‘Listen to the bell Griffin, it tolls for thee!’
As the vultures start to gather over a rapidly expiring British National Party, it is perhaps time to look at how it got into its current state and how Nick Griffin has successfully steered it into political oblivion.
The Griffin Wakes!
Griffin joined the National Front when he was a teenager and managed to get himself into an influential position with the help of Martin Webster who allegedly had a gay affair with Griffin. In 1979, the NF were seen as a very real electoral threat having gained a large amount of votes in local elections, although never taking office. However, it is widely seen that Margaret Thatcher usurped the NF by appropriating their anti-immigrant rhetoric with her statement on fears of being ‘swamped by alien cultures.’ Following Thatcher’s victory the NF went into rapid decline and split into 2 factions, the more ‘respectable’ NF led by John Tyndall and the ‘political soldier’ faction led by Griffin. This schism finished the NF as a potential threat. Tyndall formed the BNP in 1982 and Griffin went on to found the International Third Position along with the Italian terrorist Roberto Fiore. As the BNP appeared to be prospering in the early 1990s, Griffin signed up to ultimately oust Tyndall as leader in 1999. Tyndall was seen by many as old fashioned, having been imprisoned for paramilitary activities and being an unrepentant anti-Semite and Nazi sympathiser. Griffin revamped the BNP’s image and presented a more Euro-fascist style following the success of far-right parties like Le Pen’s Front National in France. Tyndall fell by the wayside and slipped out of the scene dying in obscurity.
After the NF’s provocative march through Lewisham in 1977, the Anti Nazi League was formed to oppose them. This was largely guided by the Socialist Workers Party whose meetings and paper sales had been viciously attacked by NF thugs. This led to the formation of anti-fascist defence groups, or squads, who took the fight back to the fascists. Following the expulsion of the Squaddists from the SWP, Red Action was formed which eventually went on to become part of Anti-Fascist Action, who once again used physical force to oppose the BNP in the 1980s and 90s. It was this concerted action that saw the BNP abandon ‘the battle for the streets’ and consider an electoral route. The famous statement ‘no more marches, meetings, punch-ups’ signified the end of the BNP’s militant phase.
The All New BNP
Whilst under Griffin’s leadership the BNP secured their 1st councillor on the Isle Of Dogs in East London, one Derek Beackon, a BNP ‘steward.’ This was an undeniable shock to many in the UK and, locally, a concerted effort was made to oust Beackon at the next election. This was achieved by strong campaigning. However, it was also indicative of how future BNP victories at council level played out: the BNP had immense difficulty in finding candidates who were local, had no criminal convictions and were vaguely articulate. The established pattern for BNP councillors was that they were elected by a mix of populist racism and voter apathy but then many proved politically inept and their achievements were mainly absenteeism and ineffectuality. Many did not stand for a 2nd time or simply resigned. Once they realised that council work is more about wheelie bins and lamp posts than fighting the race war against ZOG, they swiftly fell by the wayside.
Giving Griffin his due, under his guidance the BNP have had more councillors elected than any other fascist party in the UK and he also managed to become the first far-right MEP which was a grave cause for concern for anti-fascists everywhere. Whether these achievements have spawned anything politically effective is highly doubtful.
As well as their modest electoral respectability, the BNP can also take credit for their temerity in the face of more ‘official’ opposition. It is not just active anti-fascists that have caused Griffin and the BNP grief: the state has managed to outmanoeuvre the BNP time and time again forcing it into retreat. The banning of teachers who support the BNP is only 1 recent example. Their made-up union Solidarity has also been made ineffectual within the trade union movement. On a more subversive level, the BNP has been riddled with informants for years, from the rank and file to the leadership clique. Organisations like Special Branch and MI5 have, in the past, the progress of the BNP. An ongoing rumour is that Griffin himself has been compromised somehow hence the political disaster of the current BNP. The secret state’s purpose is to maintain the status quo by countering what it sees as subversion (and also by perpetuating itself with job creation). It does not differ between left and right, only between desirable and undesirable. Anti-fascist magazine Searchlight has likewise benefitted from multiple exposes of the goings-on in the party.
‘Cowards, Sickos and Weirdos’
The nature of fascism has always been attractive to cranks and losers and the BNP has been no different. At the top there is intense rivalry for power and throughout the rank and file there are characters that find a home at the BNP simply because no one else will have them. The BNP has a history of alcoholics and serial splitters like Eddy Morrison (now of the NF) and Sid Williamson (now of the dole) as well as folk like Liverpool BNP cross dresser Tony ‘Hammerhead’ Ward who recently came out of the closet. Leading light Tony Lecomber was convicted of bombing offences and did battle with Eddy Butler in ‘mysterious circumstances.’ Combat 18 came out of the BNP stewards group formed by Butler. C18 dissolved into murder and factionalism. Nail bomber David Copeland was photographed with John Tyndall. BNP member Darren Francis was done for having sex with an underage girl in Northampton. Simon Shepperd, done for internet unpleasantness recently, has recorded his preferences for the under-16s in an autobiographical screed. BNP candidate Roderick Rowley was done for child porn and BNP members Ian Hindle and Andrew Wells had child abuse convictions. More heterosexually, ex-BNP top rankers Mark Collett and Dave Hannam were accused of attempting to seduce 2 underage girls at the 2006 Blackpool BNP jamboree and Collett had done this type of thing before in 2005. It goes on …
Woe Is Thee, BNP!
