The National Front (NF) is a far-right and fascist political party in the United Kingdom. It is headquartered in Kingston upon Hull and is currently led by Kevin Bryan. A minor party, it has never had elected representatives at any level of UK government higher than 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 regarding 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 his own British National Party (BNP). Many NF members defected to Tyndall's BNP, while the National Front's electoral support deteriorated heavily. 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 or far-right of British politics, the NF has been characterised as fascist or neo-fascist by political scientists. Various 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 from the country. It promotes biological racism, calling for global racial separatism and condemning interracial relationships and miscegenation. It espouses anti-semitic conspiracy theories, endorsing Holocaust denial and claiming that Jews seek to dominate the world through both communism and international 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 extreme-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, with most of the party's support coming from within 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 legally prohibited from various professions.
|Deputy Leader||Tony Martin|
|Founded||7 February 1967|
|Headquarters||Kingston upon Hull|
|Colours||Red, white, blue|
The National Front was established as a coalition of small extreme-right groups which were active on the fringes of British politics during the 1960s. In early 1966, A. K. Chesterton, the leader of the League of Empire Loyalists (LEL), resolved to unite many of these parties. Over the following months, many members of Britain's extreme-right visited him 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 there were many personal rivalries that made the process difficult.
Chesterton agreed to a merger of the LEL and BNP, and a faction of the RPS also agreed to join the venture. The BNP was eager to accelerate integration, in part because it was running out of funds and hoped that the LEL could help to financially sustain it. 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 and anti-Semitism, as well as the recent arrest of Tyndall and seven other GBM members for illegal weapon possession. Chesterton had also met with the neo-Nazi Colin Jordan of the National Socialist Movement, but again deemed it political suicide to unite with his faction. The BNP and RPS independently discussed a merger, although this idea foundered.
In October 1966 the LEL and BNP established a working committee to determine what policies the two parties could agree upon; it continued to meet 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 was selected as 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. According to the journalist Martin Walker, "for the great union of the Right, the National Front was a feeble beginning". Nevertheless, the historian Richard Thurlow noted that 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.
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 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 had espoused more moderate positions than the neo-Nazi views he had previously promoted; Tyndall himself believed that this was the most important factor in changing Chesterton's mind on allowing GBM members to switch to the NF. The party held its first annual conference in October 1967, when it was picketed by anti-fascist demonstrators. In January 1968 the Liverpool-based British Aid for the Repatriation of Immigrants joined the NF, to be followed later that year by another Liverpudlian group, the People's Progressive Party. In 1969, the NF gained further recruits from the Anglo-Rhodesian League and the Anti-Communist League.
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 had 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 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 rose to become the foremost political topic in the national media after the Conservative Party politician Enoch Powell made his Rivers of Blood speech, a populist appeal against non-white immigration into Britain. Although Powell proposed more moderate polities in dealing with migrants than the NF did, 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.
In the 1969 local elections, the NF fielded 45 candidates, averaging 8%, with a few of its candidates securing over 10%. It focused on these latter seats in the 1970 local elections, fielding 10 candidates, although almost all secured under 5%. 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 began carrying out stunts to raise publicity; 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 the Greater Britain Movement—launched a leadership challenge against him. On realising that his support was weak, Chesterton resigned. Brown offered the party's leadership to Tyndall, but the latter declined the offer. Tyndall instead endorsed John O'Brien, who had contacts across Britain's far-right. The NF directorate was unconvinced but with no alternative selected O'Brien in February 1971. O'Brien and his supporters were frustrated with Tyndall and Martin Webster's continuing friendship with German neo-Nazi groups and their links to the neo-Nazi 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' National Independence Party in June 1972.
— Tyndall's views on electoral 'respectability'
With O'Brien gone, Tyndall became party chairman in July 1972, centralising the NF's activities at a new Croydon headquarters. According to Thurlow, under Tyndall the NF represented "an attempt to portray the essentials of Nazi ideology in more rational language and seemingly reasonable arguments", functioning as an attempt to "convert racial populists" angry about immigration "into fascists". In his history of fascism, Roger Eatwell noted that under Tyndall, "the NF tried hard to hide its neo-Nazism from public view, fearing it might damage popular support." Under Tyndall, the party shifted itself to appeal to the white working-class, and in June 1974 launched its own 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 dressed in a Nazi uniform.
The NF capitalised on fears surrounding the arrival of Ugandan Asian refugees in 1972, resulting in a rapid growth of the party's membership. Among those who joined were Conservative Monday Club members who brought with them much political experience. In the 1972 Uxbridge by-election, the NF polled 8.2% of the vote; in 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 did well in two Blackburn wards, gaining 23% and 16.8% respectively. It also stood six candidates for that year's Greater London Council (GLC) election, gaining an average vote of 6.3%. In the February 1974 general election, it fielded 54 candidates, a sufficient number to guarantee a free party political broadcast. Although contesting six times as many seats as in 1970, its average vote share was 3.2%, slightly less than in 1970. In the October 1974 general election, the NF fielded 90 candidates, although none gained 10% and all lost their deposits. By the mid-1970s, the NF's membership had stagnated and in several areas was declining. 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; the Tyndallites claimed that the Populists were too left-wing, while the Populists accused the Tyndallite faction of being dominated by homosexuals, pejoratively referring to it as "the Daisy Chain" and "the Fairy Ring". Tyndall urged constitutional reform in the party, but failed to convince the directorate to support his proposed changes. 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.
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 they improved on their 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, the All Lewisham Campaign against Racism and Fascism (ALCARAF), and during their march they were attacked by far-left activists in what came to be known as the "Battle of Lewisham".
