Who’s been helping the BNP?

1:13 am - June 11th 2009

by Unity    

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If we’re going to have a bit of a post-mortem on the reasons behind the election of Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons to the European Parliament then it falls to us bloggers to ask the one question that the mainstream press isn’t going to ask…

…just exactly what kind of contribution did they make to this sorry state of affairs?

So, it’s time for a bit of quick and dirty research…

Earlier today, I spent an hour or so looking at the mainstream press’s coverage of the BNP’s signature ‘issue’ – immigration – over the entire period since the last General Election.

To keep things at manageable level – and roughly match the media’s output to a number of key strands of standard BNP propaganda – I restricted my searches, on each newspaper’s website, to general news and editorial/comment articles of a kind that put forward a negative view of legal immigration and its economic and social impact on the UK during this period. So, any articles that suggested that the UK was being ‘swamped’ by migrants or that British citizens might be losing out to migrants in the employment market or in access to public services were included in the count while stories and commentaries about illegal immigration or that dealt with specific individuals and incidents, including reports of criminal proceedings involving migrants, was excluded.

And, in order to allow for a reasonably fair comparison of the output of different newspapers, I also excluded from consideration articles published on Comment Is Free and the Telegraph”s open blogging platform, except where it was clear that an article was a formal editorial or the work of regular columnist and, therefore, likely to have appeared in the newspaper’s print edition as well as on its website.

So what you’re going to see next is a breakdown of the extent to which different national newspapers have engaged in general scaremongering around immigration of a kind that might help persuade some people that there’s an element of truth in the BNP’s propaganda, and to make this nice and easy to follow I’ve taken the time to compile the results into a handy graph.

There are one or two things here that need a bit of clarification, so…

  1. The figures for the Daily Express and Daily Star are simply unreliable, largely, one suspects, because they’ve yet to find an angle on economic migration that includes either Princess Diana or Madeline McCann… and I’m not joking here, either. A search on the Expresses website for ‘migrant” and “jobs” turns up a mere two hits, while a search for “Princess Diana” returns a stonking 41o articles.
  2. As for the Murdoch press, while I doubt that anyone will be too surprised to to find that The Times has had the the odd dabble in a bit of scaremongering, albeit at nothing like the level of The Mail or Telegraph, some may a little surprised to the The Sun weighing in with a relative low score. In truth, however, that should come as that much of a surprise. Murdoch is nothing if not a businessman with a keen eye for an opportunity, which is pretty much how News International has looked at things, even going so far as to produce six editions of  the ‘Polski Sun‘ during Euro 2008.

All of which leaves us with liberal and left-wing titles like the Guardian, Indy and Mirror, all of which have steered clear of blatant scaremongering about economic migrations, at The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, which have spent the last five years providing the BNP with a veritable smorgasbord of anti-immigration scaremongering to piggy back their racist propaganda onto.

So, if we are going to get into the business of sharing round the culpability for sending a pair of Fascist fucknuts to Strasbourg, then it seems very much as if a share or two needs to be apportioned to both The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph for their sterling efforts in running an average of one scaremongering immigration story per week over the last five years.

And that’s not all…

Out of curiosity, and because we’re talking about the press’s coverage of economic migration, I ran a second set of searches using a different keyword – “migrationwatch’ – and guess what I found…

Well, would you look at that…

…who would ever have guessed that the two newspapers with by far the biggest track record of scaremongering on the issue of immigration would also be the ones that ran between three and seven times as many articles quoting or referencing Migrationwatch than any other national daily newspaper.

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'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Reader comments

I don’t think you are looking at the bigger picture. I think it is very unlikely that many BNP voters read the Daily Telegraph, and I’m not sure that the demographic of the average Daily Mail reader fits the BNP voter either. The Mail and the Telegraph’s anti immigration coverage is more likely to have increased the Tory and UKIP vote. Local papers in areas where the BNP vote has increased may be significant. In my opinion, the Sentinel in Stoke-on-Trent, certainly bears a lot of responsibility for the success of the BNP there.

2. Shatterface

You haven’t really demonstrated a correlation between readers and voting behaviour let alone a causal relationship; and while I’d GUESS that references to Migrationwatch in the Mail and Telegraph were uncritical, the fact that the Independent refers to them almost 20 times more often than the Star doesn’t lead me to conclude the Indy is 20 times more racist.

The Star and the Express come out rather well in this, even compared to the Labour supporting Mirror. Maybe they have been more obssessed with reality TV stars than immigration but so has the Guardian.

