stated that the NF saw "the feminine role as principally one of wife, mother and home maker". In the party's first year, it largely ignored the 1967 Abortion Act that legalised abortion in Britain, although by 1974 had adopted an anti-abortion stance, stating that abortions should only be legal in medical emergencies. According to Tyndall, the legalisation of abortion was part of a conspiracy to reduce the white British birth rate. The issue decreased in resonance within the party during the early 1980s but was re-emphasised when the Strasserites took control. The party censured homosexuality, mixed race marriages, and prostitution.
In the 1970s, the NF claimed that the teaching profession was full of communists and stated that under an NF government all teachers deemed unsuitable would be fired. That decade, the party stressed its belief that education should be suited to the varying academic abilities of different students although did not outright condemn the comprehensive school system. It called for greater emphasis on examinations and sporting competitions, with a rejection of "slapdash Leftwing-inspired teaching fads". It stated that it would emphasise the teaching of British history to encourage patriotic sentiment, while expanding the place of science and technology in the curriculum at the expense of the social sciences.
The Front exalted self-sufficiency, asserting that the individual should be willing to serve the state and that citizens' rights should be subordinate to their duties. During the 1970s, the Front expressed opposition to the UK's welfare state as it then existed, stating that it wanted to end the perception of the UK as a "loafer's paradise". Since its early years, the NF promoted a tough stance on law and order, calling for harsher sentences for criminals, tougher prisons, and the reintroduction of both capital punishment, and national service. It rejected the idea that an individual's misdeeds should be attributed to their societal background, placing an emphasis on self-responsibility. The party focused on crimes committed by black people and migrants, and linked racially integrated schools with crime, saying that "every white parent whose children attend racially integrated schools" would be aware of "negro crime ... Rapes, muggings, and even murder".
Organisation and structure
Leadership and branches
In its 1970s heyday, the National Front was headed by its directorate, a body of seven to twenty party members. With strict control over local and regional organisations, the directorate determined party policy, controlled its structures and finances, oversaw admissions and expulsions, and determined tactics. A third of the directorate were required to stand down every year, with a postal ballot of the membership to determine their replacements. Between 1971 and 1975, the directorate elected two of its members to be the most senior figures in the party, the chairman and deputy chairman. However, at the 1977 annual general meeting it agreed—at Tyndall's instigation—that the chairman would instead be elected through a postal ballot of the membership. As the directorate met in London infrequently, in practice the running of the party was left to the chairman and deputy chairman.
The NF's local presence divided into "groups", which had under twelve members, and "branches", which had over twelve. Fielding stated that in July 1973 the party had 32 branches and 80 groups, while the journalist Martin Walker claimed that in January 1974, it had 30 branches and 54 groups. The majority were in south-east England, with 11 branches and 8 groups in Greater London and 5 branches and 22 groups elsewhere in the south-east. It had five branches and 3 groups in the midlands, 7 branches and 11 groups in the north, 1 branch and 7 groups in western Britain, and one group each in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Each branch or group had its own five-person committee, with annual elections for the committee positions. Branch meetings typically took place in pubs, and were preoccupied largely with practical issues like raising finances. Some NF branches established supporters' associations for individuals who backed the NF but were not willing to become members out of fear of repercussions. In April 1974, the party introduced regional councils to co-ordinate between the national party and its local groups and branches.
Supporter organisations were established among white communities of British descent elsewhere in the world; in New Zealand in 1977 and in Australia, Canada, and South Africa in 1978. After the Strasserite faction secured control in 1986, it formally adopted a cadre system of leadership. This made the party more elitist, creating what the Strasserites called "a revolutionary cadre party – a movement run by its most dedicated and active members rather than by armchair nationalists". This was linked to the idea—promoted through a book by Holland—that each NF member should be a "political soldier", a "New Type of Man" who rejected the "materialist nightmare" of contemporary capitalist society and underwent a personal "Spiritual Revolution" through which they dedicated themselves fully to the nation.
