It is not immigration but alienation and an inability to overcome social challenges such as isolation and low skills which are the main drivers of support for the racist British National Party.
So says a groundbreaking new study covering 150 local authorities launched today (Monday 19 April 2010) by the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr).
The report's findings flatly contradict the argument - peddled by the main political parties and tabloid newspapers, especially - that immigration is to ‘blame’ for pushing voters into the arms of the BNP.
It suggests that the opposite is true - that where people have experience of living with people from different backgrounds, including migrants, they are less likely to vote for the BNP.
The ippr report points out that nine out of 10 of the local authorities with the highest proportions of BNP votes had lower than average immigration.
A possible explanation of the anomaly presented by Barking and Dagenham, which has attracted a lot of media attention, lies in other research findings showing that BNP focus and campaigning in certain areas may be playing a critical role, says the thinktank.
Even when all other characteristics are discounted, areas targeted by the BNP see higher vote shares going to the party.
Other findings show that:
* Crime and unemployment appear to have little effect on the BNP vote either way.
* Having a high level of qualifications reduces the likelihood that people will vote for the BNP.
* Social cohesion appears to matter – where people believe the population of their area tend to get along despite differing backgrounds, they are less likely to vote BNP.
* Voter turnout appears to be important – areas which have lower voter turnout appear to have higher proportions of people voting for the BNP. This may reflect the fact that people in these areas feel alienated by mainstream politics.
Commenting on the findings, ippr Co-Director Carey Oppenheim, said: “This research provides solid evidence for the need to take seriously the slow-burning mixture of frustration, isolation and sense of powerlessness people are feeling in some communities. These are the triggers which make the siren call of extremist parties so compelling."
She added: "What our findings can finally lay to rest is the mistaken popular belief that it is experiences of immigration which leads to people voting for the BNP.“
Simon Barrow, co-director of the beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia, which advocates a global, human-centred, justice-focused and hospitable approach to migration issues, has welcomed the new report.
He said: "The ippr has made an invaluable contribution to looking at how effectively to tackle exclusionary and xenophobic politics. Its research demonstrates that attempts to blame immigrants for racism and for the rise of the BNP, are factually wrong and politically misleading, as well as morally repugnant."
Barrow continued: "In effect blaming black people and minorities for racism, and pursuing harsh migration policies (instead of addressing the real issues of inequality, war, injustice and climate change that force people to move) has long been the default position of the main contenders in this election.
"The BNP has flourished in this toxic climate. It has cleverly targeted certain areas to try to gain support. And it has also benefited hugely from the failure of the dominant, broken political system to tackle systemic inequality, joblessness, deprivation and poor education in many areas of Britain - in spite of the wealth that has been around, confined to the few.
"It's time to turn our preconceptions about race and immigration on their head and look at them in terms of ethics (how we live together) rather than ethnics (how we label each other). Civic groups and faith communities can and should take the lead in this, pressurising the leaders and parties to change," said the Ekklesia co-director.
Read the whole study, Exploring the Roots of BNP Support, at: www.ippr.org/publicationsandreports/publication.asp?id=743