In the 1979 general election, the NF mounted the largest challenge 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 adopted an increasingly tough stance on immigration which attracted many of the votes that had previously gone to the NF. NF membership had also declined, and by 1979 had fallen to approximately 5000. Despite calls from others within the Front, Tyndall refused to dilute or moderate his party's policies, stating that to do so would be the "naïve chasing of moonbeams". In November 1979, Fountaine unsuccessfully tried to oust Tyndall as leader, subsequently breaking from the NF to establish the National Front Constitutional Movement.
— John Tyndall
Although Tyndall and Webster had been longstanding comrades from before the NF's foundation, they had grown distant over time, and 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—who was gay—had been making sexual advances toward the party's young men. More widely, Tyndall complained about a "homosexual network" among leading NF members. 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, subsequently referring to the party as the "gay National Front". In June 1980, Tyndall founded the New National Front (NNF), which claimed that a third of the NF's membership had defected to them.
After Tyndall's departure, Webster became party chair, although 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 neo-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 simply 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 upon local issues. Following their declining vote share in the late 1970s, both groups had effectively abandoned interest in electoral participation.
Reflecting the influence of the Nouvelle Droite, 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. Reflecting its calls for a multi-racial alliance of racial separatists, one issue of National Front News prominently featured the slogan "Fight Racism", resulting in the party's Manchester branch refusing to distribute it. 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.
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 then 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 local BNP branches in Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire had discussed switching allegiance. In March 2015 Kevin Bryan became chairman. After he was injured in a car accident, Bryan resigned and was replaced by Aberdeen-based Dave MacDonald in November 2015.
The National Front has been characterised as a far right or extreme right party. It displayed commonalities with older extreme-right groups while at the same time having "unique ideological traits of its own". Political scientists and historians have characterised it as fascist, or more specifically as neo-fascist, as did much of the British press. The NF rejected the term "fascist" as a description of its ideology, and spent much time denying the "blatant past fascist associations" of its leading members. It claimed that it could not be fascist because it took part in elections, although many previous fascist parties—including the British Union of Fascists, the German Nazi Party, and the Italian National Fascist Party—also took part in elections, rendering this argument obsolete. The party's founders sought to present it as a British nationalist party with no links to the fascism of the past, recognising that this would be vital if it were to succeed as an electoral force. To do so it adopted "new labels, styles and tactics", in order to present the image of itself as a "respectable political party engaged in legitimate electoral competition".
— Paul Wilkinson, 1981
The historian Martin Durham stated that the NF, like France's National Front and Germany's The Republicans, were "the direct descendants of classical fascism" and that it shared "many of the concerns of the pre-war extreme right". Nevertheless, Walker stated that the NF were not fascist in "the classic sense of the 1930s", while the sociologist Christopher T. Husbands cautioned against attempts to understand the National Front through comparisons with Italian Fascism or German Nazism as they existed when they were in power.
As with other politically extreme groups, the Front retained its full ideology for the inner core of members, presenting a limited and more moderate image for public consumption. The political scientist Nigel Fielding observed that while some of the NF's views were grounded "in popular common-sense opinion" that was widely shared on the political right, many of its other views, namely those on race, departed considerably "from what is normal or acceptable to the average citizen" in the UK. In 1977, Walker stated that many of the NF's policies were akin to the idea of people on the right-wing of the Conservative Party. Its ideological world-view emphasises its ties to tradition and the past while proposing radical reforms to the country's governance that are not traditional. Fielding thus noted that it was "not blindly traditionalist" but "wishes to return to what it conceives of as the spirit of the old order", even if its conception of the "old order" was not historically accurate.
Over the course of the NF's history, there have been many different factions within it, often displaying distinct ideological orientations from one another. From the party's early days until the Tyndall/Webster split in 1980, the NF's ideology and propaganda output was dominated by the ex-GBM faction. According to Wilkinson, theirs was a leadership "deeply imbued with Nazi ideas" which retained "intimate connections with small Neo-Nazi cells in Britain and abroad". According to Thurlow, theirs was "an attempt to portray the essentials of Nazi ideology in more rational language and seemingly reasonable arguments", and that in doing so they were influenced by Chesterton. 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 then "convert [these] racial populists into fascists". The political scientist Stan 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 other fascist groups. In his words, the NF's "full ideology" was "in a large number of respects", identical to that of the original German Nazism.
In the late 1970s, the "Populist" faction rose in strength within the party and challenged the ex-GBM faction's dominance; according to Thurlow, they 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 which regarded itself as Strasserite in ideology, 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; they have also been characterised as National Bolshevist in orientation. The political scientist David L. Baker argued that many of the ideas embraced by this group were akin to those promoted by Chesterton and that it reflected a return of Chesterton's intellectual influence on the direction of the party.
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 claimed that if all nations embraced nationalism then there would be global peace because they would eschew internationalism and imperialism. It also labelled itself a racial nationalist party, with its concept of nationalism being 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, other parts of its material referred to a wider array of racial groups, among them the "Nordics", "Caucasoids", "Negroids", "Semites", and "Turco-Armonoids". It claimed that within larger 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 Front rejected the concept of racial equality, and argued that different races can be ranked on a hierarchy based on their differing abilities. It believed that the various "higher races" are engaged in a struggle against one another for world domination. As a result of its belief in the inequality of different races, it promoted the view that racial segregation was both natural and ordained by God, opposing both inter-racial marriage and miscegenation. Fielding expressed the view that in NF ideology, alien races were perceived as "threatening the coherence of British culture. Homogeneity is the key to heritage". He believed that this "dialectic of insiders and outsiders" was the "linchpin of its ideology", adding that the NF's "rigid boundaries between in-group and out-group" was typical of the extreme right.
