“”No power on Earth is now going to stop this movement that we have created! No power on Earth, no threats, no lies, no words, no laws are going to stop us!
|—A slightly over-optimistic prediction from John Tyndall at a 1977 National Front meeting.|
The National Front (NF) is a far-right British political party which was created in 1967 to oppose non-white immigration from the Commonwealth into the UK. The NF vote peaked in the 1976 local elections, when it won 19% of the vote in Leicester. Two short-lived populist phases of the NF during the 1970s saw the party try to appear more moderate, however under John Tyndall the NF promoted white nationalism, fascism, had neo-Nazi sympathies and attracted violent subcultures (e.g. football hooligans and racist skinheads).
The NF collapsed and lost most its membership after the 1979 general election. By the mid-1980s the party had split into two ideological camps, with the self-styled Political Soldiers wanting to abandon contesting elections for Third Position ideas. The NF has never managed to shake its bovver boot image, but the British National Party led by Nick Griffin gave this up, "swapping bovver boots for sober suits" to gain electoral support. Today, the NF has very few members, and is little more than a drinkers-club.
On 7 February 1967 the National Front was created by members of the ultra-conservative League of Empire Loyalists (LEL) and its various splinter groups. Although the NF was founded to stop immigration into UK from Commonwealth countries, the Conservative Party had already passed the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962 which saw a decrease in Commonwealth immigrants from over 100,000 to around 50,000 per year. The Conservative Party MP Enoch Powell in his controversial 1968 Rivers of Blood speech campaigned for even tighter controls on Commonwealth immigration:
Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that the country will not be worth living in for his children. I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else. What he is saying, thousands and hundreds of thousands are saying and thinking – not throughout Great Britain, perhaps, but in the areas that are already undergoing the total transformation to which there is no parallel in a thousand years of English history. We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre. So insane are we that we actually permit unmarried persons to immigrate for the purpose of founding a family with spouses and fiancées whom they have never seen.
Like Powell, the NF wanted Commonwealth immigration to be largely reduced from 50,000 annually; Powell was marginalised by the Conservative Party, but "strong supporters who were unable to accept the Conservative party had dismissed him joined the NF, albeit discreetly". After Powell's speech, a survey showed a significant majority (74%) of the British electorate agreed with Powell's views. The NF thought it could capitalise on this popular anti-immigration sentiment by standing candidates in the 1969 local elections. Despite this, the NF won no councillors and in the 1970 general election they only averaged 4% of the vote in parliamentary seats they contested. The NF's failure was the result of the Conservative Party promising to limit immigration in their 1970 manifesto, which "drained off potential support for the NF". Some NF members also criticized the fascist past of A. K. Chesterton, a founding member of the National Front who was its first chairman; this resulted in a party schism:
“”Eighty per cent of the movement's members are first class, honest to God British patriots. Ten per cent are drifters who will go with the tide. Five per cent place personal ambition above all else. Three per cent are totally unable to distinguish between good faith and bad faith and the remaining two per cent are really evil men - so evil that I placed intelligence agents to work exploring their background with results so appalling that I have felt obliged to entrust the documents to the vaults of a bank.
|—A. K. Chesterton, unsurprisingly bitter about the internal party dispute.|
Ugandan Asian refugees, growing NF support
In 1970, John O'Brien a former Conservative Party member from Shropshire replaced Chesterton with the intention of making the NF's public image more moderate to increase its voter appeal, but he "resigned shortly after, in 1972, over concerns he had about pro-Nazi elements within the NF Directorate". The NF membership at this time was composed of two rival factions, one populist, based on Powell's anti-immigration speech with close ties to the Conservative Monday Club, the other, fascist, whose members had connections to neo-Nazi groups and figures. After O'Brien resigned, John Tyndall took over as party chairman; at first this was thought to be disastrous for the NF since Tyndall was a virulent anti-Semite, with a background in the Greater Britain Movement which was openly extremist. The NF under Tyndall however grew in support, doubling its membership because there was a refugee crisis; Idi Amin's government decided to expel Asians from Uganda and in 1972 (contrary to the Conservative Party's pledge to restrict Commonwealth immigration) 27,000 Ugandan Asian refugees settled in the UK. The NF gained a stronghold in Leicester where a large number of Asian refugees were housed; in the 1973 local elections, 26 NF candidates in Leicester averaged 15% of the vote in contested council seats. The NF also benefited from protest voters, who would normally vote Liberal, but now chose the NF. In the May 1973 West Bromwich parliamentary by-election NF candidate Martin Webster polled 4,789 votes (16%), marking the first time the NF saved a deposit. The same year, NF membership grew to 14,000. O'Brien would later join the more moderate National Independence Party which campaigned against Britain's (1973) membership of the European Economic Community.
