The following piece is a guest post sent to me by Ivan Winters of the Democratic Nationalists Party - a review of Matthew Goodwin’s ‘New British Fascism: The Rise of the British National Party (BNP) (Extremism and Democracy)’.
Firstly, I would like to thank Ivan for submitting this for the attention of readers. Secondly, perhaps a little comment is necessary by way of introduction. Ivan was one of Goodwin’s interviewees, and has been an active participant in nationalist politics for a number of years. Although he is currently a member of the Democratic Nationalists, he has formerly belonged to the BNP, UKIP and the Conservative Party. It is therefore interesting to see such a book reviewed by someone from within the nationalist movement itself, who possesses some insights that Goodwin, owing to his position, was not able to make. Of particular interest (from my perspective), are Ivan’s observations re Goodwin’s stereotypical assertions about the demographic characteristics of the BNP’s support base, for it is part of the mainstream mythology that almost all supporters of the BNP and nationalism more widely, are poorly educated and poor. This, if one accepts Winters’s analysis of certain wards with which he is familiar, proves to be erroneous. Indeed, it would seem that BNP canvassers avoided targeting some of the voter types and housing areas that Goodwin and others see as having been the most fruitful for the party.
Winters’s observations regarding the self-selecting nature of the sample, and the skewed impact of the small number of BNP activists interviewed (only 27), are apposite. A key point here is that individuals from professional backgrounds were reluctant to volunteer themselves for very obvious reasons, for BNP membership or support has ended the career of many an individual. In fact today, the voicing of sentiments that could be perceived as nationalist or anti-globalist, can have quite a negative impact upon your career prospects, certainly within the public sector (and that’s putting it mildly). However, to Goodwin’s credit, he did honour his agreement to anonymise his sources; so, although we may not agree with his findings or with his politics, I must tip my hat to Goodwin for his professionalism and ethics on this score.
Of course, Goodwin’s approach and methodology reveal significant flaws within the social scientific paradigm, with which all of us who have engaged in such research are familiar. Generally speaking, and unavoidably I am afraid to say, it falls quite some way short of the standards set by the natural sciences of chemistry, biology and physics, and cannot therefore be adjudged to produce knowledge of a similar objectivity or value. In fact much of it, as is noted in the review below, starts off not with a view to testing its thesis to destruction à la Karl Popper, but with finding evidence supportive of the thesis, which is often of a certain (usually Marxisant) slant. Well, before boring you with a discursive lecture upon social scientific methodology (which is unpopular enough with students of its various disciplines, let alone with normal members of the general public), I lay before you Ivan’s review. I am sure that he, and indeed I, would welcome any comments. It is published without amendments and represents solely the opinion of the author (although I do generally concur).
A review of ‘New British Fascism Rise of the British National Party’ by Matthew J. Goodwin. ISBN 978-0-415-46501-4. By Ivan Winters, Democratic Nationalists Party.The first time I heard that Matthew Goodwin had published this book was when it was mentioned on Eddy Butler's blog. Eddy also mentioned that he was among the sample of Nationalists that Goodwin interviewed for this book. Actually Eddy both myself and Jim Lewthwaite were also interviewed for this book. Goodwin told us he was doing the interviews as part of a research thesis while he was at the University of Manchester. Since then he has moved on to be a politics lecturer at the University of Nottingham and the 'thesis' is now a 235 page book. If you think his name is familiar then, Yes, he is often interviewed on TV (usually the BBC) as the resident 'expert' on the British political far right.
The book is of course in some respects behind the curve as it talks of the growth of the BNP while we are now witnessing the (terminal ?) decline of the BNP. The book is well written in clear readable English. Despite having been written by what is effectively a social scientist there is little use of bizarre concepts or unintelligible theory names. There are a few typos but this is normal in modern printed material. Most publishers do not employ large numbers of proof readers because of labour costs (unlike H & D with it's excellent volunteer proof readers !) which means that if computer spell checks are used instead if a 'typo' is a valid word the system passes it.
The first three chapters of this book are a simplified history of Fascism/Nationalism in this country up until the last decade. I say 'simplified' for a reason, Goodwin has used existing sources for his 'research' and doesn't go very deep into the various parties or their leading personalities. In fact a reader can get better coverage of the NF and various splinter parties from approx 1990 to the present era using Peter Rushton's recent history series in H & D. As an example of Goodwin's failure to research in depth try this : 'join the Referendum Party, a Eurosceptic party that disintegrated shortly afterwards.' (P 133). The Referendum Party was of course a single issue Party, founded by the millionaire Sir James Goldsmith, in the run up to the 1997 General Election. The single issue the Party campaigned on was that the major parties should accept in their manifestos that Britain should not enter a single European currency without a National Referendum. By Polling Day in 1997 all three parties had accepted this. Having achieved his objective, Sir James, who was terminally ill with prostate cancer, wound up the Party (he died some six weeks later). Of course looking now at the carnage in the Eurozone the Referendum Party in 1997 may have done more for the average voter than the three major parties have achieved in 14 years since then. Because of Goodwin's sloppy research and failure to use easily accessible sources I would have to rate the first part of the book 4/10 as a Nationalist or 7/10 for non-Nationalist (a non-Nationalist would have received a basic but simplistic history lesson).