The NF presented the view that non-white racial groups were often genetically inferior to "Caucasoids and Mongoloids", and that whereas the white race had established civilisation, the black race had contributed 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, while in the early 1980s, Nationalism Today carried articles maintaining that black Africans had lower average IQs than white Europeans and that as a result, "negroes... are not fitted to go to white schools or to live in white society". The NF has been concerned with establishing academic support for its racial views, and offered academic and quasi-academic books on race research on its booklist. Early party literature made regular references to the work of Hans Eysenck, William Shockley, Arthur Jensen, and Richard Herrnstein, while members were encouraged to obtain copies of H. B. Isherwood's Racial Integration and Wesley Critz George's Biology of the Race Problem. However, Fielding observed that the NF's racial views rely "as much on blind assertion, on faith, as on 'scientific' sources".
— Political scientist Nigel Fielding, 1981
The NF claimed that all members of the British race shared certain common interests. It viewed class as a false and needless distinction among the British race, rejecting the concept of class war as "nonsense". It also condemned both Welsh nationalism and Scottish nationalism, treating them as a threat to British racial unity. For the NF, patriotism was deemed "essential in maintaining the cohesion and morale of the nation", perceiving nationalism to be the 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.
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. By 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 NF's Statement of Policy
The cornerstone of the National Front's manifesto since 1974 has been the compulsory deportation of all non-white immigrants along with their descendants to other parts of the world. It accompanies this with a call to prohibit any further non-white migrants from being permitted entry to Britain. It stated that the process of repatriation could take ten years, and also proposed that prior to deportation, all non-whites would be stripped of British citizenship and placed behind white Britons when it comes to access to welfare, education, and housing. It further stated that the white British partners in any mixed-race relationships would also be deported.
Over its first decade, the party emphasised the claim that migrants themselves should not be blamed for immigration, but rather the blame should be placed on the politicians who enabled this migration. In 1969, it publicised the claim that "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 had been masterminded by communists and promoted by the Labour Party, who believed that it would boost their vote, and the Conservative Party, who believed that it would provide cheap labour for corporations. Its early manifestos avoided describing non-white immigrants with derogatory terms, although more pejorative descriptions were provided at the party's rallies. As it developed, the NF press included racially inflammatory headlines like "Black Savages Terrorize Old Folk", "Rastas Terrorize White Women", and "Asians Import Bizarre Sex-Murder Rites".
In the 1970s, the NF stated that it did not oppose immigration of white individuals from Commonwealth countries, but called for "firm controls" on the arrival of whites from other countries. Ted Budden, an organiser for the party in the 1980s, proclaimed that white immigrants such as Poles would not be repatriated, adding: "Ah, it's the Poles who are the most forthright in the fight against coloured immigrants everywhere".
The NF attempted to link many other political themes to the issues of race and immigration, and targeted concerns among the white British population about immigrants as 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 it was these diseased immigrants who were placing a heavy burden on the National Health Service (NHS), and that incompetent and poorly trained migrant staff were detrimental to the NHS. It presented the idea that school quality was being eroded by black pupils, and that unemployed whites were not getting jobs because these had been taken by blacks. It claimed that immigrants evaded taxes, and that they were arrogant, aggressive, and unhygienic in the workplace. During the 1970s, the NF's propaganda regularly presented black people in Britain as a source of crime. This anti-immigrant discourse was similar to that employed against the recently arrived Ashkenazi Jewish community in the late nineteenth century and also had echoes of the response to gypsies and Huguenots in seventeenth-century England.
The NF believed that the Jews formed a distinct race, one which sought to destroy other higher races by encouraging miscegenation, internationalism, and internal divisions. In doing so, other higher races would be left in disarray, with the Jews remaining the world's dominant race. A conspiracy theory, these ideas are similar to those appearing in the nineteenth-century Protocols of the Elders of Zion and those which were previously articulated by the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Whereas the BUF had been explicit in presenting this global conspiracy as being run by Jews, the NF was more circumspect, instead using terms like "Money Power" in place of "Jews". The NF professed the view that those who disagreed with its conspiracy theories were ignorant of reality, and experiencing false consciousness. The party engaged in Holocaust denial, referring to the Holocaust as "the six million myth" in its literature. In promoting Holocaust denial, NF members might have been trying to rehabilitate Hitler and the Nazi regime among the British population.
Many of the Front's central members—among them Chesterton, Tyndall, and Webster—had a long history of anti-Semitic activity before they joined the party. For instance, in 1963, Tyndall had 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." Over the course of the 1970s the articles in Spearhead and Britain First became increasingly explicit in their anti-Semitism. In that same decade, the NF rejected the characterisation of its policies as "anti-Semitism", instead portraying itself as "anti-Zionist", claiming that it only opposed "Zionists" rather than all Jews, and expressing tacit support for the Palestinians and the wider Arab nations amid their conflict with Israel. Fielding commented that within the party, the term "Zionist" is used indiscriminately and without precision, against many of its critics. He also noted that there were widespread anti-Semitic attitudes among party activists.
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 democratic governance structure was "bogus democracy" and claimed that it would forge "a genuinely democratic political system". As part of this, it claimed that it would utilise 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.
For the NF, democracy was perceived as a luxury that was subordinate to the cause of preserving the nation. In his journal Spearhead, Tyndall stated that although he would support parliamentary democracy if he thought it in the national interest at a given time, "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 the state to be governed by a strong, central leader, and highlighted that ideally this leader would be unencumbered by political parties and elections, thus being able to focus on the national interest rather than the special 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." Observing that "there is in NF ideology a strong orientation to charismatic leadership and authoritarian control", 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 to governance and the state, one which was influenced heavily by the Third International Theory developed by Libyan political leader Muammar Gaddafi and propounded in his work, The Green Book. Accordingly, 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 militia throughout the island rather than a state-controlled professional army.
