fringe parties

   Fringe groups, as their classification suggests, are those groups which lie on the periphery of the political spectrum. Britain’s ‘first past the post’ electoral system encourages the main parties to accommodate a wide range of views, pushing radical groups to the fringe.
   Extreme right groups, like the British National Party and the National Front, have pseudo-military organizations and are often explicitly racist. In the political climate of the late 1960s, these groups believed electoral success was possible due to the impact of immigration and Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech, which predicted racial violence and raised invasion fears. Fighting elections gave the extreme right the appearance of offering democratic legitimacy and attracted members of the right-wing Conservative Monday Club faction. National Front support peaked at the February 1974 election, when it received 3.6 percent of the vote. In response to National Front racist demonstrations, counter-protests have been organized by the extreme left, including the Anti Nazi League, a wing of the Leninist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The SWP has some support amongst students, but its attempts to organize a return to class through building up rank and file trade union support (see trade unions) have failed. Authoritarian Trotskyite groups such as the Revolutionary Socialist League, supporters of the Militant tendency, advocate a policy of entryism, whereby a revolutionary vanguard can infiltrate a host party. Militant succeeded in gaining positions on Labour’s National Executive Committee, and at the 1983 elections Terry Fields and David Nellist, Militant adherents, gained Labour seats in Parliament. Militant were expelled from Labour in 1995 after their mishandling of Liverpool City Council’s budget.
   The British Communist Party has moved from a Stalinist to Eurocommunist position. In 1971 Communist shop stewards in the Upper Clyde shipbuilders inspired a memorable victory, obtaining the support of the entire labour movement to prevent Heath’s government closing the shipyards. However, despite being able to dominate the National Union of Students for the 1970s and much of the 1980s, Communist Party membership has since suffered a dramatic decline. A right-wing revival appears unlikely while Conservatives stay strong on nationalism and immigration, as the Asylum Bills in the 1980s and 1990s indicate. Although Labour has moved towards the centre, fringe group attempts to capture the left-wing vote and innovations such as Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party have yielded little result.
   Further reading
    Callaghan, J. (1987) The Far Left in British Politics, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
    Hainsworth, P. (ed.) (1992) The Extreme Right in Europe and the USA, London: Pinter Publishers.
   COLIN WILLIAMS

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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