Slump in vote, populist take-over of party
The NF contested both 1974 general elections (two elections took place within a year because of a hung parliament), but won no seats. While the NF's average vote was low for all parliamentary seats they contested, an NF candidate in Hackney South managed to obtain 9%. The overall lack of success was blamed by NF members on the party being regarded as single-issue against Commonwealth immigration without a full manifesto, since by 1974 the "Ugandan Asians issue had faded in significance to most... the numbers involved and their likely effects upon the communities in which they settled, had been wildly exaggerated". Tyndall was replaced by John Kingsley Read in 1974, who was re-elected in 1975. Read, a populist, expanded the NF's policies to agriculture, fishing, transport and energy to make the party look more mainstream and respectable. The NF also started to campaign against Britain's integration with the European Economic Community. Read, tried to expel Tyndall and other fascists from the NF, but failed; the conflict between him and Tyndall turned into a legal dispute. Unlike Tyndall, Read also condemned the violence at an NF march which resulted in the death of one man.
Read's chairmanship for the first time allowed ethnic minorities to join the NF. Albert Elder, an orthodox Jew joined the NF in 1975, but he cautioned:
“”Martin Webster and John Tyndall seem to be anti-Semitic, but I try to explain to them that they are not well-informed.
1976 peak, and decline
Having failed to expel Tyndall, Read left the NF and founded the National Party in January 1976, taking with him 2000 NF members. The following month, Tyndall was made chairman of the NF for the second time. In the local elections that year, the NP stood 8 candidates in Blackburn, averaging 26% of the vote; the NP won two councillors, including Read who polled 1,106 votes (40%) in St Thomas's ward. The NF also stood two candidates in Blackburn, but their vote was less impressive, averaging 12%. The success of the NP that year led to a Granada TV's World in Action investigation-report on the National Party. The report exposed that while the NP supposedly repudiated the fascism of the NF, its members were involved in violent assaults on immigrants as well as Labour political opponents.
While the NP had managed to create a stronghold in Blackburn, the NF built on their success in Leicester (their most active branch with 1,000 members). In the 1976 local elections, the NF contested all 48 council seats in Leicester and polled a total of 43,733 votes (19%). In Leicester's Abbey ward the NF vote share was 29%, coming within 63 votes of winning a council seat. The failure to win a single councillor led the NF branch in Leicester to quickly decline in membership and its organiser quit in 1977. Led by Tyndall with the support of Martin Webster — the NF increased marches, protests and street demonstrations, which commonly erupted into violence with anti-fascist protestors. This resulted in bad press and the NF began to attract skinheads and football hooligans, creating a bovver boot image for the party. In August 1977, the local London newspaper East Ender published a front page headline THE NAZI MENACE IN THE EAST END describing the NF as "evil masquerading as a party".
As Nigel Copsey explains in his book Ant-Fascism in Britain, by the late 1970s, even formerly neutral or sympathetic local press had turned against the National Front:
By the late 1970s, local press opposition to the National Front was commonplace. Even the Leicester Mercury, which has been previously criticized for running stories with racist sentiments, finally answered its critics and came out against the NF: "To give the National Front the chance of power to implement its cruel policies would be rejection of humanity" (Leicester Mercury, 29 April 1977). Evidently, with the local press joining the national media in its opposition to the Front, the mainstream British media became the Front's most telling antagonist. Towards the end of the 1970s, not only was the Front largely excluded from the media, it has also been associated with violence, exposed as a fascist organisation to millions of television viewers and had been correspondingly identified as a Nazi-type organisation in both the national and local press.