While the NF was critical of the UK's liberal democratic order, it expressed support for the retention of the British monarchy. In the 1970s it also suggested that national service be reintroduced to the UK, that the country obtain larger numbers of nuclear weapons, and that it withdraw from international defense pacts like the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. In its 1970s heyday, the NF called for the UK's withdrawal from the United Nations, claiming that the supranational organisation was both a "major weapon of International Finance" and unduly impacted by a "Communist and AfroAsian influence". From its early years, the Front opposed the UK's membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), deeming membership to be a threat to British national sovereignty. During the early 1970s it called on its members to obstruct the EEC bureaucracy in any way possible, calling for its supporters to "defy the law - be prepared to go to prison too as a gesture of defiance" against the EEC. In March 1975 it tried to affiliate itself with the National Referendum Campaign (NRC)—which was campaigning for the UK to leave the EEC in that year's referendum on the issue—although the latter turned down the offer. In response, NF members disrupted the April 1975 NRC meeting at London's Conway Hall, storming the platform and having to be removed by police.
To replace the EEC, the NF called for the UK to establish stronger 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 it would not remain allied to the United States because the latter was dominated by the Jewish world conspiracy, and it also stipulated that it would cease the payment of foreign aid.
During the 1970s the Front was British unionist, advocating for the continued political unity of the United Kingdom. From the late 1960s onward, the NF expressed support for the Ulster Unionist community, deeming Irish republicanism to be part of a communist conspiracy to undermine British unity. Despite Tyndall's strong support of Ulster's continued membership of the UK, he nevertheless refused to take a side in the conflict between Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland, using Spearhead to state that such "religious squabbles" were "absurd". The NF argued that the British government had been ineffective in dealing with the Provisional Irish Republican Army and other militant Irish republicans because it was too soft in its approach to them; it argued that civil courts should be replaced by military ones, that the British Army should abandon "kid gloves" for "the mailed fist", that it should replace rubber bullets with lead ones, that IRA members should be interned, and that those guilty of sabotage or murder should be executed by firing squad. While leader of the NF, Tyndall expressed the view that "The duty of Britain is to fight [Irish] republicanism and to destroy republicanism, not just violent republicanism – as represented by the IRA – but republicanism in every shape and form". In the early 1970s it also alleged that the Irish Republic was harbouring republican militants active in Ulster, and that this should be treated as "an act of war against Britain" that required trade sanctions.
In the 1970s the NF endorsed the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party, a right-wing Ulster Unionist party. Many Ulster Unionists were however suspicious of the NF, and in 1973 the Ulster Defence Association proscribed it, circulating an internal memorandum that stated: "we regard the National Front as a neo-Nazi movement". In 1985—by which time the Strasserite faction were very influential in the party—the NF called for Ulster to unilaterally declare independence from the United Kingdom in response to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
During the 1970s, the Front claimed that it was neither capitalist nor socialist in orientation. It endorsed the place of private enterprise in the economy 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. The NF opposed any foreign ownership of British industry, arguing that North Sea Oil production should only be in the hands of British companies and not foreign ones. Its policies were protectionist and monetarist, advocating the state control of banking and financial services, and called for the state bank to provide interest free loans that would fund the construction of municipal housing. These economic views were common within Britain's extreme-right milieu, and were for instance akin to those promoted by Oswald Mosley and his BUF in earlier decades. 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 aligned its economic policies with distributism, maintaining the emphasis on the need for an economic system that was neither capitalist nor socialist. In the party's material from 1980, it claimed that "Capitalism and Communism" were "twin evils" that could 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 also likely influenced by the far-right movement's general antipathy toward urban living and its belief that rural life is fundamentally superior.
The NF adopted a strong anti-permissive stance. It was concerned with what it perceived as the growing permissiveness of British society, claiming that this had resulted in moral decadence and social decay. The party attributed this to a conspiracy orchestrated by Jews and other enemies of the white British race. Tyndall called for a project of moral regeneration that would penetrate "every sphere of work and leisure". He claimed that an NF government would render illegal "the promotion of art, literature or entertainment by which public moral standards might be endangered". During the 1970s, the party espoused a belief in absolute moral values, claiming that these had been set out by God. However, the party placed little apparent importance on religion; although endorsing Ulster loyalism it never shared the Ulster loyalists' emphasis on the defence of Protestantism.
The party censures homosexuality, supporting the reintroduction of Section 28 and the recriminalisation of same-sex sexual activity. Members of the party have sought to protest at LGBT Pride parades. From its early years, the party has opposed mixed race marriages. During the 1970s, NF activists were involved in anti-prostitution campaigns, and in 1977 also took a key role in protests against a pro-paedophile organisation, the Paedophile Information Exchange.
The party is anti-feminist, having described feminism as "puerile Marxist rubbish", and being highly critical of changes to traditional gender roles. Although in its first year the party largely ignored the recently passed 1967 Abortion Act that legalised abortion in Great Britain, by 1974 the party had adopted an anti-abortion stance, stating that abortions should only be legally permitted in certain 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 Strasserite faction took control in the mid-1980s. In 1987, National Front News claimed that abortion was "the greatest and most fundamentally evil holocaust that the world has ever seen", insisting that each human received its soul from the moment of conception. As well as opposing abortion, the NF opposed the provision of birth control to white British citizens, believing that doing so restricts the growth of the white British race. Tyndall again saw contraception as part of a conspiracy, lambasting it as a "propaganda weapon aimed at driving the White peoples to racial suicide through the limitation of births".
— NF Chairman John Tyndall
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 removed from their positions. In 1978 it issued a leaflet, How to Spot a Red Teacher, to school pupils. In the 1970s, the party stressed its belief that education should be suited to the varying academic abilities of different students although did not outright condemn the egalitarian comprehensive school system. It called for far greater emphasis on exams and sporting competitions in schools, with a rejection of what it called "slapdash Leftwing-inspired teaching fads". It stated that it would emphasise the teaching of British history to encourage patriotic sentiment among students, while also expanding the place of science and technology in the curriculum at the expense of the social sciences, lambasting the latter as "a mere form of academic Marxism". On the issue of further education, it called for much stronger emphasis to be placed on training in technology and industrial management.