Security and violence
The Front was preoccupied with security. During the 1970s, it created a card-index and photo file of its opponents' names and addresses. To guard its marches from anti-fascists, it formed "defence groups" largely made up of young men—by 1974 called the "Honour Guard"—whose members often carried makeshift weapons like iron bars and bicycle chains. These marches often took place in areas that had experienced high levels of immigration; in doing so the NF sought to instil fear in immigrant communities, whip up racial tensions, and generate publicity by clashing with counter-protesters, all of which it could exploit politically. These tactics have continued into more recent times. In some instances, local authorities banned its marches; in 2012, Aberdeen City Council rejected the NF's request to hold a procession down Aberdeen's Union Street on Hitler's birthday. The NF also disrupted the meetings of anti-fascist groups and mainstream politicians. In November 1975, NF activists attacked a National Council of Civil Liberties meeting at the University of Manchester, with eight people requiring hospitalisation, and in another instance stormed a Liberal Party meeting discussing the transition to black-majority rule in Rhodesia, throwing chairs and chanting "White Power".
The Front claimed that its members only resorted to violence in self-defence. On observing the group during the 1970s however, Fielding noted that "the NF uses force aggressively", and was "not above exacting revenge" on its critics. Fielding believed the most notable violent clash involving the NF was the Red Lion Square disorders in June 1974. An NF meeting at central London's Conway Hall resulted in clashes between the NF, anti-fascists, and police stationed to keep the peace; 54 demonstrators were arrested, many were injured, and one anti-fascist, Kevin Gateley, was killed. Another prominent clash took place in Lewisham, south-east London in August 1977. The NF marchers were met by a group called the All Lewisham Campaign against Racism and Fascism (ALCARAF), although Trotskyist groups regarded ALCARAF's peaceful response as ineffective and attacked the NF marchers, resulting in the "Battle of Lewisham". In April 1979, an anti-NF demonstration in Southall clashed with police seeking to keep the NF and anti-fascists apart; the violence resulted in the death of Blair Peach.
There have also been actions carried out by right-wing extremists where covert NF involvement was suspected but not proven. For instance, in February 1974, several men put up NF posters in Brighton, assaulted passers by whom they accused of being Jewish, and attacked staff at the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) bookshop. The local NF branch denied knowledge of the incident or the individuals in question. In June 1978, the Anti-Nazi League headquarters was hit by an arson attack; the slogan "NF Rules OK" was graffitied on the building. Again, the NF denied responsibility. The party's leadership showed little concern with the violent activities of such members and supporters, and openly praised some of its members convicted of violent criminal activity.
Sub-groups and propaganda output
The NF promoted its cause through various sub-groups and organisations. In June 1974, it launched the NF Trade Unionists Association, and also issued a sporadic and short-lived magazine aimed at trade unionists, The British Worker. During the 1970s it encouraged members to infiltrate other groups, such as the Hunt Saboteurs Association and ratepayers' and residents' associations, to promote the NF within them. In 1978, the party's directorate established a legal department to deal with the growing number of members being charged with inciting racial hatred under the 1976 Race Relations Act. Also in the 1970s, it formed a Student Association, and issued the student magazine Spark. The NF Student Association initially tried recruiting students on university campuses, but on having little success it refocused attention towards recruitment in schools and sixth forms. In 1978 it launched the Young National Front (YNF): membership was restricted to 14 to 25 years olds. The YNF issued a newsletter, Bulldog, and organised its own football competition between YNF teams from different cities. The YNF also encouraged young women to join the party and used sexualised imagery of its female members to attract young male recruits.
The NF observed how the left mobilised anti-fascist support through musical ventures like Rock Against Racism, and decided to employ similar techniques. In 1979, Pearce—then the YNF leader—established Rock Against Communism (RAC), through which the NF held concerts featuring neo-Nazi skinhead bands. The first RAC event was held in Conway Hall in August 1979. Tyndall and other senior NF members liked the opportunity for expanding party membership that RAC offered them, but were concerned that associations with the skinhead subculture would damage the NF's image. After Tyndall left the party, in 1982 RAC was revived with Skrewdriver as its flagship band. In 1983 the NF launched a record label, White Noise Records, which became a new means of disseminating NF ideas and an important source of revenue for several years. The RAC had difficulty finding venues willing to stage its concerts, although in 1984 it got around this by staging its first large open-air concert at the rural home of Nick Griffin's parents in Suffolk. The assembled crowd responded to Skrewdriver's performance with Nazi salutes and calls of "sieg heil" while the band's Ian Stuart responded with "Fucking right Seig Heil, fucking nigger bashing". Later in the 1980s, Skrewdriver broke from the NF and the White Noise Club to establish its own far-right music promotion network, Blood & Honour.