In August, 1977, the NF marched through Lewisham, which became known as the Battle of Lewisham because 56 police officers were injured. Later, Martin Webster planned a march through Hyde in Manchester, but this was vetoed by the authorities under the Public Order Act; Webster ended up performing the march by himself. In the 1977 and 1978 local elections the average NF vote decreased; some NF candidates however managed to beat the Liberals into third place. The Greater London Council election saw the NF beat the Liberals in 33 council seats, although their total vote was lower.
1979 general election, NF's collapse
The NF stood 303 candidates in the 1979 general election with the intention of gaining 500,000 votes and saving some deposits. All candidates however lost their deposits (costing £45,000). In total, the NF polled 191,719 votes, with candidates averaging only 1% in parliamentary seats contested. John Tyndall stood in Hackney South where the NF in 1974 achieved their best result, but his vote also fell. A key factor in the collapse of the NF was the rise of Margaret Thatcher, who became prime minister in 1979. The Conservatives once again promised to limit immigration and Thatcher had stated in 1978 that "people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture", and concluded that "there is a feeling that the big political parties have not been talking about this... that is one thing that is driving some people to the National Front". These "swamped" comments about immigration by Thatcher took away a large amount of the NF's appeal.
In the 1979 local elections in Leicester the NF again contested all 48 council seats, but their average vote fell by more than half. After this poor result, Anthony Reed-Herbert, the organiser of NF's Leicester branch quit the party and founded the British Democratic Party. The NF's Annual General Meeting in October 1979 only attracted 400 members, compared to over a thousand members who had attended the NF's 1978 AGM. There were more splits within the NF: the Constitutional Movement and in January 1980 Tyndall resigned as chairman; by June he had left the party to set up the New National Front (NNF), renamed British National Party.
...has no hope of gaining power under conditions that are stable economically, socially and politically we should not be preoccupied with making ourselves more 'respectable' under present conditions. We must appreciate that the 'image' that we have been given by the media and which may well lose us some potential support today, will be a positive asset when the streets are beset with riots, when unemployment soars, and when inflation gets beyond the present degree of minimal control.
The NF stood very few candidates in the 1980 and 1981 local elections. In Leicester's county council elections in 1981, 3 NF candidates averaged a mere 2%. The British Democratic Party the same year contested 12 seats in Leicester, including Anthony Reed-Herbert in Leicester's Abbey ward who polled 429 votes (6%). The short-lived British Democratic Party deregistered as a political party in 1982.
Political Soldiers vs. Flag Group
Severe infighting within the NF during the mid-1980s caused by an ideological dispute — led to two party factions. A faction led by Derek Holland, Nick Griffin and Patrick Harrington was called Political Soldiers (after a pamphlet entitled Political Soldier, published by Holland in 1983); the rival faction led by Andrew Brons and Martin Wingfield was nicknamed the Flag Group because it published a newspaper entitled The Flag. The former wanted to abandon contesting elections for the Third Position ideas of Roberto Fiore and Holland (a devout Catholic) bizarrely also requested that Political Soldiers should reject electoral politics for Medieval feudalism. The self-styled Political Soldiers gained control of the NF in 1986 and purged their detractors from the party, now calling themselves the Official National Front (ONF). The Flag Group co-existed with the ONF, but dwindled in support and membership. Holland went as far as telling members to cut down on TV viewing, alcohol and smoking:
Do you watch TV night after night? If so, cut down the time that you do this because you are needlessly exposing yourself to the propaganda of our enemies, whether you watch a documentary or a soap opera. Use your time more constructively and in a way that aids the National Struggle. Read a political book or magazine. Go for a walk in the countryside or in a park and enjoy the gifts of nature. Do that extra bit of leafleting or newspaper selling. Organize a discussion group at your place for a couple of friends, or get involved in local community groups like Tenants Associations, Friends of the Earth and so on and fight for local justice. Do you drink 4, 5, 6 or more pints when you are out for the night? Cut it down to 2 or 3 pints; not only will you have more money to put at the disposal of the Cause, but your health will improve greatly. Besides, the Crusaders were not known for their beer guts! Do you smoke a lot? If so, cut it down or better still cut it out. You are only keeping Big Business in business by damaging your health. There will be times when you will need to move fast, and those who insist on taking on the appearance of a wheezing dinosaur will then have to pay the price!