Interesting thesis, Unity, but as someone points out above, BNP voters don’t read the Telegraph. From the Channel 4/YouGov poll into how people voted last week, we get this:

What daily newspaper do you read each day? (BNP voter results only)

Sun/Star 34
Express/Mail 19
Mirror/Record 13
Other 10
FT/Times/Telegraph 6
Guardian/Indy 0
No paper 18

That proportion of people reading the FT, Times or Torygraph is actually lower than the proportion for Labour voters (7%).

BNP voters don’t read the Telegraph. Now, the Mail is another matter…


‘I think it is very unlikely that many BNP voters read the Daily Telegraph’

According to this link, ~20% of the DTs readers are in social class C1 to DE.

The corresponding figure for the Daily Mail is 70%.

YouGov describes the typical BNP voter as ‘“working class Tories” – the sort of traditional working class voters who under other circumstances might shift over to the Conservatives.’

While I like the analysis – it does come up a bit short when you really do take into account where the votes came from with the BNP. Yet – and i have mentioned this before at another place, and others have here – the BNP didn’t actually get a rise in their vote count.

The left, who some presume simply vote for (New) Labour just didn’t go out and vote. The turnout was a record low.

The MSM in the UK, especially The Sun does keep its in-house reputation of picking the next government – and they do come out with some of the garbage on a daily basis because they know it gets readers. They would, I am sure of it – if they could get away with doing so – splash the death images of David Carridine on the front page.

“Quality” newspapers have to compete with Brit Spears crotch-shot, and sadly they lose out every time. Once those readers are captured they will scan or read the ‘in-depth’ report on immigration. They will also take it as gospel that the paper is telling the truth.

Interesting thesis, Unity, but as someone points out above, BNP voters don’t read the Telegraph

But it doesn’t have to translate into direct votes. The Telegraph also influences the BBC agenda, who then also go hyperbolic over immigration and MigrationWatch, and the Telegraph influences the Daily Mail and others. It plays a part in legitimising those orgs and driving the news agenda even if its supporters remain solidly Tory/UKIP.

7. Rob Knight

So it’s impossible to raise any objection to levels of immigration without being a fascist? Personally, I’m relaxed about immigration, but I’m not surprised (or offended) that other people aren’t. The BNP are racist not because they want to restrict immigration (the current government already does this; the difference is purely one of degree) but because they want to restrict immigration by using race is a criterion, and – importantly- adopt racist policies to people who are already British citizens or British residents. That’s not the same as arguing against immigration on other grounds which do not include race.

There’s certainly an argument to be had about immigration, which has several key points:

1) The moral justification – that immigration allows people to move freely and to live where they choose, allowing them to leave places in which they feel they are not treated well. Hardly anyone ever mentions this, except in extreme cases (refugees, genuine asylum seekers).

2) The economic justification – that immigrants either benefit the economy or, at least, do no overall harm. This is the mainstream view. I’m not an economist, but I’ve heard the views of respectable economists who say that immigration is a net benefit.

3) The management of migration. Even though point 2 stands, the short-term effects of immigration in certain areas may be negative – a sudden rise in school places needed, etc. If the government cannot demonstrate an ability to manage this, and to do so fairly and transparently, some people may conclude that the immigration itself is the problem.

4) The national identity impact. Post-WW2, a strong pro-immigration argument was that the dilution of national identities was a very good thing and to be encouraged, since nationalism had played such a role in causing both WW1 and WW2. We’ve largely forgotten this, and I doubt that many politicians now would speak up in favour of diluting national identities. I personally think that the ‘dilution’ theory was somewhat wrong-headed – losing a national identity does not mean that one simply has no identity, it means that one will adopt a new one, possibly worse than what went before. Take how the English identity has been somewhat captured by fringe elements and racists, for example. The fact that many people don’t identify with their country/nation means that the country/nation’s identity can be defined by smaller and more extreme groups. Politicians of Gordon Brown’s generation seem to have grasped that this might be a problem, but every effort to do something about it has been cack-handed in the extreme (“Britishness day”).

5) The cultural impact. I personally think that the cultural impact of immigration and the mixing of cultures is a very good thing, and few would disagree. The only minor caveat is in situations where, despite an apparent demographic mix, communities don’t actually mix between themselves very much. The creation of isolated ghettos can be a problem, and negates the cultural benefits. The cultural impact is positive when it gives people of different backgrounds more in common with each other, but it can be negative if it ends up with balkanised communities with less in common.

What I’m saying is that there are plenty of grounds for debating immigration. I think that having a negative view of immigration is a legitimate (though wrong) political viewpoint and people holding it should not be exposed to guilt by a spurious association with the BNP. Also, many negative views of immigration are merely negative views of certain aspects of immigration, many of them around the question of how that immigration is managed (such that the objections would fade if it were managed better).