The Front exalts self-sufficiency as a virtue, 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, instead promoting a self-help ideology. At the time it stated that it would end the perception of the UK as a "loafer's paradise" by ensuring that all those capable of working do so rather than subsiding on unemployment benefits. It stated that a rudimentary welfare state should nevertheless exist in order to provide support for the "very young, very old, the sick and the disabled".
Since its early years, the NF has promoted a tough stance on law and order issues, calling for harsher sentences for criminals, tougher prisons, and the reintroduction of capital punishment. It has rejected the idea that an individual's misdeeds should be attributed to their societal background, placing an emphasis on self-responsibility. The National Front focused on crimes committed by black people, as well as crime figures involving immigrants produced by the Metropolitan Police. The party also 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". Webster also made connections with crime statistics regarding the African-American community in the United States. These, Webster argued, showed that "adult negroids fall below other races in acceptable behaviour", lamenting that "the criminal Blacks cannot help themselves". It also called for the scrapping of the Race Relations Act 1965, arguing that individuals should have the legal right to racially discriminate against others.
As it existed in its 1970s heyday, the National Front was headed by its directorate, a body of between seven and twenty party members. This directorate was responsible for determining party policy, controlling its structures and finances, overseeing admissions and expulsions, and determining the tactics its activists would employ. 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 was agreed—at Tyndall's instigation—that the chairman would instead be elected through a postal ballot of the party's membership. As the directorate met together in London only infrequently, in practice the chairman and deputy chairman were left to the day-to-day running of the party. The formal organisation resulted in the party's elite having most of the power, with the membership exerting little control over policy or the actions of party leaders. Fielding suggested that this centralisation of power would have presaged the framework of any NF government had they obtained power.
As with most other British political parties at the time, in the 1970s the NF's elite was overwhelmingly male, middle-class, and relatively young. The party's directorate had strict control over both local and regional organisations. The party's constitution did not acknowledge the existence of factions, although the Front had a long history of factional rivalry within its ranks, with Wilkinson noting that it had been plagued by "personal squabbles and splits" among the party hierarchy.
The NF's local presence was divided into "groups" which had under twelve members and "branches" which had over twelve. The NF was not eager to publicise the number of branches that were active across the UK. Fielding stated that in July 1973 the party had 32 branches and 80 groups, while Walker claimed that in January 1974, the NF had 30 branches and 54 groups. The majority were located 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. NF branch meetings were much like those of other political parties in Britain, being largely preoccupied with practical issues such as raising finances. Typically, branch meetings took place in a local pub and would be followed by a social period in the establishment. Some NF branches also established supporters' associations for individuals who backed the NF but were not willing to become members out of fear of potential repercussions. In April 1974, the party introduced regional councils to co-ordinate between the national party and its local groups and branches. These regional councils were required to contain two members from each branch in the region.
Supporter organisations were also established among white communities of British descent elsewhere in the world; in March 1977 a National Front of New Zealand was founded, followed by comparable organisations in Australia, Canada, and South Africa in 1978. After the Strasserite faction secured control of the party in 1986, it formally adopted a cadre system of leadership. This meant that the party became more elitist, becoming 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 cause of the nation.
The Front had a strong preoccupation with security, refusing to reveal information about its leader's standard working hours or the number of staff based at its headquarters. During the 1970s, it created a card-index and photo file of its opponents, which included their names and addresses. To guard its marches from anti-fascist protesters, the NF formed "defence groups" largely made up of young men. By 1974, this group had come to be called the Honour Guard. Members of this group often carried makeshift weapons such as 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 have continued into more recent times; in August 2017, around thirty NF supporters marched in Grantham, Lincolnshire, where they clashed with members of the Midland Anti-Fascist Network. In some instances, its marches have been banned by the local authorities; in 2012, Aberdeen City Council rejected the NF's request to hold a procession down Aberdeen's Union Street on Hitler's birthday.
The Front claimed that violent incidents were instigated by its opponents, and that NF 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 that the most notable violent clash involving the NF was the Red Lion Square disorders which took place in central London's Red Lion Square in June 1974. The NF had planned a meeting at Conway Hall and was expecting that anti-fascist protesters would picket the event. The event resulted in clashes between the NF, anti-fascists, and the police stationed to keep the peace; 54 demonstrators were arrested, many were injured, and one anti-fascist protester, Kevin Gateley, was killed. Gateley's was the first death at a British demonstration since 1919. 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 responded by attacking the NF marchers in what came to be known as 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.
In other instances, the NF deliberately disrupted the meetings of its opponents, including both anti-fascist groups and mainstream politicians. In November 1975, NF activists attacked a meeting of the National Council of Civil Liberties held at the University of Manchester, with eight people requiring hospitalisation. In another instance, eighty NF activists stormed a meeting held by the Liberal Party to discuss the Rhodesian Bush War and the transition to black-majority rule in Rhodesia. NF members threw flour bombs and chairs at the assembled delegates while chanting "White Power". Another event disrupted by the NF was a town hall meeting held in Newham, where female members pelted the Home Secretary Roy Jenkins with flour bombs and manure.
There have also been actions carried out by right-wing extremists where covert NF involvement was suspected but not proven. This can result from NF members engaging in "freelance" activism not authorised by the party hierarchy. For instance, in February 1974, a number of men were observed putting up NF posters in Brighton, assaulting passers by that they accused of being Jewish, and attacking staff at a socialist bookshop run by the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist). The local NF branch denied any knowledge of the incident or the individuals in question. In June 1978, the headquarters of the Anti-Nazi League was hit by an arson attack; the slogan "NF Rules OK" was emblazoned on the building in graffiti. Again, the NF denied that its members had been responsible. The party's leadership showed little concern with the violent activities of some of its members and supporters, and openly praised some of those members convicted of violent criminal activity.