All of these have led the BNP into its current woes. The political manoeuvres, active anti-fascism, the unreliability of many of its members and leaders and the association with extremist groups like Combat 18 and renegade nutters. However, what seems to have finally done for the BNP is membership rules and money.
At the moment the BNP is involved in a protracted case at the Royal Courts in London with the Equalities Commission over 2 membership clauses: the exclusion of non-whites and the question of home interviews for prospective members which, it is alleged, could be intimidating for some. Griffin had been told in a previous case to rewrite the membership criteria in light of this. He failed to do so and the case has gone back to court again. This is costing large amounts of money for legal representation as well as fines levied against the BNP for non-compliance with previous rulings. Today, Simon Darby and Tanya Lumby of Birmingham BNP face the courts again sans Griffin who has cried off citing ‘extreme pain’ from kidney stones. This is a tactic Griffin has used before, either not turning up or turning up late, both of which are not going to endear him to the officials. There is the risk of Griffin being made bankrupt but, given his manoeuvres in the past, it is highly unlikely that property will be registered in his name and all but a nominal sum will be found in his official bank account. The other outcome is that the BNP’s assets will be sequestered which does not amount to much. There is no cash left though.
However, legal issues aside, it is the money that many anti-fascists and former BNP members query the most. There was the disastrous Marmite case where the BNP got charged £170k for misuse of their logo. The BNP is alleged to be at least £500,000 in debt, an amount it cannot possibly hope to pay back. Their creditors have recently been offered 20p in the £ by Jim Dowson, who was the ‘fundraising consultant’ for the ailing party. His consultancy seemed to amount to little more than an endless string of begging letters from an increasingly cash-strapped Griffin. The whereabouts of these monies raised is unclear. Many members questioned the buying of the BNP Truth Truck, which turned out be rented from Dowson himself. Dowson rented property in Northern Ireland to the BNP for a call centre which was staffed by Griffin’s daughter, Jenny. This has now been closed and Dowson, like many others, has wisely chosen to abandon ship and leave Griffin to sort the mess out on his own. Dowson has also been accused of groping a female BNP member which has yet to be sorted out as this is a serious allegation.
There is also the question of the accounts. Griffin has continually submitted the accounts late to the Electoral Commission, resulting in more fines the BNP can ill-afford. The accounts that have been submitted (there are still some outstanding) have been criticised by the EC who stated “it cannot be said that the accounts comply with the requirements of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, as adequate records have not been made available.” In a vain attempt to convince the remaining members about the financial viability of the BNP, Griffin launched a BNP Financial Scrutiny Committee which produced an Interim Report that claimed all is above board. However until the accounts are presented for audit and accepted by the Electoral commission their report is meaningless. The BNP has been through many treasurers who have quit or been sacked and the incumbent is Dave Hannam who is not an accountant by any means.
So annoyed were sections of the BNP with Griffin’s unaccountable autocratic tendencies that a leadership challenge was mounted. This resulted in a flurry of expulsions and resignations as Griffin exacted revenge in the Night of the Pen-knives and many former colleagues were putsched. Griffin, ever clever, manipulated the rules governing the leadership challenge and changed the 5% membership endorsement of a candidate to 20%. He has frequently altered rules to secure his position but this was seen as the most blatant. The only serious leadership challenger was Eddy Butler who had fallen out with Griffin after being one of his closest colleagues at the top. Griffins manipulations were backed by web-smears against Butler, particularly by the VNNuk website (who are currently panicking over the government’s proposed benefit changes) and he was accused of being both gay and visiting a brothel in Belgium. Griffin maintained his captaincy of the good ship BNP and Butler has organised the Reform Group hoping to torpedo it. However, reforming the BNP is a non-starter given its current financial and legal problems and this has further fragmented the membership. Not only that, the fluffy nice party British Freedom has stepped up to the mark but created further schisms amongst the far-right. The NF is lurking in the wings hoping to capitalise on the floundering BNP’s disastrous fortunes.
Griffin’s political fortunes rapidly declined following his appalling appearance on Question Time where he proved to be unable to put forward his arguments and blathered and dithered his way through the most painful 50 minutes of the BBC’s history. The BNP were contesting the Barking ward in the general election. Originally, Richard Barnbrook was to contest the seat but Griffin parachuted himself in and replaced him. This did not create the political earthquake the BNP expected and they were humiliated at the hustings. This wasn’t helped by Simon Bennett famously pulled the plug on the BNP’s website the day before the election.
So what is the future for the BNP? We will have to await the outcome of the EC case. Although Griffin suffered a humiliating defeat at the general election he still maintains his MEP position. The BNP has no money and they are seriously in debt to their creditors. The accounts have been shown to be unsatisfying. The membership has haemorrhaged radically and the far right in general is splintered into BNP loyalists, BNP reformists, British Freedom fluffy-ists, and the usual internet cranks and maniacs in their little grupuscules. However, the EDL and the NF both stand to benefit from the decline of the BNP, the EDL on the streets and the NF at the hustings. We shall see …