Some members of the Political Soldiers who wanted a revolutionary strategy, were nonetheless sceptical of Holland's philosophy. Brent Cheetham, who was involved with the party during this time, noted: "You couldn't recruit along these lines because people would think you're just barmy, quite frankly, and let's face it, the organisation was decimated". In 1988 Nick Griffin and Derek Holland travelled to Libya in an attempt to obtain funding by Gadaffi, a regime which the Political Soldiers openly praised. Perhaps confusingly (but in practice largely because of his anti-Semitism), the Political Soldiers also supported the black separatist Louis Farrakhan, describing "Black as Beautiful"; the NF also endorsed the regimes of Ghana and Iran (see above). There was even an issue of National Front News with the slogan "Fight Racism", a sentiment so controversial within the party that its Manchester branch refused to distribute the issue. The Political Soldiers saw its membership decline over these unusual statements and in 1989 Nick Griffin left the party to form the International Third Position, with Harrington leaving to create the Third Way, disbanding the Official National Front. This left the Flag Group to take control of the NF and Ian Anderson became chairman.
By the early 1990s, it was clear the British National Party had succeeded in displacing the National Front in terms of membership and electoral activity. In 1995, NF members voted to change the party name to the National Democrats and re-launch itself to compete with the BNP. However, a minority disagreed with the name change and continued as the National Front, meaning the NF had again split into two parties. The National Democrats attempted to modernise by softening their views on race, as well as adopting more voter-friendly populist policies such as campaigning for an English parliament. The change proved slightly successful in that a single ND candidate in the 1995 local elections managed a higher percentage of the vote (7%) than any council seat contested by the NF that same year.
In the 1997 general election, a National Democrats candidate in West Bromwich West polled 4,181 votes (11%). Prominent members of the National Democrats such as Martin Wingfield (formerly of the NF's Flag Group) joined the BNP in 2002 when the British National Party won 3 seats on Burnley council. The ND's had ceased electoral activity by 2003, becoming a pressure group for direct democracy.
The NF in the 21st century
Dissident NF members who had voted against the National Democrats name change, remained in the National Front led by John McAuley (1995-1998) and Tom Holmes (1998-2009). The NF at this point found a niche as a party for people who find the British National party too soft on racial issues, for example Holmes in 2005 criticized the BNP for having a Sikh columnist in the party's newspaper:
“”The BNP has a Sikh columnist and a Sikh appeared in its television broadcast. These are hardly the policies of a bona fide Nationalist party. The BNP is no longer a genuine White Racial Nationalist party and the National Front entirely disassociates itself from it.
The NF received a small boost in support in February 2010, when the BNP opened up its membership to ethnic minorities, dropping its "indigenous British" membership policy. According to a National Front spokesman, hardliners in the BNP who rejected this change considered joining the NF (note that John Kingsley Read once allowed ethnic minorities to join the NF, but this policy was reversed after the 1979 general election and the NF has since maintained a whites-only policy.) The BNP has denied there was any kind of "mass exodus" to the NF over changing their membership policy and this showed in the general election in May 2010 when the BNP contested 338 parliamentary seats and the NF only 17. The NF has recently gone through another party schism; the chairman of the party Ian Edward resigned from the NF in 2013 (Kevin Bryan replacing him as acting chairman), but then changed his mind. This led the NF Directorate to take legal action against Edward in 2014. After loosing in court, supporters of Edward formed their own party called New Dawn and Kevin Bryan became chairman of the NF. However, Bryan resigned as chairman soon after a car crash in September 2015. He was temporarily replaced by Dave MacDonald, before returning to the leadership, and in 2018 Tony Martin became leader.
