BNP: From the sewer and back
Nick Griffin was more discredited by BBC ‘platforming’ than UAF no-platforming, argues Eddie Ford
After years on the defensive, Nick Griffin has finally been removed as leader of the British National Party. On July 21 the BNP’s website announced that the new acting chairman was Adam Walker and that Griffin had “taken up the position” of president. Naturally, the national executive committee was “united in their support” for Walker, a former teacher. There will now be a leadership ballot next year as per the BNP’s constitution.
Perhaps disappointingly for those who believed the “string of anti-BNP lies” disseminated by the “traitor” and former BNP webmaster, Simon Bennett - and repeated in the “extremist leftist fishwrap”, Daily Mirror - it looks like Nick Griffin has no plans to “install” his eldest daughter, Jennifer, as the new leader and hence deviously remain the real power behind the throne.1 As Griffin explained on the website, Jennifer is a “very efficient” member of the BNP’s administrative team, but not really “party leadership material”: certainly no Marine Le Pen.2 Thanks, dad.
Anyhow, you can see why the BNP decided to kick Griffin into a nominal role, though he does claim that the decision to go was “mine and mine alone” and that he would remain an “active” member. The party has been hammered in the polls. True, when he took over as leader in 1999 - replacing the goofball, John Tyndall - the BNP only had one councillor: the curry-loving Derek Beackon in Millwall (who lost the seat the following year). But then there was a change of fortune. Griffin oversaw, whether by design or chance, an electoral breakthrough between 2008 and 2009. The BNP suddenly found itself with 58 councillors, nine of them in Stoke-on-Trent alone, and actually formed the official opposition on Barking and Dagenham council. Not to mention winning a seat in the London assembly (Richard Barnbrook) and picking up 6.3% of the national vote in the 2009 European elections, when both Griffin and Andrew Brons3 were elected as MEPs in the North West and Yorkshire and Humber regions respectively. In those elections, almost one million people voted for the BNP and rejected - as Griffin put it - the “ruling elite” that made the “indigenous majority second-class citizens in every possible sphere”.
In turn, BNP membership rose to an all-time high of 12,632 - easily beating by at least three times the Socialist Workers Party claimed figures. Furthermore, it had set up its own online video-cum-YouTube outlet, BNPtv, a student wing - always essential - and also Young BNP (becoming BNP Crusaders and now known as Resistance). Even the party’s finances looked fairly respectable - no mean feat for any anti-establishment party with no wealthy backers or media support. Heady days for the BNP and some in the mainstream parties and media became rather concerned. No wonder that Griffin declared: “We go on from here” - forwards and upwards.
But the BNP, of course, did not go on to bigger and better things. Quite the reverse. Though it fielded a record 338 candidates in the 2010 general election and won a fairly respectable 563,743 votes (1.9%), it did not gain a single Westminster MP - Griffin himself came third in the Barking constituency. This represented a substantial setback for the party, undermining general political morale. In another blow, the BNP lost all 12 of its councillors in Barking and Dagenham.
In the general election aftermath, the BNP started to lose what popular support it ever had. Membership haemorrhaged and the party suffered a series of damaging splits. Out of this wreckage eventually emerged various breakaway groups like the British Freedom Party, the British Democratic Party, Britain First, An Independence From Europe, South East Alliance, etc. As the infighting and factional strife intensified, criticisms were raised about Griffin’s style of leadership and - perhaps more detrimentally still - there were persistent allegations of corruption and “fiscal mismanagement”. Inevitably, a leadership election took place in 2011, and Griffin secured a victory only by the skin of his teeth - beating his bitter rival, Andrew Brons, by a mere nine votes out of a total of 2,316 cast. In October 2012, Brons resigned from the BNP, leaving Griffin as its sole MEP. Slipping further, the BNP won no council seats in the 2012 and 2013 local elections and experienced another fall in terms of average vote.
However, the final blow, at least for Griffin, came during this May’s European and local elections. The BNP was virtually wiped out on 1.14% of the vote, losing its deposits in all the regions where it stood - meaning, as we all happily remember, that Griffin was no longer MEP for the North West. Now the BNP has been reduced to just two councillors: one in Pendle, Lancashire; and the other in Charnwood, Leicestershire. Griffin himself, adding to the picture of misery, was declared bankrupt in January following a dispute with a firm of solicitors over outstanding debts of £120,000.
Griffin - rather stretching credibility, it has to be said - has bullishly stated that the party is capable of “winning again” and was in a “more stable” financial and political position than it had been for some time. He also maintains, whether plausibly or not, that he had originally planned to step down as leader several years ago, but nobly decided to stay on when a “concerted effort” was made to destroy the BNP from “both outside and within”. He felt obliged to “steer our movement through the storm”.4
Steven Squire, the BNP’s London organiser, admitted at the beginning of last week that in the past there had been some “bickering” within the party - yes, you could say that. Yet, according to Squire, that is “all over now”. He cheerfully added: “We are all behind Adam, though Nick was the most successful nationalist leader the country has ever had.” Funny definition of “successful”.