Turning to the next part of the book, chapters 4 – 6, cover the BNP's organisation, it's increasing appeal and the groups it appeals to for both voters and activists. In this section Goodwin sets out the sociological theories that he and other researchers have developed to explain the rising number of voters for National parties. He includes among 'other researchers' researchers who have looked into similar parties in Europe (FN, VB et). Having set out his theories he then goes on to produce 'evidence' to verify his opinions. In fact I hope to show, without having to make a great deal of effort, that his evidence is poor and methodology flawed !! Goodwin postulates that the main support base for Nationalist parties are the 'losers' in modern society. This includes unemployed, poorly educated, often older workers who are in semi-skilled or unskilled trades. A further factor which often applies in Nationalist 'hot spots' is exposure to immigration and the perceived competition for jobs and resources, social housing etc. Another factor which he repeats on numerous occasions is a mentality of being under threat from 'settled Muslim communities' (this is obviously different from exposure to immigration as immigration includes non-Muslims such as Poles et). Finally he suggests that the groups involved have a feeling of 'disenfranchisement', in other words they think the three major parties have failed them and are disgusted by main stream politicians involvement in such sagas as 'Expensesgate'. I can begin by correcting Goodwin on one obvious item. 'Settled Muslim communities' is a misnomer as a combination of immigration, high birth rates and aggressive behaviour towards neighbouring non Muslims as is mandated under sharia law and the Quran means that 'Expanding Muslim communities' is a better description.
I could of course at this point point out the example of the most famous Nationalist Party in history ! Despite the fact that Hitler's Nazi Party had the word 'Arbeiter' (worker) in it's title (NSDAP) Hitler achieved election on the backing of middle class German voters who were among the great 'losers' of the Weimar inflation followed by the Great Depression. Most German workers voted Communist.
Turning to Goodwin's description of typical BNP voting areas I can look at my knowledge of two Met Districts in West Yorkshire, Bradford and Kirklees. I can well remember listening to a conversation with (Kirklees BNP) Cllr's David Exley and Colin Auty. Both were talking about campaigning in their wards. They avoided campaigning in 'social housing' areas, 'the estates' because people living on the estates either were not on the Electoral Roll, or did not vote or were 'tribal' Labour voters. They canvassed the middle class owner occupied housing in their wards.
Reviewing the two Met Districts in more detail let's start in North Bradford, Worth Valley Ward. This is a rural area of some villages, hamlets and isolated terraces of houses with virtually no social housing, in fact it is 'Bronte country'. One group that Goodwin misses completely in his theories is rural voters. At one time Labour was perceived as a 'Metropolitan' Party with the Tories and Liberals contesting for the rural voters vote. Now all three parties are effectively Metropolitan parties. A further factor leading to a feeling of 'disenfranchisement' among rural voters is that under the Heath/Walker local govt reforms of '74 and more recent reforms initiated by John Prescott many rural voters were moved out of being County Council voters and now vote in 'outlying wards' of 'Unitary Authorities' or 'Met Districts'. To see a further example of this let's mention one of BNP's first success stories in Burnley MDC, Cliviger Ward. Cliviger is not an inner city ward but a village several miles out of Burnley on the road to Todmorden. As further proof of continuing rural voter support for Nationalist parties the remaining BNP Cllr in Burnley MDC (also County Cllr) is S Wilkinson who represents Padiham, a small market town several miles from Burnley.
Returning to Worth Valley Ward the Cllr fitted Goodwin's theorem, C Kirby was a brickyard worker. Moving on to Keighley West Ward this fits the theory very well with two large council estates and a Cllr, A Clarke who was a single parent either on a low income or benefits. Moving down to South Bradford we have Wibsey Ward, an area of middle class owner occupied housing with one small estate (Smith Avenue – at most 200 houses) and some Asians moving in to one end of the ward. The successful Cllr, A Redfearn was a bus driver. Then we have Wyke Ward a mixture of working class and middle class owner occupied housing with a few high value houses, some Asians moving in and two small estates (Delph Hill & St Mary's – at most 400 houses). The Cllr, J Lewthwaite was a college lecturer now working as a security officer. Between Wyke and Wibsey we have Royds Ward. This has two large estates, Woodside and Buttershaw (the film 'Rita, Sue & Bob too' was set here !) but it has remained a safe Labour Ward. Finally, in Bradford Met, we have the Nationalist stronghold of Queensbury. This Ward, like Wyke, is a mixture of working class and middle class owner occupied housing with a few high value houses. In a Ward of over 7000 houses the estate (Hungerhill) is approx 150 houses. The successful Cllrs, Paul & Lynda Cromie are self made millionaires !!
Moving down to Kirklees MDC I have already pointed out the Auty/Exley theorem of where their voter base came from. Turning to the Kirklees Cllrs Colin Auty was a self employed decorator (now a pub manager), David Exley is an electrician and the third Cllr R Roberts was a former Tory Cllr and a solicitor.