The NF established a wide range of sub-groups and organisations through which to promote its cause. In June 1974, the party launched its NF Trade Unionists Association, seeking to promote NF membership among Britain's trade unions. Tyndall believed that the NF should take control of the trade union movement and suppress the leftists within it. During the 1970s it also encouraged members to infiltrate other groups, such as the Hunt Saboteurs Association and ratepayers' and residents' associations, in order to promote the NF cause within them. In 1973, the political scientist Max Hanna noted that the party had made "virtually no impact in academic circles" and that it was therefore planning on rearing its own academics. In 1978, the party's directorate established a legal department to deal with the growing number of members who were being charged with inciting racial hatred under the 1976 Race Relations Act.
During the 1970s, the NF formed its own Student Association, and issued a student magazine titled Spark, which was edited by a law student at Chelmsford Polytechnic. During the 1970s this group attempted to recruit students on university campuses, but on having little success it refocused its attention towards recruitment at schools and particularly sixth forms. In 1977, the party held a meeting to discuss how best to attract teenagers to its cause, and in 1978 it launched a group called the Young National Front (YNF). The YNF was restricted to individuals aged between 14 and 25 years old, and was the means by which individuals like Griffin and Pearce, who later became influential figures in the party, first entered it. The YNF issued a newsletter, Bulldog, which was edited by Pearce, and also held "training seminars" for schoolchildren. The YNF distributed leaflets and copies of Bulldog at football matches and concerts that it believed would attract large numbers of white working-class people, and also 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. Bulldog for instance carried an advert urging female supporters to become "a Bulldog bird" by sending in photographs of themselves, "the sexier the better", for publication in the magazine. These images were then printed with slogans such as "one good reason for joining the YNF" in an attempt to entice more heterosexual men to join.
— Skrewdriver, "White Noise", the first song released by the NF's White Noise Records
Members of the NF observed how the left had mobilised anti-fascist support through musical ventures like Rock Against Racism, and decided to employ similar techniques to advance its own cause. In 1979, Pearce, who was then the YNC's leader, established Rock Against Communism (RAC), through which concerts featuring neo-Nazi skinhead bands were organised. Advertising the RAC, the March 1979 issue of Bulldog stated that "For years White, British youths have had to put up with left-wing filth in rock music... But now there is an anti-commie backlash." Its first RAC event was held in Conway Hall in August 1979, and featured performances by The Dentists, Homicide, and White Boss; one YNC member in attendance later noted that most of the audience were drunk men. Tyndall and other senior NF members liked the opportunity for greatly 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; they had been having difficulty finding venues willing to host them due to the violence that often accompanied its performances. In 1983 the NF set up a record label, White Noise Records, which became an important source of revenue for the party for several years, and a new means of disseminating its ideas. Its first release was Skredriver's White Noise EP. 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 large rural home of Nick Griffin's parents in Suffolk. The assembled crowd saluted Skrewdriver's performances with Nazi salutes and calls of "sieg heil" while the band's Ian Stuart responded with "Fucking right Seig Heil, fucking nigger bashing". To further promote this music scene, senior NF members then established the White Noise Club which distributed the White Noise magazine internationally. Later in the 1980s, Skrewdriver broke from the NF and the White Noise Club to establish its own extreme-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. Within the United Kingdom, its strength was centred heavily in England, being far weaker in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The party's levels of support were clustered around London, Birmingham, and England's South Coast. This distribution had "strong parallels" with the earlier support of the BUF.
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 specific financial targets that they were expected to reach, which they had to attain through selling Spearhead and the NF's newssheet Britain First. Branches also held jumble sales, totes, and social events as a means of raising funds. These 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 specifically requested from the attendees. It had a number of wealthy supporters who provided donations of up to £20,000, including sympathisers living in apartheid-era South Africa, and in France. It also received funds from individuals in the Arab world in order to finance the publication of material espousing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial. Walker noted that in 1974, the NF raised at least £50,000. That same year, it went into debt in order to finance its electoral campaigns.
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. Thurlow noted that even at its peak in the 1970s, the Front's membership was still only half the size of that of the BUF during its 1930s heyday.
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. Following its establishment, the NF claimed to have 4000 members in 1968, and in February 1974 a branch chairman claimed that it had 20,000 members. Fielding suggested that it probably had about 21,000 members in early 1975, of whom 6,000 to 8,000 were 'paper members' who had not renewed their membership subscriptions but not officially terminated their membership. 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 and then down to 3,148 in 1984 and further down to 1,000 in January 1985. An estimate of membership of the National Front in 1989 put adherents of the Flag Group at about 3,000 and of the Strasserite faction at about 600.
— Fielding, on the class composition of NF branches, 1981
No adequate sociological sampling of NF members ever took place, but impressionistic interviews with members were carried out during the 1970s by Taylor, Fielding, and Billig. Max Hanna noted that as of 1973, most members of the NF were "from the skilled working class and lower-middle class" but that there was variation according to branch. Fielding observed that most members of the party during the late 1970s were working-class. He also noted that in the party's South Coast branches there was a higher concentration of lower middle-class members. He furthermore observed that party activism was generally carried out by upper working and lower middle-class members rather than by those who were lower working or upper middle-class.
Fielding noted that the party's membership contained individuals of all age ranges, although added that there were branches with a particular concentration of largely retired persons. He also observed that branches exhibited a greater number of men in their thirties or fifties rather than their forties, suggesting that the latter were typically too preoccupied with raising their families to involve themselves heavily in NF matters. Hanna also noted that "men in their thirties" appeared to be the party's main cohort. The male dominance of the membership was in common with most other British political parties active in the period, although the Front differed from these other parties in cultivating an image of "overwhelming masculinity" and "virulent machismo".
