Rallying intolerance in the valleys: Explaining support for the extreme right in Wales


Until its decline at the 2012 elections, the British National Party (BNP) was the most electorally successful extreme right party in the United Kingdom. Yet, although the party’s electoral growth in England has attracted attention, individual and contextual drivers of BNP support in other areas – namely, Wales – have been ignored. The lack of research is puzzling, given that the party has actively campaigned beyond England and attracted some support for its ethnic nationalism amidst a resurgence of support for Welsh nationalism. Drawing on a range of data, we examine the socio-economic, political and demographic drivers of BNP support in Wales. At the aggregate level, we find the party performs strongest in economically insecure and urban areas that have large social housing sectors, high deprivation rates, low education levels, large numbers of residents in precarious occupations, and which have experienced the largest increases in unemployment rates since the onset of the financial crisis. Politically, our findings suggest that the BNP has also rallied votes in areas where turnout is low, and where support for Labour has traditionally been strong. Individual-level analysis of ‘core’ and ‘soft’ supporters reveals that although they share a similar profile – less-well educated and middle-aged men who tend to be skilled workers – soft sympathy appears more widespread among women and younger citizens. Foremost, and despite a broader context of comparatively low migration and ethnic diversity rates in Wales, both groups of supporters are driven to the extreme right by concerns over immigration, which appear to be tied strongly to broader feelings of political abandonment. In contrast to results in England, our findings suggest that immigration-related concerns do not stem from the actual presence or proximity of immigrant and/or minority groups. Rather, it appears that structural economic disadvantage, political disenchantment and the perceived negative impact of immigration provide a more convincing explanation for the limited electoral appeal of the extreme right in Wales.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

We’re sorry, something doesn't seem to be working properly.

Please try refreshing the page. If that doesn't work, please contact support so we can address the problem.

Figure 1


  1. 1.

    For one recent study that includes detailed studies of right-wing extremism at the local level, see Mammone et al (2012).

  2. 2.

    At the 2001 census, 97.9 per cent of the Welsh population identified as White British, more recent estimates show a decline in the White British proportion of the population to 93 per cent compared with 83 per cent for England. These figures are taken from the mid - census population estimates available at (accessed 24 May 2012).

  3. 3.

    That said, Wales was the least attractive government office region in the United Kingdom for A8 migrants accounting for only 3 per cent of total inflows from Eastern Europe.

  4. 4.

    Data set adapted from Pippa Norris, 6 May 2010, General Election Constituency Results available at (accessed 6 June 2012).

  5. 5.

    As there was no centralized collation of the 2011 Welsh Assembly regional list, the data set was compiled by using the results released by each region’s returning officer.

  6. 6.

    Disseminated from NOMIS portal at (accessed 6 June 2012).

  7. 7.

    Available from Department of Work and Pensions.

  8. 8.

    The 2008 local election is the closest contest in Wales to the 2009 European Elections when 943 598 voted for the party across the United Kingdom. In local elections in England, BNP support peaked in 2006 with an average of 19.67 per cent vote share.

  9. 9.

    It should be noted that the far right stood no candidates in the 2000 local elections in Wales.

  10. 10.

    In general elections, the BNP has fielded candidates in Wales since 1983 with little success: it polled only 0.3 per cent in Carmarthen in 1983 and also Cardiff in 1992. In the 2001 General Election, the BNP fielded a candidate in Newport West, who polled 0.8 per cent.

  11. 11.

    The results in the 2004 European Elections were reported at UA level, unlike those for 2009, which were reported at pre-2007 revision Welsh Assembly constituencies.

  12. 12.

    The overall increase in Wales of +2.5 per cent was higher than the increase seen in England (+1.3 per cent).

  13. 13.

    In six constituencies, BNP support surpassed 7 per cent, and in 23 constituencies surpassed 5 per cent. The strongest result of 9.45 per cent arrived in Swansea East. The party consolidated its strength in the South Eastern constituencies of Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Islwyn and Merthyr Tydfil. In these seats, the party polled over 7 per cent of the vote, higher than its average across the United Kingdom.

  14. 14.

