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Monthly Archives: May 2012

There is new research out by Dr Matthew Goodwin based on the leaked BNP membership list. Published in the journal Party Politics, it looks at the areas in England that contain larger clusters of BNP members.
To summarise some of its key findings (and heavily paraphrasing a summary by Matthew himself):
  • The local authorities that contain the highest number of members include Pendle, Burnley, Melton, Charnwood and Barnsley.
  • Key regional areas of ‘membership strength’ are Yorkshire, and the Midlands
  • Far right members tend to concentrate most heavily in areas that are urban, characterised by economic insecurity and where average education levels are low. Far right membership is particularly likely in areas where there are large numbers of residents employed in the manufacturing sector. For every one unit increase in wards of those who are employed in manufacturing, there is a 43% increase in membership (while controlling for other social and economic conditions). The results also suggest that long-term unemployment is not a key driver of far right membership, but rather it is citizens who are employed and in financial precarious positions that are the most susceptible to join far right groups
  • In terms of ethnic diversity, the findings confirm those of earlier studies: membership is correlated with the presence of large Muslim communities in the local area. This is consistent with findings on far right voting, and suggests that perceived threats from culturally distinct and economically deprived Muslim communities is an important factor to explaining support for the far right. However – and also consistent with work on far right voting – it finds that the presence of non-Muslim Asians has no significant impact on membership while membership is lower in areas where there are large numbers of Black British citizens. At broad level, this is further evidence that anti-Muslim prejudice has become a key driver of support for the far right, and that simply describing these groups as ‘anti-immigrant’ glosses a more nuanced picture.
  • Membership is significantly higher in local authorities where the BNP succeeded in winning a council seat, and has established local branches since 2000. While the BNP is now in decline, this suggests that where the far right is active and establishes a local presence its recruitment efforts are more successful
  • There is evidence of a ‘legacy effect’ – membership of the contemporary far right is significantly higher (17% higher) in local authorities where the old National Front (NF) was active in the 1970s, and while holding other social, economic and political factors constant. This would suggest that the modern far right has continued to draw on older networks of supporters within specific areas of the country, and that specific local areas in England are providing a context that is more favourable than others toward anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim campaigns. It might also suggest that areas where the far right is currently most active (for example the EDL), are likely to provide favourable conditions for the far right over coming decades.
This is a great piece of research and essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the far right in England.
Matthew also wrote a piece for ISD on the rise of the far right in Europe a few months ago, which can be downloaded from our website.
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In the latest Economist/Ipsos Mori Issues poll, just one per cent of those surveyed in the UK thought defence/foreign affairs/international terrorism was the most important issue facing Britain today, and only 6 per cent thought it was one of the important issues facing the country. This is the lowest level since just before 9/11; in 2000.

Contrast this with key moments over the last ten years when these issues have dominated. In 2002, defence / foreign affairs / international terrorism jumped to 7th place, with 3 per cent thinking it was the most important issue and 11 per cent feeling it was one of the most important ones, with the NHS/hospitals predictably in first place (with 42 per cent and 72 per cent). By 2006, it ranked 2nd (with 22 per cent and 38 per cent respectively), ahead of the NHS/hospitals which had dropped to 3rd place.

Today’s results are a reminder of how much the last decade has been an anomaly in terms of public interest in foreign policy and security matters. I can’t help wondering how quickly and by how much the UK national security budget will be cut after the London Olympic Games pass without incident…

My interest in security was sparked when I was at university and my beloved uncle Phil was kidnapped in Colombia. Suddenly, I was thrust into a world of private security companies and response consultants, and felt like an extra on a Hollywood movie set. It led me to ask a few basic questions: who had taken him? Why would they want him? How would we get him back? And, importantly, what could be done to help others who might suffer the same anguish as his family did for 7 long months?

I now dedicate part of my life to the final challenge – running a small charity called Hostage UK, which supports the families of hostages during a kidnap and the family and hostage post-release. We offer pastoral care, put the families in touch with others who have been through the same experience, provide them with any professional support they might need, and offer advice and guidance on how best they can cope with their experience.

When I am not running Hostage UK, I am Research and Policy Director at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. There, I oversee our work on extremism and counter-terrorism, where – amongst other things – we have recently launched the Against Violent Extremism Network (AVE) to bring together former extremists with the survivors of violent extremist attacks to work to counter radicalization and help reintegrate extremists looking to leave their movements.

I have been reflecting on where these two worlds collide, and it strikes me that there are lessons to be learned from the reintegration of hostages and former extremists back into their family environments. I am not seeking to make light of the experiences of hostages, or draw parallels between their suffering and the choices of extremists. But if we look at the specific challenge of reintegration, there are some parallels. Here are five lessons that those looking to reintegrate former extremists could learn from our work at Hostage UK.

First, both the hostage and the family experience extreme forms of trauma. Hostages always say that their family experiences more stress than they do, because they always have the luxury of knowing whether they are alive or dead. When the hostage is released, the family is often not in a position to support fully, because they are in need of support themselves.

Second, the hostage and the family go through different experiences, and this can mean that they feel estranged from one another when the hostage returns.

Third, while the hostage has been away, the family has inevitably moved on. It is so often the main breadwinner who has been taken, and in their absence their wife (it is usually a female partner at home) has assumed the position of head of household, taken on responsibility for finances, and usurped the hostage’s role within the family. This can make reintegration difficult, as the hostage will not be able simply to slot back in and might feel excluded. It is mainly for this reason that there can be higher than average incidences of divorce post-release.

Fourth, the hostage may have experienced things during their captivity that they do not wish to share with their families due to a sense of shame and an inability to communicate. This only increases the sense of division between them and their family members.

Fifth, there is so often a reluctance on the part of both the former hostage and their family to accept that they might need help and support.

Applying these lessons across former hostages and former extremists may not be entirely intuitive. But it is vital to acknowledge that extremism – like kidnapping – is a human crime with a human solution, of which families must be a part. It is vital that these lessons are learned.

For more information about Hostage UK, visit our website.

Last week I was helping to run an international conference in Copenhagen run by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue on de-radicalisation and disengagement. We were working with the Danish Ministry for Integration as part of the Danish Presidency of the EU.

Bringing together a mix of policy makers, politicians, practitioners and former extremists, we looked at best practice in helping extremists to exit from their movements and ways in which policy and mainstream services, such as prisons, probation and welfare services, can assist.

I wrote a paper for the conference setting out what we know about de-radicalisation and disengagement, latest thinking, and a series of examples of good practice.

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