There was regional variation in the levels of support that the NF received during the 1970s, reflected both in the share of the vote it gained and the size and number of its branches. Paralleling the earlier support of the BUF, the NF's strength was centred heavily in England; its support was far weaker in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In England, its support clustered along the South Coast and in the cities of London and Birmingham.
The National Front was not open about its finances, but often stressed that it was short of funds and required more money to finance its operations. It is likely that in its heyday, it had just enough money to pay for its two full-time officials, three head office secretaries, and party expenses. Its central funds came from several main sources: membership dues, the sale of its publications, donations, and lotteries. During the 1970s, branches were given financial targets they were expected to attain through selling Spearhead and the NF's newssheet Britain First. Branches also held jumble sales and social events as a means of raising funds. Branches were not held responsible for providing funds for the party's headquarters, but were expected to finance their own candidates in election campaigns. The party also succeeded in raising additional funds during its rallies and meetings, where donations were requested from the attendees. It had several wealthy supporters, including abroad, who provided donations of up to £20,000,
The NF faced a high turnover in its membership. In 1977, Walker described the party's membership as being "like a bath with both taps running and the plughole empty. Members pour in and pour out." Fielding echoed this, stating that the NF's "stable membership" was lower than the number of people who have "passed through" it; Taylor suggested that during the 1970s, "at least 12,000" people joined and then left the party. The large number of individuals who joined and soon left the party might in part be due to the fact that many had joined on the basis of its populist appeals against immigration, only to express shock upon discovering its fascist ideology. In other cases, individuals may have left because they felt that the hardship they encountered—ostracisation by friends and colleagues, job losses, verbal abuses, and on rare occasion physical assault—became too much to endure, particularly as the party's fortunes declined in the latter 1970s.
The Front refused to officially disclose the number of members that it had. Thurlow suggested that "the most reliable estimates" were those produced by the anti-fascist investigatory magazine Searchlight. Searchlight claimed that from its origins with 4,000 members in 1968, the party reached a peak membership of 17,500 in 1972, which had declined to 10,000 in 1979, to 3,148 in 1984, and to 1,000 in January 1985. An estimate of party membership in 1989 put adherents of the Flag Group at about 3,000 and of the Strasserite faction at about 600. Thurlow noted that even at its peak in the 1970s, the Front's membership was still only half that of the BUF during its 1930s heyday.
No adequate sociological sampling of NF members took place, but interviews with members were carried out during the 1970s by Taylor, Fielding, and Billig. Max Hanna noted that as of 1973, most NF members were "from the skilled working class and lower-middle class" but that there was variation according to branch. Fielding observed that party activism was generally carried out by upper working and lower middle-class members rather than by their lower working-class and upper middle-class counterparts. Fielding also noted that the party contained individuals of all age ranges, although added that certain branches had a concentration of retirees and that men in their thirties and fifties predominated over those in their forties, suggesting that the latter were typically too preoccupied with raising families to involve themselves heavily in NF matters.
Fielding found that NF members were sensitive to ideas that they were "fascistic" or "cranky", instead thinking of themselves as "patriots" or "nationalists", but that they were not accepting of the term "racist". He noted that race was the main issue that led members to joining the Front, that they generally perceived their racial ideas to be "common sense", and that in his presence, members expressed harsh prejudices against non-white Britons. Fielding found that "ordinary members feel uneasy about Britain's present political life but cannot express why this is". A common perception among members was that life had changed for the worse in Britain and they often used the expression: "the country is going to the dogs". The members Fielding encountered widely perceived Britain's political leaders as corrupt and cruel, and displayed a tendency toward believing and espousing conspiracy theories.
Fielding believed that some of the membership were "motivated by a search for community and reassurance in a world they find difficult to understand". For some, joining the NF was a psychological act of defiance against society, while many had joined because friends and relatives had done so. Fielding suggested that the NF's moral indignation regarding perceived slackers and anti-social elements had particular appeal for upper working and lower middle-class Britons because these were the sectors of society which felt that they worked hardest for the least reward.
During the 1970s, the NF consistently attempted to attract youth, forming sub-groups to attract them. Many of the youth attracted to the group may have done so as a form of youthful rebellion, enjoying the "shock value" that party membership offered; in this they had similarities with the contemporary punk movement of the late 1970s. Ryan Shaffer stated that the party's shift away from traditional campaigning during the 1980s and its growing affiliation with neo-Nazi youth groups resulted in its appeal becoming restricted to "mostly young people".