    The 2011 Welsh Assembly Election provides a more accurate picture of the collapse in support for the BNP in a higher order contest than is as yet possible for England. In 14 (out of 40) the BNP saw its share of the vote halved from 2007, whereas in 31 constituencies the BNP’ share of the vote fell by over 40 per cent. Wrexham reported the largest decline in the BNP vote share of 5.9 per cent, a drop of 67 per cent of the party’s 2007 total.

  15. 15.

    See Two exceptions of non-elected community councillors include elections in Wrexham and in Hawarden, Flintshire.

  16. 16.

    Meanwhile, at the level of wards there are 10 wards that have more than five members, 17 wards with more than four members, 44 wards with more than three members and 104 wards with more than two members.

  17. 17.

    The lowest quartile was less than 1.72 per cent, whereas the highest ranged from 3.42 to 5.21 per cent.

  18. 18.

    The range of JSA claimants was 5.5 per cent and of the change in JSA claimants 2.60 per cent.

  19. 19.

    These report the strength of statistically significant relationships between variables and confirms the findings presented so far, but they cannot be conceived as causal relationships. Nor do they take account of potential interaction effects between variables, for example, whether turnout and levels of education have a combined effect.

  20. 20.

    The YouGov survey did not ask respondents for their ethnic identity and therefore it was not possible to exclude those respondents who did not identify as White British or White other. In the Continuous Monitoring Survey conducted by the British Election Study, only 37 out of 6663 Welsh respondents identified as other than White British or White other, equivalent to 0.9 per cent of the sample. Presuming the YouGov survey reported a similar ethnic break down and given the low ethnic diversity of Wales, this would leave 15 non-White or White other respondents, too small a number to significantly alter the finding of the analysis.

  21. 21.

    In the regional breakdown, Welsh BNP supporters comprised 4.7 per cent of the total of BNP vote intenders, the second lowest figure after Scotland. However, when the number of BNP supporters is taken as a proportion of regional total, the proportion of support for the BNP in Wales, 2.8 per cent, exceeded London, the South East and East.

  22. 22.

    For the comparison on the question of feelings towards the BNP and the results of the regression model between Welsh and English respondents, Scottish and Northern Irish respondents were excluded from the analysis, leaving a sample size of 28 279.

  23. 23.

    As the analysis is restricted to Wales, this left a sample size of 1613 Welsh respondents.

  24. 24.

    Although a caveat must be exercised given the smaller sample size, the demographic profile of Welsh BNP supporters to English BNP supporters (Harris, 2012) appears to be more concentrated, in general Welsh BNP vote intenders tend to more male, 71 per cent against 66.4 per cent, more middle aged, 48 per cent against 24.6 per cent and more likely to identify as skilled manual workers, 30 per cent against 18.6 per cent, than their English counterparts. This could reflect that in England, the BNP for a short period of time, garnered support from beyond its core electorate, White middle-aged working class men.

  25. 25.

    An anti-immigrant paper is defined as the right-wing tabloids noted for their negative coverage of immigration related issues: the Daily Express, Daily Mail, The Sun and Daily Star.

  26. 26.

    Core BNP supporters were included in this variable, distinct from the previous analysis, which distinguishes from those who support and have positive feelings towards the BNP.

  27. 27.

    It is worth noting that our analysis was re-run using all UK respondents (excluding Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) to test for robustness and any differences between England and Wales. All significant variables from the Welsh analysis ran as expected with the qualification that when applied to England respondents who believe that Islam is a serious danger to Western civilization and those who held more traditional racist beliefs were more likely to be sympathetic to the BNP by 59 and 21 per cent, respectively.

  28. 28.

    As measured by the 2009 mid-census population estimates, Blaneau Gwent is ranked the 3rd least ethnically diverse local authority in England and Wales, Torfaen is ranked 9th, Caerphilly is 12th and Methyr Tydfil 22nd.

  29. 29.

    This figure is taken as a percentage of the total White UK-born respondents.

  30. 30.

    Wales had the joint third regional highest figure with the South West after the East (85.6 per cent) and West Midlands (86 per cent).

  31. 31.

    In the 2010 general election, the North East reported the third highest average percentage vote share.


  1. Betz, H.-G. (1994) Radical Right-Wing Populism in Western Europe. Palgrave Macmillan.

  2. Biggs, M. and Knauss, S. (2012) Explaining membership in the British National Party: A multilevel analysis of contact and threat. European Sociological Review 28 (5).

