Fall and fall of Nick Griffin
It may be curtains for the BNP, writes Eddie Ford, but its demise has very little to do with the SWP or Unite Against Fascism
Far from sadly, it looks like the end of the road for the British National Party.
In a statement that would have made a Stalinist proud, the BNP’s conduct committee announced on October 2 that Nick Griffin had been expelled from the party for attempting to “destabilise” the organisation, “embroil it in factionalism”, sowing “disunity”, being “disruptive”, making “damaging and defamatory” allegations about senior members and “harassing” party members. That included making “physical threats”, as well as publishing emails giving a false account of his own financial affairs after he was declared bankrupt in January.1 Furthermore, it was stated that Griffin was guilty of “disobeying” entirely “legitimate” and “constitutional instructions” from Adam Walker, the organisation’s new leader since July 21, and had brought the party into “disrepute” through unauthorised “public statements”. We are also told that Griffin “did not adjust well” to his new position as honorary president of the BNP.
Responding on Twitter, Griffin remarked that all this will “teach me” to tell a senior party member that he’s a “‘useless, lazy twat” and accuse his former comrades of playing “plastic gangster games” - mere Toytown fascists, to borrow a phrase. He claimed he was expelled “without a trial” and said it was the “ruling Wigton Soviet” (Wigton being the PO box address of the BNP) that was actually “operating outside the constitution”, not him. However, he claimed, the “pitiful misrule” of the current party leadership “won’t last long”, as he would soon “sort it out” with ordinary party members. Or - as Arnie, the time-travelling cyborg assassin, said in The terminator - “I’ll be back”.
But, of course, it is extremely unlikely that Griffin will make a political comeback. Assuming he does not end up in jail, he will probably drift into oblivion - though there is always the possibility that he might resume his career as a ‘celebrity’ chef.2 Nor does there appear to have been any cunning plan, contrary to some speculation, to remain the power behind the throne by installing his daughter, Jennifer, as the new leader. Griffin himself pointed out that she is a competent enough bureaucrat, but not really fit for “party leadership”: definitely not Britain’s answer to Marine Le Pen.
Actually, the conduct committee’s statement hardly came as a bolt from the blue. For years there have been rumours of vicious political infighting and factional warfare behind closed doors, centring around Griffin’s abrasive leadership style. For instance, Andrew Brons, the former BNP MEP for Yorkshire and Humber and founder two years ago of the British Democratic Party, did not take too kindly to being called “vermin” by Griffin and his “attack dogs”. Possibly more damaging still, there have been continual allegations of corruption and “fiscal mismanagement”.
However, it seems that Griffin’s expulsion was triggered by the circulation of an “urgent report” written by himself. Addressed to the executive council, it savaged Walker and several top party members - especially the treasurer, Clive Jefferson, whom he described as being a “foul-tempered, paranoid recluse”. He went on to condemn the party’s treatment of his son-in-law, Angus Matthys, the pitiful state of the website, Jefferson’s failure to pay sums Griffin claims the party owes him and various associates, and the attempted watering down of the party’s policy on homosexuality (ie, becoming too ‘liberal’).3 Once again, allegations of financial impropriety bubble to the surface, but this time from Griffin regarding the (mis)handling of vital bequests. In another tweet, Griffin says “all trouble seemed to start” when he told Jefferson that “signing up 50 wills (£10 million?) was great, but that I was insisting on safeguards” - as “I didn’t think it right that same man advises on wills, makes them, holds them, executes them, varies them, banks them and does accounts …. What do you think?”
Regardless of the exact squalid details though, we all know the real underlying reason for Griffin’s demotion and subsequent expulsion - the BNP’s disastrous electoral performance in this May’s European and local elections. In contrast to its 2008-09 high of 58 councillors, a London assembly seat, two MEPs and 6.3% of the national vote in the European elections, it was virtually annihilated on 1.14% of the vote - reduced to only two anonymous councillors. If anything, the BNP will do even worse in next year’s general election - its voting base eaten away by an insurgent UK Independence Party, now looking forward to a Westminster presence. Griffin admitted that Ukip’s “surge” made the European elections “brutally hard” for the BNP, even believing that there was a “relentless” media campaign - or conspiracy - to “promote” the Ukip “safety valve”. Things can only get better for Ukip, but much worse for the dying BNP.