In the 2010s other organisations have risen in importance, such as the proscribed far-right terror organisation National Action, Tommy Robinson's English Defence League, and the increasingly far-right UKIP under former leader Gerard Batten, while the NF struggled on. In 2017 prominent long-time member Kevin Wilshaw quit, announcing he was gay and of Jewish heritage; earlier that year he had been arrested and referred to the government's Prevent deradicalisation program. In November 2018 the NF held a march in Whitehall, London, ostensibly to mark 100 years since the end of World War One, with speeches from convicted antisemite Alison Chabloz and former national organiser of the British National Party Richard Edmonds.
|Local elections results for NF (1969 - 1978)|
|Year||Candidates||Average Vote %|
Internal schisms and party splits saw the NF almost disappear from local politics during the 1980s. It contested few council seats in the 1990s, with most its membership joining the National Democrats. More recently (since 2012) with the decline of the BNP, the NF has tried to "revive the 70s glory days", putting up more council candidates. In the 2016 local elections, the NF managed to stand more candidates than the BNP, though both parties have descended into total irrelevance; the NF averaging 1% in seats contested.
- The NF stood 10 candidates in the 1970 general election, averaging 4% of the vote.
- Le Front National a French take on modern right-nationalist politics.
- Who's afraid of the BNP?. BBC News. September, 2009.
- Linehan, 2015: 53.
- Taylor, 1982: 21.
- "The Gallup Organisation took an opinion poll at the end of April and found that 74% of the British electorate agreed with Powell’s sentiments as expressed in the speech." (Burke, 2008)
- Taylor, 1982: 22.
- Walker, 1978: 97.
- Linehan, 2015: 53.
- Walker, 1977: 142-143; Taylor, 1982: 28.
- Taylor, 1982: 24.
- Taylor, 1982: 29.
- 1975: National Front rallies against Europe. BBC News. March, 1975.
- 1974: Man dies in race rally clashes. BBC News. June, 1974.
- "A Jew in the National Front". Association of Jewish Refugees Journal. June, 1979. 
- Taylor, 1982: 44.
- Granada TV's World in Action: The National Party.
- Walker, 1978: 198.
- Leicester City Council Election Results 1973-1995. 
- Copsey, 2000: 143.
- Copsey, 2000: 144.
- Martin Webster of the NF Marching Alone Through Hyde, 1977.
- GLC Election Results 1977. 
- Taylor, 1982: 96.
- Margaret Thatcher complained about Asian immigration to Britain. Telegraph. December, 2009.
- Taylor, 1982: 182.
- Sykes, 2004: 116.
- Leicestershire County Council Election Results 1973-2009. 
- Sykes, 2004: 122-123.
- Sykes, 2004: 120.
- Sykes, 2004: 126-7.
- New name just a Front for 'National Democrats'. Independent. July, 1995.
- What kind of a political animal are you?. Telegraph. April, 2005.
- Far Right: BNP 'losing members'. BBC News. February, 2010.
- National Front leader recovering in hospital after collision with bus in Rossendale. Greater Manchester News. September, 2015.
- The National Front At 50, Hope not Hate magazine, 23 Nov 2017
- Ex-National Front organiser renounces far right and reveals he is gay, The Guardian, 18 Oct 2017
- Singer convicted for antisemitic songs lays wreath for 'British troops who died in Mandate Palestine', Jewish Chronicle, 22 Nov 2018
- Data from Walker (1977) and Taylor (1982).
- London Borough Council, 
- National Front aims to revive 70s glory days. Independent. April, 2012.
- Local Election Results, 2016 
- Copsey, N. (2000). Antifascism in Britain. Palgrave Macmillan.
- Linehan, T. (2015). "Cultures of Space: Spatializing the National Front" in: Copsey, N., Richardson, J. E. (eds.) Cultures of Post-War British Fascism. Routledge: 49-67.
- Walker, M. (1977). The National Front. Fontana.
- Sykes, A. (2004). The Radical Right in Britain. Palgrave Macmillan.
- Taylor, S. (1982). The National Front in English Politics. London: Macmillan.