The NF's electoral support was overwhelmingly urban and English, with little support in rural parts of England or in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. According to Walker, the 1974 election results suggested that at the time the NF's electoral heartlands were in London's East End and in Inner London's north-east suburbs. He noted that it typically gained much support from "respectable working-class" areas, where many traditional Labour voters who felt let down by Labour governments were attracted by its racial appeals.
Examining the party's East End support in greater depth, the sociologist Christopher T. Husbands argued that NF support was not evenly distributed across the region, but was constrained to the two or three square miles containing Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, Hoxton, and Haggerston. He noted that even in urban strongholds such as these, "only a minority" of white residents sympathised with the NF. A 1978 survey in the East End by New Society found that while most white residents thought the immigration rate too high, many related positive encounters and friendships with Afro-Caribbean and Asian migrants and opposed the NF. A number mocked the Front, although were cautious about doing so publicly, fearing violent retaliation.
A 1977 survey conducted by Essex University found that 8% of those polled were likely to vote for the Front, and that the party had "strong support amongst the working class, the young and the poorly educated". This survey found that support for the party was strongest in the East Midlands (10%), followed by London (8%), East Anglia (7%), the West Midlands (6%), and then Yorkshire and Humberside (6%). A report published in 1980 instead found that Greater London and the West Midlands were the NF's greatest areas of support, together making up 48% of its national vote share. However, this study similarly found a strong link to class, with 72% of NF supporters being working class; it noted that support was "somewhat stronger among the skilled working class than among the semi- and unskilled workers." This study also found that 71% of the NF's support came from men. The 1980 study also examined views of the NF among the broader electorate, finding that 6% would "seriously consider" voting for the NF. Two thirds of respondents believed that the NF stirred up racial tensions to advance its own cause, 64% believed that there was a Nazi element to the party, and 56% believed that the NF wanted Britain to become a dictatorship.
Various explanations for the NF's 1970s electoral growth held that it was impacted by the levels of non-white immigration into an area. One argument was that areas with large non-white immigrant communities were most susceptible to NF support; according to this view, the higher the non-white population, the higher the resentment among local whites and the greater the support for the NF. An alternate explanation is that the NF did particularly well in areas where the non-white population was moderately sized rather than large; according to this, local whites turned to the NF because they were fearful that the area's non-white population would grow larger, particularly if neighbouring areas already had large non-white populations.
On examining voting data from the 1977 Greater London Council election, the political scientist Paul Whiteley argued that the NF's vote share was best explained by the "working-class authoritarianism" phenomenon examined in the United States by S. M. Lipset. Christopher Husbands instead believed that the "territorial sensitivity" prevalent in English working-class culture was key. He argued that this led many working-class English people to create personal identities based on their neighbourhood rather than their profession, leaving many more susceptible to far-right appeals based on location rather than leftist ones based on workplace solidarity. He argued that there were parallels with the Netherlands, where urban working-class communities had also expressed support for the far-right, although not in France, Germany, or Italy, where the urban proletariat had not offered substantial support for far-right parties.
The National Front experienced its greatest success from about 1972 to 1977. By the late 1970s, the party's support had drastically declined and in the 1980s it largely withdrew from electoral participation. The Front's emergence as an electoral force during the 1970s was an "unprecedented development" in British politics, the first time a far-right party gained so many votes. This questioned the long-held assumption that the UK electorate, unlike those of continental Europe, was "immune" to far-right appeals. Alternately, that nine-tenths of the population refused to vote for the Front in its heyday may reflect the UK's immunity to the far-right.
General and by-elections
The National Front never gained a seat in the British House of Commons. In the 1970 general election, the NF fielded ten candidates and averaged 3.6% of the vote share in those constituencies. It did better in subsequent by-elections; in the 1972 Uxbridge by-election it received 8.2% and in the 1973 West Bromwich by-election it received 16%, the first time that the party saved its electoral deposit. In the February 1974 election, 54 of its candidates averaged 3.3% of the vote, while in the October 1974 election, 90 candidates averaged 3.1%. In the October 1974 general election, the Front gained over twenty-five times as many votes as the BUF had gained at any election; this suggested that "politically speaking", fascism was "far stronger" in 1970s Britain than in 1930s Britain, making it the only country in Europe where this was the case.