I would suggest one of the reasons why Goodwin's analysis fails to recognise the amount of BNP support among middle class, professional, academic, and monied groups is his methodology. His methodology uses a (very small – see below) sample of interviewees. This is a 'self referencing' system where some of the interviewees suggest to the interviewer other persons who the interviewer might find it 'useful' to talk with. Remember, of course, the BNP has had various 'security breaches' where professional persons who have had their BNP membership exposed have had their careers wrecked. As a result many professional persons, BNP members, who are contacted by a 'University researcher' asking to interview them for his 'thesis' are likely to say 'No' as they are worried that their confidentiality may not be respected and it could cost them their careers. In fact and to his credit Goodwin appears to have fully maintained the confidentiality of his interviewees. His interview methodology can arguably be said to have discouraged professional & academic members of the BNP from coming forward whilst unemployed and skilled/semi-skilled workers would not be deterred from being interviewed.
One alternative source of information about the employment of BNP members available in the public domain is the membership lists. Looking at the Nov 2008 list (M Single edition) we can glean a lot of info. Yes, there are no details of employment by some of the members but others are listed as 'Proof of entitlement seen' which means they are paying reduced membership dues as either pensioners, students or benefits claimants. Of the remainder there are a wide variety of employments including armed forces, professionals, academics, self employed, small business owners and some larger entrepreneurs such as S McLean. In fact that leads to another 'disenfranchised' group that Goodwin has missed. I am referring of course to current and ex-servicemen. These are people who have risked their lives for 'Queen and Country' but who now feel that the 'Military Covenant' has been disowned by the three major parties so they have to look elsewhere.
One final point about the middle section of the book is that it contains a substantial amount of statistics in one place. This includes opinion polling, comparisons of election results and a wide range of other data. Two minor gripes are firstly that a couple of the statistical tables are presented as 'logistic regression model' which means that the figures are presented as a number such as '0.49' which has to be multiplied by the 'standard deviation' . Unless you have an A level in statistics those tables are meaningless. Fortunately only a couple of tables have this problem but more seriously some of the charts list results of 'opinion polling' but fail to tell you the sample size. Come on, even a 'tabloid' like 'The Sun' reporting a 'MORI poll' quotes the number of persons interviewed. If I had to mark the second section of the book I would award 7/10 not least because of the range of data it provides.
Turning to the final section of the book I found this the most interesting reading. The section mainly covers what makes people join BNP (rather than just vote for it) and what makes them become 'activists'. One item that is referred to is 'collection action frames' (P 155) which are described as organizing ' the experiences and perceptions of of supporters', 'shaping how they define particular situations and conditions'. 'Frames render events or experiences meaningful' 'they simplify and condense often complex trends in society', ' they cultivate beliefs and meanings among supporters which legitimize their cause and inspire them to become active'. This and similar concepts such as 'survivalism' (you will all have heard Nationalist speakers speaking of population trends and stating that it is 'essential' to act today to protect our ethnic group because according to the demographics tomorrow will be too late !) are explained clearly and with good use of quotes taken from the interviews he conducted.
The final section of the book includes an index, the listing of the extensive notes and cross references to other sources and two appendices regarding 'Methodology'. It is here, on the first appendix, that I found a major flaw in his methodology. The interviews are listed by number of interviews, date and area of the country where the interview(s) were carried out. This shows that the entire analysis is based on 49 interviews with 27 activists spread over a five year period. Of these no less than four of the interviews were with N Griffin. In the later part of the period when this book was being written up, 2009-2010, BNP contested the County Council elections and the European Elections. In those elections the Party polled nearly a million votes and had a membership of 9-10000 members (NG claims more but I am using what I believe to be more reliable sources !). To analyse such a large organisation based upon 26 activists (ignoring NG again !) seems very thin evidence. Some of those interviewed may not even have been members – both myself and Jim Lewthwaite were in fact 'expelled members' when we were interviewed. Another flaw in the interview methodology is that Goodwin interviewed only in England with only one of the interviews in the (East) Midlands – once again I am ignoring interviews in Welshpool. So in addition to virtually ignoring the Midlands Goodwin totally ignores Scotland and Wales (he could legitimately ignore Ulster as being the interview period BNP was not registered to campaign in Ulster). Do members in the 'devolved regions' have different motivations for joining BNP compared to members in England. After all there are other, more successful, 'Nationalist' parties in Scotland & Wales. These are relevant questions as of course the book is about the rise of the British National Party not the English National Party but Goodwin fails to explore this area.
One final comment. Jim, myself and I understand other interviewees were told that we would receive complimentary copies of Goodwin's 'paper' when he had completed his research. We are still waiting ! We were interviewed in 2008. Even the BNP has managed to get it's 2008 accounts submitted since then !
‘New British Fascism Rise of the British National Party’ by Matthew J. Goodwin. ISBN 978-0-415-46501-4. Paperback 9.25” x 6.33” 235 pages. Published by Routledge. List price (paperback) £26.99 although it is available for less from Amazon. List price (hard back) £85.50 !!! Jim Lewthwaite obtained the copy I reviewed from Fred Wade Booksellers (an excellent source of specialist books) Halifax, HX1, (01422) 354400.