The 1970s and the Growth of the Far Right

Britain in the 1970s witnessed a resurgence in the far-right politics. Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, condemned by his own party, did much to underline how powerful anti-immigration feeling was going into the 1970s[1].

The National Front was certainly a political representation of these views, a culmination of strands of neo-fascist and radical populist politics coming together in an attempt to form a national party[2]. The NF put into practical policy the rhetoric that Enoch Powell articulated, and its growth certainly again testifies to the importance of the immigration issues in British politics. It also testifies to how much important Enoch Powell’s speech had on fostering the National Front in its infancy.

Richard Thurlow argues that the reason that the National Front was able to gain the political capital it did was due to failings of the Heath government to capitalise on the immigration issue[3]. Certainly, the Heath government initially fulfilled its promise of being further to the right than previous post-war Conservative governments. The Immigration Act of 1971 attempted to reduce to amount of New Commonwealth citizens entering Britain. However, this was proceeded by more liberal measures, Ugandan Asians being allowed to enter the country in large numbers due to persecution from the Ugandan government[4]. Particularly the National Front were able to expand their popularity as racial populism moved from the centre of politics into the inner-city areas[5]. Heath’s famous policy ‘U-turn’ did more than invoke bitterness amongst his own party; those who voted Conservative hoping for a tougher stance on immigration were to be equally perturbed.

The National Front attempted to project itself as a legitimate political party, contending that its own organisation was not only democratic, but more so than other parties[6]. It had fought hard and widely in the democratic process through fighting elections, an issue that other British fascist groups had placed very little emphasis upon. The National Front’s Statement of Policy contained a list of policies that were top of the political agenda: withdrawing from the ECC, restoring capital punishment, increasing defence spending[7]. These were all issues that many members of the political establishment on either side were fighting for.

However, the National Front did not deny its basis of inspiration; Stan Taylor argues that the party’s top two leaders (John Tyndall and Martin Webster) admired the early years of Hitler’s Germany. Additionally, the National Front News disseminated amongst members was almost entirely committed to the ‘race’ issue. Between mid-1977 and mid-1979 an average of 81% of column inches were devoted to various aspects of the race question[8]. It is evidential that the National Front were trying to reinforce racial stereotypes via publications, although only to the members of the organisation in an attempt to keep the appearance of a politically legitimate party. It seems pertinent to argue that this was not a very successful attempt.

In conclusion the National Front wore a cheap guise to cover up its racial fascination. Its attempts to become part of mainstream politics constantly denied by poor election results, and rejection by those in power. The National Front’s ideology is most starkly apparent in John Tyndall’s Spearhead Magazine, one October issue being entitled ‘Nationalism and Race survival’[9]. This bare faced Nazism reflects the attitude of its leadership and most of its members, however the growth this type of movement points to how largely fragmented both British society and culture was in the 1970s.

[1] Martin Walker, The National Front (Fontana, New York; 1977) p. 111

[2] Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain From Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts to the National Front (I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, London; 1998) p. 255

[3] Ibid, 246

[4] Ibid, 246

[5] ibid, 246

[6] Stan Taylor The National Front in English Politics (Macmillan Press LTD, London and Basingstoke; 1982) p. 79

[7] Ibid p. 97

[8] Ibid p. 97

[9] Martin Walker, The National Front (Fontana, New York; 1977) p. 185

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