The British National Party (BNP), the leading British far-right organization, has alwaysconstructed itself as a counterpublic. It sees itself and its supporters as a marginalized group, ex-cluded from a public sphere dominated by left-liberal ideology. To combat this marginalization ithas built an alternate public sphere in which its supporters can discuss and agitate around issuesthat have been excluded from public discussion, generally because they are (or are perceived tobe) racist. For its ﬁrst seventeen years, the BNP was extremely marginal and was unable to build astrong counterpublic. Since Nick Grifﬁn took control in 1999, however, it has been much moresuccessful in bringing topics that were previously taboo, such as anti-Islamic and anti-immigration ideas, into the hegemonic public sphere. It has achieved this success due to both ex-ternal factors and Grifﬁn’s changes to the party’s ideology, organization, and rhetoric. In manyways, the BNP’s history has been a quest to create a more powerful counterpublic. In this essay, Iexamine the changes in the ideology, organization, and rhetoric of the BNP over its thirty-yearexistence and show how Grifﬁn’s changes have allowed the BNP to push its issues into the publicsphere and inﬂuence the positions of mainstream political parties.
The Public Sphere and Counterpublics: Theoretical Background
Jürgen Habermas created the idea of the bourgeois public sphere in his 1962 work
TheStructural Transformation of the Public Sphere
, which, unfortunately, was not translated into Englishuntil 1989.
Habermas’s public sphere “designates a theater in modern societies in which politicalparticipation is enacted through the medium of talk. It is the space in which citizens deliberateabout their common affairs, hence, an institutionalized arena of discursive interaction.”
Impor-tantly, Habermas’s public sphere is distinct from both the state and the ofﬁcial economy. Haber-
The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society,
tr. Tho-mas Burger with Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press, 1989).
Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,”
25/26 (1990): 57.