So is Adam Walker the new broom to revive the BNP’s fortune? Well, he has a criminal conviction. But not necessarily a problem. Indeed, in a far-right organisation - and perhaps far-left ones as well - it could be regarded as a badge of honour. Did Walker earn his stripes by bravely defying the politically correct, gay-loving, metropolitan liberal elite - maybe violate race relations legislation or robustly defend himself from a leftist anti-fascist thug? No, afraid not. Walker received a suspended jail sentence for verbally abusing three schoolboys aged between 10 and 12 years old, then chasing them in his car and slashing the tyres on their bikes with a Stanley knife. You could hardly make it up, especially when you discover that he took Michael Gove to court on the grounds that the then education secretary was “prejudiced” against him because of his BNP membership - which was obviously true, given that the very next day his two-year suspension from teaching was increased to a lifetime ban “without review” by Gove’s department.
Clearly, the ideal man for the job of BNP leader - or so some might say. Even more so when you consider that last November in his capacity as deputy chairman, he delivered a speech where he described Britain as a “multicultural shit-hole”, argued that British people were being “ethnically cleansed” by excessive immigration and claimed Lee Rigby-style executions would soon “become the norm”. This may have come as music to the ears of many hardened BNP members, but has only accelerated their journey to the absolute outer fringes of British politics.
Quick as a flash, the SWP declared that Griffin’s sacking was “down to the work” of Unite Against Fascism - its own front organisation, of course (Socialist Worker July 22). Then in the latest issue of the paper UAF joint secretary Weyman Bennett carried on the triumphalist theme, writing that “anti-fascists can be proud of getting rid of Nick Griffin”; in fact, he continued, the “success in beating back the BNP has been the united front strategy on which UAF is based” (July 29).
Our SWP comrades are deluding themselves, just as they did in their May 26 post-election bulletin, which boasted that the BNP’s “annihilation” was “mainly” due to the UAF’s “relentless” campaigning - the UAF itself also told us on the same day that Nick Griffin and the BNP were “defeated” by the “countless number” of anti-racist/anti-fascist activists delivering hundreds of thousands of leaflets, which read, “Don’t vote Nazi”. If one of the BNP’s remaining councillors were to die, either of natural causes or a car crash, no doubt the SWP would claim that too as a ‘victory’ for UAF. Remember the crass reaction to the death of the aged and senile Margaret Thatcher: “Gotcha! Now get the rest” (Socialist Worker April 13 2013).
What embarrassing nonsense. The comrades inhabit a fantasy world of their own making. Leaving aside for now the obvious fact that the BNP has been torn apart by its growing internal contradictions, Nick Griffin’s diagnosis as to the BNP’s death-bed performance is a lot more accurate - itself a sorry reflection on the SWP. For Griffin, and it is hard to substantially disagree, the United Kingdom Independence Party’s “surge” made the European elections “brutally hard” for the BNP.5 Griffin also believes, rather more dubiously, that the “failure” to translate the BNP’s enormous “soft” support into votes was due to the “relentless, controlled media campaign” to “promote” the Ukip “safety valve”. Griffin’s stated conviction is that the vote for Nigel Farage’s party will “crumble” when the “untold” thousands of people who turned to it with “naive enthusiasm” finally see that Ukip cannot deliver. And, of course, then they will flock back to the BNP.
We should not forget, however, the other big factor in the BNP’s seeming demise - BBC’s Question time show in October 2009. Or more accurately, Let’s do Griffin Time, when a peak audience of 8.2 million saw Griffin totally humiliated by the BBC bosses’ deliberate decision to platform him - exposing the BNP leader as a thoroughly incompetent and bumbling politician with no real answers to anything. An emperor with no clothes. Yet, at the time, the UAF stupidly campaigned to prevent him appearing.
Particularly disastrous on that evening was Griffin’s refusal to answer a direct question about the Nazi genocide on the feeble basis that “European law” prevented him elaborating upon his views - making him look cowardly, shifty and decidedly suspect. Not something you really want in your populist leader. Unsurprisingly, many of the BNP’s own members were mortified by Griffin’s performance - immediately attacking him, and the BBC, on the BNP’s website. Nor has the BBC been forgiven. In the readers’ comments on the Daily Mail website, discussing an article about the BNP leadership change, ‘George W’ from London reminds us of the BBC’s nefarious role: “[Griffin] never recovered from his ill-advised appearance on Question time. Remember it? The whole structure of the normal programme changed and he was attacked by the other four on the panel, as well as 99% of the audience. The BBC called it fair and balanced. It was modern bear-baiting.”6
Now, the BNP looks all but finished. But that does not mean that we should ignore the danger posed by the right - yes, we take Ukip very seriously. And we do so precisely because it a British nationalist party, not one with its roots in German nationalism and Nazism (ie, the BNP). You can guarantee that Nigel Farage, unlike Griffin, would have no problem in answering a question about the holocaust - denouncing it as an obscenity. After all, he refuses to cooperate with Marine Le Pen for the exact reason that the Front National has a foul history of anti-Semitism, and so on. In our estimation, that makes Farage far more dangerous than grade A weirdoes like Griffin.
1. Daily Mirror June 27 2010.
3. In 1964 at the age of 17, Brons joined the National Socialist Movement - a Neo-Nazi organisation founded on Adolf Hitler’s birthday by Colin Jordan. A year later he joined John Bean’s British National Party (not the same as the current incarnation), which later merged with the League of Empire Loyalists to form the National Front in 1967.
6. Daily Mail July 21 2014.