  3. BNP. (2011) Putting Local People First, Welsh Assembly Election Manifesto. The British National Party,, accessed 14 June 2013.

  4. Bowyer, B. (2008) Local context and extreme right support in England: The British National Party in the 2002 and 2003 local elections. Electoral Studies 27 (4): 611–620.

  5. Bowyer, B. (2009) The contextual determinants of whites’ racial attitudes in England. British Journal of Political Science 39 (3): 559–586.

  6. Brug, van der, Fennema, M. and Tillie, J. (2005) Why some anti-immigrant parties fail and others succeed: A two-step model of electoral support. Comparative Political Studies 38 (5): 537–573.

  7. Copsey, N. (2011) British National Party. In: N. Copsey and G. Macklin (eds.) Contemporary Perspectives. London: Routledge.

  8. Curtice, J., Fisher, S. and Ford, R. (2010) Appendix 2: The results analysed. In: D. Kavanagh and P. Cowley (eds.) The British General Election of 2010. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

  9. Cullen, S.M. (1994) Another nationalism. Welsh History Review 17 (1): 101–114.

  10. Cutts, D., Ford, R. and Goodwin, M.J. (2011) Anti-immigrant, politically disaffected or still racist after all? Examining the attitudinal drivers of extreme right support in Britain in the 2009 European elections. European Journal of Political Research 50 (3): 418–440.

  11. Dench, M., Gavron, K. and Young, M. (2006) The New East End; Kinship, Race and Conflict. London: Polity.

  12. Fielding, N. (1981) The National Front. London: Routledge.

  13. Ford, R. (2010) Who might vote for the BNP? Survey evidence on the electoral potential of the extreme right in Britain. In: R. Eatwell and M.J. Goodwin (eds.) The New Extremism in Twenty-First Century Britain. London, New York: Routledge.

  14. Ford, R. and Goodwin, M.J. (2010) Angry white men: Individual and contextual predictors of support for the British National Party. Political Studies 58 (1): 1–25.

  15. Goodwin, M.J. (2010) Activism in contemporary extreme right parties: The case of the British National Party (BNP). Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 20 (1): 31–54.

  16. Goodwin, M.J. (2011) The New British Fascism: Rise of the British National Party. Abingdon, New York: Routledge.

  17. Goodwin, M.J., Ford, R. and Cutts, D.C. (2012) Extreme Right Foot Soldiers, Legacy Effects and Deprivation: A Contextual Analysis of the Leaked British National Party (BNP) Membership List, Party Politics (in print).

  18. Harris, G. (2012) The Rise and Fall of the British National Party. Birkbeck College: University of London, Unpublished PhD thesis.

  19. John, P., Margetts, H., Rowland, D. and Weir, S. (2006) The BNP: The Roots of its Appeal. University of Essex: Democratic Audit, Human Rights, Colchester.

  20. JRCT. (2004) 539 Voters’ Views: A Voting Behaviour Study in Three Northern Towns. York: Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

  21. Mammone, A., Godin, E. and Jenkins, B. (2012) (eds.) Mapping the Extreme Right in Contemporary Europe: From Local to Transnational. Routledge.

  22. Mudde, Cas (2007) Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

  23. Quillian, L. (1995) Prejudice as a response to perceived group threat: Population composition and anti-immigrant and racial prejudice in Europe. American Sociological Review 60 (4): 586–611.

  24. Richard, J.-L. (1996) L’Extrême ouest: Loin de l’extrême droite. Revue Française de Science Politique 46 (5): 792–816.

  25. Rydgren, J. (2007) The sociology of the radical right. Annual Review of Sociology 33 (1): 241–262.

  26. Wilks-Hegg, S. (2009) The canary in the coalmine? Explaining the emergence of the British National Party in English local politics. Parliamentary Affairs 62 (2): 377–398.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Matthew J Goodwin.

Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Table A1

Table A1 Pearson’s correlation coefficient of key variables in 2011

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Goodwin, M., Harris, G. Rallying intolerance in the valleys: Explaining support for the extreme right in Wales. Br Polit 8, 433–456 (2013).

Download citation


  • right-wing extremism
  • Wales
  • voting
  • minor parties
  • BNP