The far right is upping its activity on the streets, but at the ballot box it's on the ropes. As voters head to the polls, we take a look at what far-right parties hope to achieve at the local elections.
UKIP is guaranteed heavy losses today. Both the party and the political landscape have changed enormously since 2014, when UKIP made a net gain of 161 council seats and its candidates averaged 17% of the popular vote.
Due to defections, resignations and cycle changes, 126 current UKIP seats are being contested today, and the party is only fielding candidates to defend less than half of these.
In desperation, UKIP leader Gerard Batten MEP has increasingly courted the anti-Muslim vote and strayed into far-right territory.
Batten has directly appealed to members of the hooligan-led Football Lads Alliance (FLA) and its offshoot the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA), and enjoyed a lengthy, cosy interview on the YouTube channel of far-right ex-English Defence League (EDL) leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson).
Batten also appeared in the promotional video for the “Day For Freedom” demonstration on 6 May, alongside several far-right activists, including Martin Sellner of the racial separatist Generation Identity movement, and the alt-right’s favourite pseudo-intellectual Stefan Molyneux. The MEP referred to Islam as “inherently antisemitic” last Sunday.
Whilst such a crude strategy seems unlikely to propel UKIP to nationwide success, Batten has stated that UKIP is “confident that we can retain our seats and also win a few more in some unusual places”.
Admitting that the campaign has been “difficult” (for which he blames former leader Henry Bolton), Batten has also said he would judge his party’s success not purely on its ability to win and retain seats, but on whether UKIP’s percentage of the vote rises.
For Batten, results of 5-7% of the vote in the areas it is contesting would be “a positive”. To put this in perspective, such results would be a 10-12% drop from UKIP’s average vote share in 2014.
These humble hopes still appear optimistic, however, with election analysts Britain Elects placing UKIP’s average at 3.4%.
Batten has singled out Labour-led Rochdale in the North West, where it is fielding seven candidates, as an area of gain. While UKIP has not previously won seats on Rochdale council, its candidates scored a decent average vote share of 28% in 2014.
Rochdale, a former Lib Dem stronghold, is still dealing with the repercussions of the grooming scandal. The former Labour leader of the council is currently facing accusations of lying at the national child abuse inquiry.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Batten’s UKIP has had no qualms about exploiting the scandal. Batten told the crowd at a mid-April DFLA event in Rochdale that, if elected, UKIP councillors “will make sure that they shine a spotlight on this [grooming] and they will not let it rest.”
UKIP has also provoked outrage after pushing election material in the town that claims that “Labour looked the other way while grooming gangs raped and continue to rape our daughters”.
We will find out early tomorrow morning whether UKIP’s flat demagoguery will help it bring home seats in this troubled town.
The highest profile UKIP figure standing today is the scandal-prone Bill Etheridge MEP of the Sedgley ward in Dudley, a key target for the Conservatives. UKIP is defending five seats in the council, and fielding 19 candidates. Etheridge won 1536 votes (40.5%) in 2014, with candidates averaging 33%.
Etheridge has had an explosive falling out with Batten over his attendance at the International Economic Forum in the Crimea, which saw him labelled “a disgrace” and accused of “violating international law” by Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK. Etheridge has claimed that the Dudley branch has been cut off from support from UKIP HQ.
Despite pre-emptively playing up this lack of support, Etheridge has stated that he “truly think[s] that our vote share is going to be way more than anyone could possibly have expected” and that “we are going to be in the mix to hold or take several seats”.
HOPE not hate has campaigned tirelessly in Dudley against Etheridge. He has a history of appalling behaviour: for example, endorsing the White Pendragons, a far-right group headed by a notorious convicted racist, and recently hosting Beatrix von Storch of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) at a branch meeting.
Another area of focus for UKIP is Swindon, a Brexit-backing town where the Conservatives are the largest aparty. UKIP is contesting all 19 seats up for grabs in a campaign led by Martin Costello of Luke Nash-Jones’ Trump-worshiping Make Britain Great Again (MBGA) group; three of Costello’s family are also standing for election.
UKIP failed to gain seats in Swindon in 2014, but candidates averaged a respectable 22% and finished second in six wards.
Costello told the Financial Times that he hopes to “give the establishment a bloody nose”.
The For Britain Movement, the new far-right party run by anti-Muslim activist Anne Marie Waters, aims to make strong showings in Sandwell, where it has three candidates on the ballot paper, and Leeds, where it has six.
Stuart Nicholson of the Cross Gates & Whinmoor ward claimed that he has been expelled by the party after HOPE not hate outed him as a racist, but will still appear on the ballot paper for the party.
Waters is optimistic, banking on the decline of UKIP, disaffection in the north of England towards Labour, and her view that the electorate is “more generous” with the vote at local elections.
Waters told the Leeds branch last month that she “wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t sneak one or two people in” and told the Sandwell branch that they may give other parties “a big shock” and “a bit of a bruising” at the polls.
While such a breakthrough seems extremely unlikely (UKIP has never won seats in Leeds), the city was once a British National Party (BNP) stronghold; the fascist party has previously held seats on the council, and the Morley area of the city was revealed in 2008 to have the highest BNP membership level in the country.
The BNP is contesting 16 seats, all bar one (Exeter) in Greater London. The main area of focus is Bexley, where it is standing five candidates.
Despite holding 55 councillors at its peak, the BNP lost its last councillor in the Marsden ward of Pendle after Brian Parker decided not to stand for re-election. The group really is a busted flush and is only likely to beat candidates from joke parties in every ward it contests.
The fascist National Front (NF) is standing a handful of candidates, the most notable among them former BNP leader and veteran Holocaust denier Richard Edmonds, standing for the National Front in Sutton (St Helier ward). Edmonds received 185 votes (4.4%) and came 11th of 11 when standing as an independent in the Worcester Park ward in 2014.
Also for the NF is the nazi Kevin Layzell, standing in Havering (Gooshays ward), who has the lofty aim of becoming “the voice of reason on the council”. To contrast such aims with reality, Layzell received just 14 votes (0.38%) in the Havering Parliamentary by-election in 2016.