There is another reason for the BNP’s slide towards extinction, however. Usefully, The Huffington Post ran an amusing little article, cataloguing Griffin’s 11 “most embarrassing” moments - and, of course, number one was his legendary October 2009 appearance on the BBC’s Question time programme (others being “Getting ‘uninvited’ by the queen” to attend a Buckingham Palace party and “admitting to eating roadkill”4). Indeed, Wikipedia dedicates a lengthy page to that night on Question time.5 Before a record audience of 8.2 million people, representing over 50% of the total audience share, Griffin was made to look evasive, dishonest and extraordinarily incompetent. He ducked out of a question on the Nazi genocide on the pathetic grounds that “European law” prevented him from speaking out and laughably described David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, as “totally non-violent”. Adding to the ignominy, a British-Asian member of the audience suggested collecting money for Griffin to be deported to the South Pole, as “it’s a colourless landscape that will suit you fine” - Let’s laugh at Griffin time.
Short of frenziedly stabbing to death a fellow panellist or one of the audience, Griffin’s performance could not have been any worse - whether for his own personal reputation or the BNP as a whole. Quite correctly, Bonnie Greer, the panellist who did the most damage to the hapless ‘Führer’, said Griffin had been “totally trounced”. The Independent was of the same mind as Greer, saying that Griffin had “choked” on the oxygen of publicity given him by the BBC, and The Times talked about a “hostile, hour-long grilling”. In fact, after analysing the broadcast footage, the newspaper discovered that the cameras spent “nearly 25 minutes” of the programme pointed directly at Griffin’s face and overall 38% of the total airtime showing some sort of short of the BNP leader - not standard procedure. Unsurprisingly, Griffin was none too happy, bitterly complaining about the BBC “lynch mob” - which had an element of truth to it - and lodged a formal complaint with the corporation.
Even more unhappy were BNP members. Seconds after the show was over, the BNP website - in the days when it still had some sort of life - was bombarded by comments, at least half of which were hostile to their leader for being fucking useless. The more considered opinions were that “maybe some coaching” would have benefited Griffin, who seemed “overawed” by the occasion, and another commented that it was “always going to be a hatchet job” - therefore Griffin “should have been fully prepared for questions relating to his past”.6 Duh. Griffin’s authority was fatally undermined by the BBC bosses’ decision to platform him.
This was obvious to everybody in the world, except, of course, the Socialist Workers Party and its front organisation, Unite Against Fascism - whose members at the time were running around like headless chickens protesting against the BBC decision to allow Griffin onto the sacred turf of Question time. If our clueless SWP comrades had got their way, Griffin would never have been given the rope with which to hang himself. Frankly, it is more than a bit worrying that the SWP still does not seem to grasp this basic fact. Yet at the end of the day it comes from treating ‘no-platforming’ as a weird fetish rather than just one possible tactic amongst many.
Arguably madder was the SWP’s triumphant insistence that Griffin’s sacking as party leader was “down to the work” of UAF (Socialist Worker July 22) and that the “success in beating back the BNP has been the united front strategy on which UAF is based” (July 29). Showing that there is none so blind as those in search of confirmation bias, the latest issue of the paper strongly implies that Griffin’s expulsion was also down to the SWP et al. Underneath the headline, “We beat Nick Griffin: now keep up the fight”, there is a picture from “this year” of activists from the ‘Griffin Must Go’ campaign. The tiny article accompanying the photo claims again that the “crumbling” of the BNP is down to “determined campaigning” by anti-fascists and quotes the indefatigable Weyman Bennett, joint UAF secretary, who says that Griffin “could be where the fascist leader of the French Front National, Marine Le Pen, is today if we hadn’t fought - and we need to keep fighting” (October 7).