8. Sanjay Sharma

I complained about the BBC’s lazy journalism when they were just reporting the headline stories from the Telegraph and ignoring the tory sleeze hidden in the detail. Needless to say, they have not replied.

9. Shatterface

Sunny (6): Even if what you say is true – and that might well be so – the article doesn’t demonstrate it.

Excellent point, Unity.

#2, #3

BNP voters do not have to directly read those papers, do they? I guess what Unity is trying to argue here is that those papers like the Daily Mail are setting a tone. And they’ve been doing religiously for the whole of this decade at least.

If you have a bombardment of big f***off headlines about “immigrant invaders” simply looking at you from over the shelves or the dentists’ waiting room, to me, that plays a part too.

Most annoying is the right wing’s assertion that immigration in this country is allegedly a “taboo topic”! I mean, you have tabloids that sell millions EVERY DAY, constantly banging on the subject…

What daily newspaper do you read each day? (BNP voter results only)

I’m assuming ‘looking at the pictures’ counts as ‘reading’.

12. the a&e charge nurse

I think you are right Claude [10] few voters are such empty vessels that they are filled by a single media source.

Newspapers often rely on the ‘drip-drip’ effect to perpetuate certain editorial agendas (such as the negative impact of immigration) and these factoids are passed on, rather like viruses (if I may use a biological analogy), ultimately contributing a certain type of gestalt.

Rob Knight [7] illustrates exactly the sort of discussion we SHOULD be having on the issue that so infatuates our two infamous MEPs.

What is the BNP vote down to in this election? The fact that large numbers of Pakistanis live in towns like Blackburn and Bradford and in the adjacent majority white areas there is a build up of resentment because the issue was always swept under the carpet. Those who voted BNP need no lessons in racial prejudice from any newspaper as I’ve personally been aware of very negative attitudes towards the Pakistanis in Blackburn for decades. Blaming the media is a good sport but possibly misleading since if I believe something and I see an article which contradicts what I think I’ll evaluate it on my terms and either take it on board, write a letter signed “outraged from Tunbridge Wells” or more likely, ignore it altogether. We place too much importance on the possible influence of journalists and the Daily Telegraph’s revelations about MP’s expenses has added to the myth. But if Unity’s thesis is correct why is it that the two BNP seats were won in the North West and Yorkshire and not elsewhere?
I still blame ostrich-like behaviour by the labour movement in Lancashire and Yorkshire, the Iraq War, the subsequent long-standing (even pre Iraq War) alienation of Pakistani youth in those areas which led to incidents of “anti-social” behaviour (and hence a constant stream of anti-Pakistani propaganda at a local level) and sadly also led to the horrors of 7/7. Talking of which you would have “reasonably” expected a substantial BNP vote in the London area but this has never materialised and never will because the negative provincial culture of Lancashire and Yorkshire is hard to sustain in London. The media reported the fuss made by Jack Straw over muslim women wearing veils. But whose fault was that? And just look at which constituency he represents – Blackburn!
Other European countries have had far right representation at all levels of the legislature and people have learned to live with it. To obsess over the tragic winning of two seats by the BNP could limit the chances of a “liberal” recovery. The Greens also gained two seats and more votes than the BNP. But has anybody noticed?


I’ve disagreed with plenty of your posts before, but I’ve never seen your analysis get this bad.

a) BNP voters are most likely to read the Sun and the Star, if they read a newspaper, the Mail and Express are a poor second followed by the Mirror. The Telegraph, even when lumped in with the Times and Financial Times, just gets 6 per cent:

Doesn’t that completely destroy your analysis, as BNP readership clearly doesn’t correlate with your graph at all?

b) You completely conflate “a negative view of legal immigration and its economic and social impact on the UK during this period” with scaremongering. I don’t know quite which stories you’ve included but, unless you think there is no legitimate analysis that points to any downside to legal immigration whatsoever, then it is entirely legitimate for papers to include negative views of legal immigration.

c) Given that many people feel that immigration has negative impacts on their lives, as – rightly or wrongly – they see changes in their communities that upset them, might feeling that the national media is ignoring the issue increase the strength of parties that claim to speak for latent anti-immigration feeling?

d) Why is their such a concentration of BNP successes in the old Labour heartlands if their rise can be explained by media coverage of immigration issues? The Mail and Telegraph certainly aren’t Northern papers. The BNP’s electoral success is clearly partly a result of a Labour collapse, which has nothing to do with immigration coverage in the Mail.