Members of the NF were sociologically regarded as political deviants, and thus parts of the cultic milieu. Fielding's interviews with NF members in the 1970s led him to conclude that "there is something exceptional about the NF member, and particularly about the activist", for they differed from other members of society in their willingness to join a politically extreme group. Fielding found that NF members were concerned about their image and sensitive to ideas that they were "fascistic" or "cranky", instead thinking of themselves as "patriots" or "nationalists". He also found that NF members were usually more accepting of the term "racist", with some accepting it in reference to themselves. He noted that race was the main issue that led members to joining the Front, and that these members generally perceive their racial ideas to be "common sense". He added that members commonly expressed "harsh expressions of prejudice" against non-white Britons, for instance reporting on one woman member who called on members to "get out there and smash that bleedin' wog filth", a group whom she juxtaposed with "respectable people like us".
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, something that they commonly expressed using the saying "the country is going to the dogs". As evidence, they cited what they believed were declining standards of living, the erosion of British identity, and the collapse of the British Empire. Members typically looked with pride on the UK's past military and colonial exploits, and wanted the country to return to a preeminent position on the world stage. There was a widespread perception among NF members that the country's political leaders were both corrupt and cruel, and a tendency toward believing and espousing conspiracy theories.
Fielding also 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 their friends and relatives had also 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. 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 or dismay upon discovering its underlying fascist ideology. In other cases, individuals may have left because they felt that the hardship they encountered—which could include 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.
During the 1970s, the NF consistently attempted to attract youth to its cause, having formed specific sub-groups to focus on this campaign. Many of those young people attracted to the group may have done so as a form of youthful rebellion, enjoying the "shock value" that the act of joining the party gave; 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 had "a distinctive geographical distribution", coming from "some voters within certain towns and cities". According to Walker, the 1974 election results suggested that the NF's electoral heartlands at the time were in London's East End and in the north-east inner London suburbs. He noted that it typically gained much of its support from 'respectable working-class' areas, where many traditional Labour voters who felt let down by Labour governments had been 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 area, but was constrained to a "relatively restricted area", 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 even of their white residents were sympathetic" to the NF.
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 the party's national vote share. However, this study similarly found a strong link to class, with 72% of NF supporters being working class; it also 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. This close link with majority male support was also evident in other far right movements of the period, such as the George Wallace Movement in the United States, and matched the disproportionate number of men who worked for the party.
The 1980 study also examined views of the NF among the British electorate more broadly. This found that only 6% would "seriously consider" voting for the NF, while only 1% would "strongly agree" with the idea of voting for it. Two thirds of respondents believed that the NF stirred up racial tensions to advance its own cause, while 64% believed that there was a Nazi element to the party. 56% believed that the NF wanted Britain to become a dictatorship. However, Taylor suggested that many of those who voted for the NF did so not because they wanted to see the United Kingdom become a fascist state but because they were attracted by its anti-immigrant appeals.
Various explanations for the electoral growth of the NF in the 1970s held that it was impacted by the levels of non-white immigration in any particular area. In 1976, Webster claimed that his party did best "when an immigrant problem is in sight nearby", in white-dominated areas close to migrant communities. 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 to a large size, particularly if there are neighbouring areas which already had large non-white populations.
— Political scientist Stan Taylor, 1982
On examining the voting data for the 1977 Greater London Council election, the political scientist Paul Whiteley argued that the NF had picked up on the votes of alienated working-class individuals by "providing simple answers to complex problems". He argued that the NF's vote share might best be explained by the "working-class authoritarianism" phenomenon examined in the United States by S. M. Lipset. Husbands instead believed that "local working-class cultures" were "the crucial factor for understanding some pro-NF susceptibility". He cited earlier studies indicating that "territorial sensitivity" was an element of English working-class culture, with this "localism" manifesting as corollaries of "parochialism and a sensitivity to supposed threat". He argued that this led many working-class English people to focus their identities around their neighbourhood rather than their profession, which meant that many were 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 there were no parallels in France, Germany, or Italy, where the far right had not received substantial support from the urban proletariat.
During the 1970s, members of the party continually reiterated the belief that "all decent people" agreed with the party's policies. In doing so, they sought to reject the idea that the NF was in any way extraordinary or extreme in its views. Tyndall shared these views, believing that most white Britons agreed "at heart" with the Front, but that they failed to vote for it because they believed that it would not win.
The National Front experienced its greatest period of success in the mid-1970s, from about 1972 until 1977. By the late 1970s, popular support for the party had drastically declined, and in the 1980s it largely withdrew from electoral participation. The emergence of the Front as an electoral force during the 1970s was an "unprecedented development" in British politics given that it was the first time that a far-right party had gained so many votes. This questioned the long-held assumption that the UK electorate, unlike those of continental Europe, were "immune" to far-right appeals. Conversely, the fact that around nine-tenths of the population refused to vote for the Front during its heyday could be cited as evidence of the UK's putative immunity to voting for the far-right.
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 1977 it contested three by-elections, gaining 5.2% of the vote in the City of London and Westminster South by-election, 8.2% in the Birmngham Stechford by-election, and 3.8% in the Ashfield by-election. 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%.
|Year||Number of candidates||Total votes||Average voters per candidate||Percentage of vote||Saved deposits||Change (percentage points)||Number of MPs|
|Year||Candidates||MEPs||Percentage vote||Total votes||Change||Average vote|
The National Front performed better in local elections than in general ones, although it never won a seat on a local council. 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 had 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, and in doing so it mounted a challenge to 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. An alternate explanation is that the NF's actual voter base did not significantly increase between 1974 and 1977, but rather that their vote share increased due to a lower turnout from voters for mainstream parties. More broadly however, 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 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 the 1970s 'glory days'. The National Front has one councillor on a community council; the NF chairman David MacDonald was elected to Garthdee Community Council in Aberdeen in October 2015. He secured this place with only eighteen votes.