Total delusional codswallop. The BNP’s demise was due to its sharpening internal contradictions, which intensified after the Question time debacle, and dismal electoral performance, not to mention Griffin’s dysfunctional personality - it had absolutely nothing to do with the SWP/UAF or its “united front strategy”. Alas, this theme is repeated in this year’s pre-conference Internal Bulletin No1. We read that “by deploying the approach of the united front”, the UAF played a “central role” in defeating both the BNP and English Defence League. With regards to the BNP, that saw the SWP having to make a “turn away” from “building a movement to defeat them on the streets” and instead create “well-rooted local groups” - ie, totally run by SWP middle cadre under strict instructions from the central committee. We are informed that mass leafleting, community/trade union meetings and Love Music, Hate Racism events all “eroded” the BNP’s base - not the rise of Ukip.
As for the EDL, “key elements” of UAF’s strategy involved “labelling” it as racist/fascist and “mass mobilisations” on the streets. Then there was “opposition to calls for state bans” - rather there should be “campaigning to stop Nazis appearing in the media, holding meetings or marching in the streets (‘no platform’)”. The major “turning point” was the “political and physical opposition” to the EDL in Tower Hamlets and Walthamstow.
This is largely garbage. UAF often appealed to the local council or the central government to prohibit this or that march - most notably in Tower Hamlets, where it organised a petition which said the undersigned “welcome” Theresa May’s decision to ban the EDL’s march, but were “appalled” that the home secretary had also agreed to a blanket ban on all marches for 30 days across Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest and the City of London. In other words, ban them, not us.7
The last incident shows that we need the SWP’s “united front” strategy like we need a hole in the head, given that it sacrifices independent working class politics in favour of building the broadest populist fronts possible - effectively constituting itself as a ‘left’ outrider for the establishment. With absolute predictability, the SWP is now repeating the same mistake with the UAF’s sad mirror image, Stand Up To Ukip. In the IB the SWP tells us that it is “important” to restate that Ukip is “not a fascist party”: therefore, it requires a “different” kind of response from that developed to “beat back” the EDL and BNP. What would that be perchance? You guessed it: a “broad-based” campaign with the “single intention” to “undermine” and “expose” Ukip - essentially portraying it as some sort of alien or ‘extremist’ menace to the status quo. Unpatriotic. In pursuance of this wretched aim, as the SWP used to say on its website and still does on Facebook, it wants “people of goodwill” to come together and say no to Ukip’s “racism” - “regardless of our differing views on Europe or other political issues”, which presumably must include anti-Ukip Tories.8
In other words, there is nothing “different” about the SWP’s response to Ukip - it is the same old approach of tailing the liberalistic, anti-racist/anti-fascist consensus, only this time the word ‘Nazi’ has been scratched out and replaced with ‘Ukip’. The comrades do not even consider challenging the national chauvinism which Ukip shares with the mainstream parties, a key component of which is bourgeois or institutional anti-racism and myths about the ‘anti-fascist’ crusade fought by British imperialism during World War II.
Not that the SWP/UAF is alone in playing the popular frontist card or political falsification, it needs to be added. A recent article in the Morning Star attempted to smear Ukip by running the headline, “Racist Ukip supporters attack protest”, reporting that “racist fans of Ukip leader Nigel Farage gave Nazi salutes as they attacked a peaceful march on the party’s conference by local people opposed to its divisive politics” (September 29). But if you read on it turns out that “racist fans” were actually EDL members out to cause trouble - they also chanted “paedo, paedo” at the anti-Ukip demonstrators. The article does not mention the fact that the Ukip constitution bans any former BNP members, or “BNP types” (Farage), from joining the party. Meanwhile, the Star’sCommunist Party of Britain was part of No2EU, which favours ‘fair’ immigration controls - just like the “racist” Ukip.
6. The Guardian October 25 2009.