In the end, it isn’t that difficult to explain the rise of the BNP. There is clearly a contempt for existing elected politicians that boosts fringe parties, and a contempt for Labour among their popular grassroots, combined with longstanding concerns about immigration among the public at large (see the Mori Issues Index) that they don’t feel have been adequately addressed by the mainstream parties. You could partly blame the media for the second to last point, but that seems hard to stack up if BNP voters aren’t reading the most anti-immigrant papers.

Rob Knight, a good comment there but you didn’t mention the environmental consequences of immigration. Since immigration is one of the main drivers of population growth, & people living in this country consume a load of resources & of course take up space in terms of housing, roads, etc, there are adverse consequences which have led many environmentalists into the anti-immigration camp.


I am finding his arguments quite persuasive- we cannot be having runaway population growth &, while fertility levels do indeed fall over time, it will take a fair while for education & contraception to bring about a shift in behaviour, especially with the religious & other elements standing in the way of progress in this regard.

Re: ghettoisation, that is quite often caused by government policies, such as control over allocation of housing (especially for asylum seekers) rather than behaviour of immigrants themselves. That is something that wants to be looked into & that.

Not by me though, as I am going out- sorry for rushing a bit.

16. Political_Animal

#13 Nino, I see you have moved on from Preston and are talking about Blackburn now. Any more northern towns you wish to target?

14 Matt, a very valid smackdown of this painfully superficial analysis.

Doesn’t that completely destroy your analysis, as BNP readership clearly doesn’t correlate with your graph at all?

As I said earlier – there doesn’t have to be a strict correlation with readership and voting, as I said at #6


Check the owners of the Stoke-On-Trent Sentinel (from MediaUK.com) :

The Sentinel

Local Newspapers
Coverage area: Stoke-on-Trent
Owner: *Daily Mail and General Trust*

Ooh, plenty of greedy reductionism to play with here…

First, Sunny’s spot on in identifying that I’m not talking about direct correlations between newspaper coverage and the BNP’s vote but a range of indirect influences on the overall tone of the debate.

In this day and age it’s actually rather naive to think that a newspaper’s potential sphere of influence is limited by the demographics of the readers of its print edition.

For starters there’s the impact of the internet and, particularly, blogging, bulletin boards and discussion forums, all of which serve to disseminate the media’s output to a much wider audience than its traditional dead-tree editions.

Then there’s the changing conditions in the local/regional press, where cost-cutting and a decline in advertising revenues has meant an increase in the amount of copy churned from the nationals.

And, as we’re dealing in part with the Daily Mail, let’s not forget that it has a free sister paper, The Metro, which is widely distributed in urban areas by the simple expedient of giving away for free on public transport.

Mmm… I wonder how many BNP voters in places like Barnsley, or Burnley, take the bus to work every morning?

This is not about a crude quasi-Pavlovian relationship between media output and voting intentions – its nothing like that simple – but rather about the extent to which the media, and particular newspapers, contribute to the creation and propagation of certain memes that, when the reach a particular audience, prove helpful to the BNP.

As for Matthew’s point about conflating scaremongering with having a reasoned debate on immigration, I wonder if he’d like to point us all in the direction of the article, in either the Telegraph or the Mail, that discussed the distorting effect that Germany’s decision to restrict access to its labour market to citizens of A8 states has had on the European labour market or the likely consequences of those restrictions coming to an end in 2010 – i.e. a reduction in inward migration from the A8 states as other national labour markets with in the EU open up.

Or maybe he could find an article that cites the ONS stats on the number of UK residents that were born overseas that then goes on to qualify the headline figures in terms of the proportion who are now naturalised British citizens, or migrants from the US and the old Commonwealth, or even the numbers who were born overseas to ex-pats.

And where, I wonder, is the TPA’s analysis of the effect of centralised bureaucracy within the existing tax system on public services, particular in reference to internal and external migration?

I’d have thought that one would be right up the TPA’s street as it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that one of the key reasons why local authorities have faced cash shortfalls and fiscal pressures arising from inward migration is the excessive delays in matching levels of central government grants to shift in populations arising from, for example, the centralised collection and redistribution of business rates.

If you take the time to look and run just a few of the relevant numbers then you’ll very quickly find a strong argument for devolving more revenue raising powers down to a local level.

Yes, its perfectly possible to have a legitimate and nuance debate on immigration – its just not possible to find any such debate in the pages of the Daily Mail and the Telegraph is only marginally better in the sense that it at least has a couple of columnists who’ve written the occasional nuanced comment piece on the subject.

Look, everyone, I did say that this was a quick and dirty piece of research – i.e. its intended only to spark off a line of questioning that currently absent from the media’s post-mortems on the results of the European elections.