By the latter part of the 1960s, the National Front had become "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, along with the BNP, had been the two most significant extreme-right British groups since the end of the Second World War. By 1977, the NF was England's fourth largest political party in terms of electoral support. This success was something which—according to Thurlow—"testified to the significance" of the immigration issue in British politics during that decade. A 1980 study by Martin Harrop, Judith England, and Christopher T. Husbands noted that in terms of support, the NF was not able to gain the levels of support enjoyed by the Liberal Party in England, the Scottish National Party in Scotland, or Plaid Cymru in Wales. The party's influence was not only electoral, but also through shaping new far-right subcultures; in 2013, Shaffer stated that by helping to cultivate the early white power skinhead music scene, the NF had "transformed far-right politics in Britain by creating a cultural project in which neo-fascists introduced their ideology through music instead of political campaigning. In the process, the NF developed an international community that approved of the message and the music."
During the NF's 1970s heyday, the mainstream media only occasionally paid attention to the party, thus contributing to the wider perception of it as a 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 that the NF sent in to them. During the 1970s, NF branches often sought good relations with local police forces in order to ensure protection of NF events from protesters. While the party acknowledged that there was sympathy for its views among the lower ranks of the police force, it maintained that the police hierarchy was part of a conspiracy against it, thus explaining instances where leftists who allegedly harassed the NF escaped prosecution. Fielding noted that in turn the party received "a substantial measure of co-operation from local police". During the 1970s, the party also 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 members of the NF.
The existence of an "avowedly racialist nationalist party" was a provocation both to the political left and the "whole range of established political opinion", with the NF's opponents perceiving it as "a loathsome graveyard echo of the old Nazism". The NF's rise in 1973–74 was noticed by the leaders of major social and political groups but they generally chose to ignore it, desiring to give it no additional publicity and hoping that in doing so it would go away.
Two groups that adopted a different approach were the Jewish community and the far-left. The Board of Deputies of British Jews for instance began producing anti-NF literature, aware that the Front's anti-Semitic message was a threat to the Jewish community. The British far-left followed the older arguments of Marxist thinkers like Leon Trotsky that a fascist movement was being prepared by the ruling bourgeois class amid capitalist crisis in order to crush the working-class movement by replacing the liberal democratic order with a far more repressive authoritarian state. Approaches to the NF differed among British far-left groups; 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. The International Marxist Group and International Socialists/Socialist Workers Party instead favoured direct action to disrupt the NF's abilities to promote their views, holding to the slogan "No platform for fascists".
At its April 1974 annual conference, the National Union of Students—which was then influenced by the International Marxist Group—adopted a 'no platform' policy with regard to the NF. Also in the mid-1970s, the National Union of Mineworkers called for the government to ban the NF. By the October 1974 election, the Labour Party forbade its candidates to share either a public platform or a radio or television slot with NF candidates. 120 Labour-controlled councils banned the party from using local municipal halls for its activities. In the mid-1970s, Labour and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) helped to mobilise the trade union movement at the grassroots level against the NF. The TUC had previously been reticent about launching large-scale anti-racist campaigns, aware that much of their membership would disagree with them; however, they had been convinced to do so after growing far-left pressure and an awareness of the threat to trade unionism posed by a resurgent fascist movement. In 1977, a joint project between Labour and the TUC resulted in the creation of a political broadcast in which footage of the NF was interspersed with that of Hitler and Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. The TUC and Labour also issued a leaflet titled "The National Front is a Nazi Front" containing the phrase "Yesterday - the Jews; today coloured people; tomorrow you".
— The Anti-Nazi League's founding statement, 1977
Anti-fascist and anti-racist groups had developed throughout much of Britain in response to the NF and other racist activities, and in September 1977 a 'broad front' organisation, the National Co-ordinating Committee, was established to co-ordinate their efforts. In November 1977, the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) was established by various left and far-left groups to counter the impact of the Front and related far-right organisations in Britain. The ANL gained the public endorsement of several Labour politicians, trade union leaders, academics, and figures from the acting and sporting industries. In 1978 it established a sub-campaign, School Kids Against the Nazis (SKAN); some supporters of the ANL distanced themselves from the group amid fears that it was politicising school pupils with far-left propaganda. In 1976 a music-oriented organisation, Rock Against Racism, was also created to counter the NF's growth; in 1978 it held two well attended music festivals in London, where bands like The Clash and Steel Pulse performed. In 1977, the assembly of the British Council of Churches agreed to launch its own anti-fascist and anti-racist organisation, resulting in the creation of Christians Against Racism and Fascism in January 1978.
Many opposed to the NF were nonetheless cautious about joining groups with prominent far-left contingents, and as a more moderate alternative to the ANL, in December 1977 the MP Joan Lestor founded the Joint Committee Against Racialism (JCAR), which brought together members of Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberals. JCAR was endorsed by Labour, the Liberal Party, the Executive Council of the National Union of the Conservative Party, National Union of Students, Board of Deputies of British Jews, British Council of Churches, Supreme Council of the Sikhs, Federation of Bangladeshi Organisations, Indian Workers' Association, the West Indian Standing Conference, and the British Youth Council. Taylor later 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". In June 1978, the Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist Coordinating Committee (ARAFCC) and the National Co-ordinating Committee held a joint conference to which delegates came from student unions, trades councils, political parties, and groups representing women, ethnic minorities, and the gay community. Although designed to organise a united front against the NF and racism, it failed to do so amid arguments about tactics and approach.
Far-left activists demonstrated outside NF meetings and encouraged landlords to bar the NF from using their premises. In other cases, these activists 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."
... the National Front took a lead in disrupting public meetings of PIE...