In 1977 the NF contested three by-elections, gaining 5.2% of the vote in the City of London and Westminster South by-election, 8.2% in the Birmingham Stechford by-election, and 3.8% in the Ashfield by-election. In the Birmingham Stechford by-election, followed by another in Birmingham Ladywood in 1977 and in Lambeth Central in 1978, it beat the Liberals to reach third place. This was partly due to the unpopularity of Liberal leader David Steel's "Lib–Lab pact" with the Labour government. Within a few years the NF's electoral support had drastically declined; in the 1979 general election, it fielded 303 candidates and averaged 0.6% of the total national vote, losing £45,000 in deposits. In the seats it contested, it averaged 1.3% of the vote, a number which rose to 2% in the 88 constituencies it contested in Greater London. This election "marked the beginning of the end of the movement's claim to seek political legitimacy through the ballot box". In the 1983 general election, the NF fought 54 seats, averaging 1% in each; this was better than its main rival, the BNP, which gained an average of 0.6%.
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EU parliament elections
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Although performing better in local elections than in general ones, the NF never won a seat on a local council. In October 1969, two Conservative councillors on Wandsworth London Borough Council—Athlene O' Connell and Peter Mitchell—defected to the Front, but returned to the Conservatives in December. In the May 1974 London council elections, the party averaged 10% of the vote in the boroughs of Haringey, Islington, Brent, Southwark, and Lewisham, while its best result was in Hounslow. In the April 1976 council elections, the NF boosted its vote in many towns, securing 21% of the vote in Sandwell, 20.7% in Wolverhampton, 18.54% in Leicester, and 17% in Watford.
The NF made gains in the 1977 Greater London Council elections, where it contested all but one seat. Its 91 GLC candidates gained 120,000 votes, over twice the total that the party had accrued in the whole of England in 1974. In Inner London, it gained the third largest vote share. Its share of the vote in London had also increased, reflecting an average rise from 4.4% in the October 1974 general election to 5.3% in the 1977 GLC election; in some places the rise was far higher. It averaged over 10% of the vote in three boroughs: Hackney, Newham, and Tower Hamlets, challenging the Liberals' position as the third party in London. The rise in the NF's London vote between 1974 and 1977 can be explained in various ways. One possibility is that growing electoral support represented how growing numbers of working-class Londoners were turning to the NF as the party of protest against the Labour government's failure to stem urban decay. Alternately, the NF's actual voter base might not have significantly increase between 1974 and 1977, but rather their vote share increased due to a lower turnout from other parties' voters. The NF's vote share began to stagnate in the local elections from 1977 and 1978. By 1977, the party's electoral support had peaked, and by the London Borough Council elections of 1978, its support "had very noticeably declined" in the city, something that was then reflected in local elections elsewhere in the UK.
In March 2010, the NF gained its first elected representative in 35 years after John Gamble—a local councillor representing Brinsworth and Catcliffe on Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council—defected to them. He had been elected to the council in May 2008 as a representative of the BNP, before defecting to England First Party in June 2009, and then to the NF. In December 2011 he was removed from the council for failure to attend its meetings in six months, and faced disciplinary proceedings for allegedly abusing staff. In April 2012, the NF declared its intention to field 35 candidates in that year's local elections—the highest number for 30 years—aiming to revive what it called its 1970s "glory days".
The NF obtained a small number of representatives on parish councils and community councils. In 2010, Sam Clayton, a representative for Bilton and Ainsty with Bickerton Ward in Harrogate—originally elected uncontested as a BNP representative in May 2008—announced his defection to the NF. By 2011 he was no longer on the council. In May 2011 the NF gained a representative for the Langley Hill Ward of Langley Parish Council in Derbyshire, when Timothy Knowles was elected without opposition. Knowles failed to complete the necessary paperwork or turn up to any council meetings, and in September 2011 was ejected from the council. In October 2015, the NF chairman David MacDonald was elected to Garthdee Community Council in Aberdeen, securing this place with only eighteen votes; other councillors expressed concerns that this would make ethnic minorities feel intimidated to use the local community centre.