Its not a definitive analysis on the role of the media, nor was it intended to be one, it merely provides a bit of basic data as a springboard for further deliberation.

There’s a possible alternative explanation.

UKIP lost getting a second seat in the NW to Griffin by 1,200 votes. In Yorkshire, second seat lost to BNP by 3,000.

Pretty slim mrgins….which might just have been affected by the way in which the MSM kept saying that UKIP had “imploded”. That every damn article included Tom Wise and Ashley Mote…..and not every piece about others talked about moats and mortgages.

At one point we even had The Times saying that UKIP weren’t going to stand (asnd no, they did not agree to issue a correction).

If you’re going to take the view that the newspapers influenced votes indirectly, as you are, I rather think that the writing off of UKIP by them all was the major effect.

And, as we’re dealing in part with the Daily Mail, let’s not forget that it has a free sister paper, The Metro, which is widely distributed in urban areas by the simple expedient of giving away for free on public transport.

Unless they publish special ‘race hate’ editions in Burnley, Havering and Dagenham, then I’m not sure this explanation cuts it – the Metro, although pretty dire churnalism, doesn’t share the Mail’s editorial stance.

23. Shatterface

Unity, I appreciate this is a rather hurried analysis and I share your dislike of the tone of the coverage but I think any analysis needs to understand the relationship of readers to the text. I read the Glasgow Media Groups quantitative studies of industrial disputes as a student in the 80’s and I found even their detailed analysis rather crude.

It’s perfectly possible for readers to disregard what they read or interpret it in ways determined by their own experience, in particular within the context of their own interpersonal relationships with people from their own peergroup and with ethnic groups. These direct experiences are more determinant than the media, which is probably why racist beliefs do not necessarily correlate with those who live in areas with high levels of immigration.


The Metro is tailored for the early-morning London audience and as such is a fairly neutral rag. The DMGT locals, especially north of the border, can sometimes be even more hysterical than Dacre’s mothership.

If you want to work out the political allegiances of Daily Mail readers, perhaps you could have a look at the comments and the applauding/smiting system they have for comments? Any comment praising the BNP shoots up into the +100s, any attacking the BNP falls sharply into the red.


You’re getting a bit silly. You’re talking about qualifications that you think are important but the lack of them doesn’t make an article scaremongering. You may think there is a bias in how immigration stories are reported, I think the other side of the debate could point at a bias in other papers going the other way, but that doesn’t mean they are “helping the BNP” unless you seriously think that all public concern over immigration is necessarily illegitimate and necessarily translates into support for the BNP.

On your “newspaper sphere of inflluence” point, why exactly is the Mail influencing Sun readers so much more than its own? If media coverage is in any way the dominant factor in explaining BNP support, the fact that those with the closest proximity to the newspaper’s views (its readers) aren’t the most likely to vote BNP is a little difficult to explain. Occam’s Razor – it’s unlikely to be the newspapers’ fault.

As to the localism issue and TPA research priorities. We’ve got plenty of arguments to support the case for greater fiscal decentralisation, that flexibility is useful in all manner of contexts. I agree that this is one of them. To be honest, we’ve got a lot of work on at the moment but I’ll keep this idea in mind.


Spot on Mike SC.

Let’s not beat around the bush: most columns in the Daily Mail are clearly in line with a certain Griffin-ite rhetoric.

The only thing is: such columns always contain a passing reference to the B * P as “vile”, “ugly”, “disgusting”, etc…almost robotically – as if they were saying “Look, we hate asylum seekers, we despite those swamping immigrants, we wish the EU dead, we think non-whites are criminals BUT we are not pro-B * P”.

To avoid trouble, perhaps? So that no-one can say to Littlejohn “but your stuff is B*P material!”. Cos if they did, then he’d turn round and reply that it can’t be, he calls the B * P vile and that’s that.

You just check the comment section on the Mail’s online edition. Pro-B * P messages are at least 50% of the total, and that’s a conservative estimate.

28. Rob Knight


If you want to work out the political allegiances of Daily Mail readers, perhaps you could have a look at the comments and the applauding/smiting system they have for comments? Any comment praising the BNP shoots up into the +100s, any attacking the BNP falls sharply into the red.

The problem is that those kinds of systems can be easily gamed by a small but organised group. Secondly, audiences are self-selecting – if the Mail do write about the BNP, you can bet that the BNP’s core online activists will be monitoring that and emailing their fellow members telling them to get on and support the party line. “BNP supporters respond in large numbers to articles about the BNP” doesn’t prove anything.

Why exactly is the BNP Considered Racist ?

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