English nationalism vs British nationalism

Gareth Young
16 May 2009

Gareth Young, campaigner for an English Parliament, examines the English Democrats' alliance with the white nationalist England First Party.

On Monday morning Nick Griffin, BNP leader, was interviewed on the BBC's FiveLive Breakfast Show. "Isn't your party full of neo-nazis?" asked Nicky Campbell. "No", said Griffin, "Britain's neo-nazis hate me, they say that I've sold out...They call me a liberal".

One such group that hates the superficially more moderate and 'liberal' Nick Griffin is the England First Party (EFP) who describe the BNP leader as 'fundamentally flawed and psychologically disfigured' and object to Griffin's 'watering down of nationalist principles'.

Although denials have been issued on a number of occasions it has been something of an open secret that the English Democrats Party (EDP) have been courting the EFP for a number of years.  Indeed, these very accusations surfaced when the EDP's London Mayoral candidate Matt O'Connor walked out whilst claiming "I realised the English Democrats were working with ‘England First’ and had no choice other than to resign there and then."

Even given the previous, mostly anecdotal, evidence I was astounded, and horrified, to learn that the friendship between the EDP's election strategist, Steve Uncles, and the EFP's Mark Cotterill had developed into a public and cordial alliance between the two parties in the North West of England. The first inkling of this entente cordial came in April when an EDP member in the North West informed me that they had received an official letter on EDP headed paper signed by Mark Cotterill. For an EDP member to receive a letter from an official of another party must have come as something of a shock given that the EDP website explicitly states that the 'English Democrats have no links with the BNP or any other political party'.

Later in April came news that Councillor Michael Johnson, formerly of the EFP, was to join the EDP to stand against the BNP in Lancashire. “Nick Griffin stands a very good chance of getting in", warned Councillor Johnson, "Him getting into Europe on a Lancashire ticket will be a nightmare and will spark a BNP revival."

Then at the beginning of May the EFP website displayed a picture of EFP activists (Les Andrews, Mark Cotterill and Peter Rushton) proudly delivering EDP leaflets for the European Elections. This was followed by an EFP account of the EDP's press conference in Darwen, Lancashire, at which the controversial Peter Rushton gave a speech.

So what has pushed the avowedly civic nationalist EDP into the cold embrace of white nationalists? In a word, or at least in an acronym, it is the BNP.

It has long been the EDP's policy to extract English nationalists "firstly from UKIP" and then "from the BNP", with the aim of making converts to English nationalism, and not only BNP and UKIP members themselves but potentially the parties they desert. The inherent risks of such a policy to the broader civic movement for an English parliament appear to be lost on a desperate EDP leadership who atlast count had loaned the party £101,447 of their own money (Robin Tilbrook, £54,447; Steve Uncles, £17,000; Christine Constable, £30,000) with little by way of electoral reward. The small victories that have come the EDP's way in recent times are on account of their status as a BNP 'spoiler party', a status not overlooked by BNP activists who have accused the EDP of using the BNP's mailing list to poach their members.

For the EDP the electoral battleground can be mapped as an ideological battle between English and British identity, and between English and British nationalists; a simplistic and naive view at best, but one which according to Searchlight the EFP share:

Another barrier is the genuine ideological difference between the EFP and the BNP over “English” and “British” nationalism which, though it might seem of minor importance outside far-right circles, certainly contains the potential for a major ideological split. There are certainly people in the BNP who would prefer to “ditch Scotland” if not Wales, especially since the recent internal crisis in which Scottish activists were prominent opponents of Nick Griffin, the BNP leader. The BNP’s monthly magazine Identity has recently attempted to jump on the “English” nationalism bandwagon so as not to be usurped by the EFP not to mention the larger English Democrats party, which recently adopted Matt O’Connor, founder of Fathers 4 Justice, as its candidate in the London mayoral election.

There's no room for dual identity on this turf, no place for hyphonated anglo-brits in this polarised world; you're either English and with us, or British and against us.  From amongst the numerous tag-lines registered by the EDP come the following party descriptions which seem to belie their position as a unionist party:

  • ENGLISH, british, or EUropean? YOU decide!
  • ENGLISH DEMOCRATS - ENGLISH? british? YOU decide!
  • ENGLISH or british - YOU decide!

The hard work that many civic nationalists have expended on promoting a plural inclusive English identity (eg. Kingsnorth, Perryman) could be undone at a stroke if the EDP are successful in beating the BNP at the ballot box using the doorstepping expertise of the EFP.  The British far-right will have a successor and the usurper will be white and English, not British. Under these circumstances it is quite conceivable that the BNP might water down its Britishness, become less vociferous in its unionism, or fragment completely. A victory of sorts for English nationalism over British nationalism, but vindication too for those who like to characterise English nationalism in particular as exclusive and dangerous whilst asserting 'Britishness' as the only plural, inclusive, catchall identity.

It should be stressed that these circumstances are unlikely. More likely than not the EDP-EFP alliance will count their success in councillors rather than MEPs, and the watching political commentariat will measure their virtue only as BNP spoiler parties. However, with a membership that has passed the 3,000 mark, and with coverage that guarantees them political party broadcasts, it would be unwise to dismiss the EDP's future potential if only because of the growing populism of English nationalism.

I have a feeling that the EDP may have staked their very future on this unwise pact, but if not their future then certainly their credentials as a civic nationalist party are destroyed.   The EDP’s satellite organisation, The English Lobby, which raises funds for the EDP by suing people who suggest that the English flag is offensive or that St George’s Day is absurd, may well have an upsurge in work now that the EDP - England's largest nationalist party - has itself climbed into bed with the very people who make our flag and national day objectionable to so many. Their judge, jury and executioner will be the voters of the North West of England.  English nationalism or British nationalism?  In the immortal words of Harry Hill: "But what's best? There's only one way to find out...FIGHT!"

Please Note - If you are considering commenting on this article then please bear in mind the warning on the EDP's website: The EDP takes a hard line on anyone suggesting the English Democrats are racist and will seek legal remedy for anyone slandering the party in this way.

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