By the latter 1960s, the National Front was "the principal electoral force on the extreme right in Britain", and in 1981 Fielding noted that the NF "dominated" Britain's "extreme Right". In 1998 Durham stated that the NF and BNP had been the most significant far-right British groups since the Second World War. By 1977, the NF was England's fourth largest political party in terms of electoral support, and in some areas had threatened to replace the Liberal Party as the third largest force in British politics. This success was something which—according to Thurlow—"testified to the significance" of the immigration issue in 1970s British politics. A 1980 study by Martin Harrop, Judith England, and Christopher T. Husbands noted that the NF did not attract the levels of support enjoyed by the Liberal Party in England, the Scottish National Party in Scotland, or Plaid Cymru in Wales.
The party also proved influential in shaping new far-right subcultures; Shaffer stated that by cultivating the early white power skinhead music scene, the NF created a "cultural project" through which "neo-fascists introduced their ideology through music instead of political campaigning", helping to build the international community of white power music fans. Billig suggested that the NF's long-term importance might not have been in its recruitment or electoral achievements, but its "contribution to the continuity of an unbroken heritage" of anti-Semitism in British society, keeping anti-Semitic ideas afloat at a time when, following the Holocaust, they were at their weakest. Billig also argued that the NF might have played a role in tilting British politics to the right, encouraging the Conservatives to take a harder stance on issues like immigration under Thatcher's leadership.
During the NF's 1970s heyday, the mainstream media only occasionally paid it attention, thus contributing to its image as part of the political fringe. The NF claimed that this lack of coverage was part of a conspiracy against the party, thus presenting itself as being victimised by the media. It often had a better relationship with local newspapers, particularly in the London area, which were more likely to publish letters sent in by the NF. During the 1970s, NF branches often sought good relations with local police forces to ensure protection of NF events from protesters, in turn receiving what Fielding called "a substantial measure of co-operation from local police". While the party acknowledged sympathy for its views among the lower ranks of the police force, it maintained that the police hierarchy was part of the conspiracy against it. During the 1970s, the party had cells among prison officers at Dartmoor Prison, Strangeways, Wormwood Scrubs, and Pentonville. By 2011, both the prison service and police had forbidden their employees from being NF members.
The NF's existence provoked both the political left and the political establishment. The NF's rise in 1973–74 was noticed by the leaders of major social and political groups but they generally ignored it, hoping that depriving it of additional publicity would hasten its decline. The British Jewish community and far-left took a different approach; the Board of Deputies of British Jews for instance produced anti-NF literature. Approaches on the far-left varied: the Communist Party of Great Britain and Labour Party Young Socialists sought to mobilise the labour movement against racism to diffuse the NF's appeal, while the International Marxist Group and International Socialists/Socialist Workers Party favoured direct action to disrupt the NF, holding to the slogan: "No platform for fascists".
In 1974, the National Union of Students adopted a "no platform" policy regarding the NF, while the Labour Party forbade its candidates to share public platforms, radio, or television slots with NF candidates. 120 Labour-controlled councils banned the party from using local municipal halls. The National Union of Mineworkers called for a government ban of the party, while Labour and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) helped mobilise the trade union movement at the grassroots level against the NF. Far-left activists demonstrated outside NF meetings, encouraged landlords to bar the NF from using their premises, and in some instances physically attacked NF members. Many anti-fascists and leftists seeking to obstruct the NF were basing their strategy on a quote attributed to Hitler: "Only one thing could have stopped our movement – if our adversaries had understood its principle and from the first day smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement."
To oppose the NF, anti-fascist and anti-racist groups formed the National Co-Ordinating Committee in September 1977. In November 1977, various left and far-left groups launched the Anti-Nazi League (ANL); it gained public endorsements from several Labour politicians, trade union leaders, academics, actors, and sports people, some of whom later distanced themselves from it amid concerns that its sub-campaign, School Kids Against the Nazis, was politicising school pupils with far-left propaganda. A more moderate alternative, the Joint Committee Against Racialism (JCAR), was launched in December 1977, uniting Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Party members. In 1976 Rock Against Racism was launched, holding two well-attended music festivals in London in 1978. In 1977, the British Council of Churches assembly agreed to launch its own anti-fascist organisation: this, Christians Against Racism and Fascism, formed in January 1978. Taylor noted that by the end of 1977, an "unprecedented range of groups from almost every section of British society spreading right across the political spectrum had declared an intention to oppose the NF and the racism upon which it fed".
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- 2010 Manifesto
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