7 February 2008

A journey worth making

I originally penned this much abbreviated memoir of my time as a highly active far Right activist for our friends at the Lancaster UAF blog, where it was received to general approval. Antifascists rarely have an opportunity to see things from the other side of the fence, as it were, and my article was an attempt to give them an ex-fascist activist's eye view of life in the eternally turbulent place that is Britain's extremist Right wing fringe.

My days as a convinced fascist and fervent racist are long behind me, but if this memoir can help antifascists to understand what makes fascists on the ground tick, and if it helps strip away the veneer of false respectability parties like the BNP have been trying to cultivate for the last few years, then it will have done its job.

I'm republishing the memoir here for the reasons given, but also because visitors to the Norfolk Unity blog have a right to know about my murky (and all too often wild and woolly) past. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you find it worthwhile reading.


Part One

Only one thing surprises me about the current rumpus within the BNP.

That it took so long to happen.

The far Right's ability to rip itself asunder in vicious internal division is the one consistent thing about it. And I should know, because until comparatively recently I was one of them.

Allow me to take you on what was, for me, a long journey to enlightenment, one that began in the early 1970's when, fresh out of school and newly into work, I was inducted into the ways of casual racism and homophobia.

I was a country boy. You could count the number of 'coloured' people I'd seen in my life on the fingers of one hand, and they were nearly always the bus drivers who travelled the route from the city (which shall remain nameless) to our village and back again. The city was somewhere I didn't really know and had few reasons to visit. In those days your mum caught the bus in to do the shopping and buy your clothes every Saturday. To work, though, I had to go into the city.

It was a huge culture shock. In the outer suburbs you'd see the odd black face or an exotically dressed Asian woman, but as I got to know the city better I realised there were whole districts where immigrants had a significant presence. And it shocked me.

At work you would routinely refer to these immigrants as "w*gs", "n*gg*rs", etc. Everybody did, and there was always talk of them "taking over". Work also brought me into contact with the first homosexual man I had ever met, a slightly effeminate quality control inspector who was probably very conscious of the remarks and the sniggering going on behind his back.

I didn't see any of these people as being completely human. They definitely weren't my equal.

Somewhere along the line I became interested in Germany's Nazi period. The more I read up on it, or saw on television, the more I realised how close to German National Socialism my own hardening views were. I became very critical of what I saw on television or read in books, and one day so upset my father with what I thought of as my "fairness" towards wartime Germany that he angrily shouted that if the Germans had come to England I would have been a Quisling.

At that time, he was probably right.

On a day out to London I was standing outside Euston station and noticed some stickers plastered over a bus shelter. They were very colourful, and I could just make out the words "Stop Immigration, Start Repatriation". This was my meat! I went over to read the stickers. It was the first time I'd ever heard of the National Front, and I carefully noted down their address: 50 Pawsons Road, Croydon.

As soon as I got home I fired off a letter asking for information, and about a fortnight later there was a knock on the door. It was the organiser of the local group and his wife. Knowing that my parents wouldn't be very happy to have them indoors, I kept them outside where we talked for nearly an hour. They left me with copies of "Britain First" and "Spearhead", and gave me directions to the pub where the group met. I couldn't wait, and the same day posted off my membership application.

It was a coincidence that my membership card arrived on the same Thursday I was due to attend my first meeting. I was pleased and proud, and as I chatted to the other members of the group before the meeting began, I knew I was Home.

The meeting itself was a bit boring for a 19 year old, but the drinking and the socialising afterwards more than made up for it (the NF was big on drinking). There were fifteen of us in the group at that stage. Two of them had been in the National Socialist Movement with Colin Jordan and John Tyndall, another had been in Jordan's successor British Movement, and the two oldest members had been in Mosley's BUF.

They all regaled me with their memories of far Right derring-do stretching back to before the war, and if there was one thing that came over it was that almost everybody in the group had some degree of sympathy for German National Socialism.

Over the weeks we started delivering leaflets door to door on Monday nights, and on Saturday's began selling "Britain First" and "Spearhead" in the city centre. This activity brought us to the attention of the local "Reds" belonging to the International Socialists (as the SWP called itself then) and the International Maxist Group, and pretty soon we weren't so much selling papers as fighting a weekly war. To my own surprise I found I could handle myself very well.

We put on members and became a fully fledged National Front branch, our meetings in early 1974 attracting over thirty members (though our paper membership was about 120). We began to cooperate with nearby branches when selling our papers, and our numbers dissuaded the IS and IMG from attempting any physical confrontation. We weren't averse to "culling" them, though. For every paper seller we had two or three others watching, and if they could isolate a stray Red for a bit of quiet retribution, they would.

The February 1974 General Election really made our branch. We pitched in with our Birmingham comrades, who were fighting three seats. By then I'd been elected on to our branch committee and was entitled to attend West Midland Regional Council meetings. At my first WMRC I realised that not everybody in the NF gravitated towards National Socialism, or at least, not in public.

There had been an influx of ex-Monday Club types, exemplified by Tom Finnegan, a powerful, persuasive man, who brought their experience in the Conservative Party to the National Front. Mostly they were racist to the core, but they were also pragmatists. Members like me saw John Tyndall and Martin Webster as living links to the Nazi past. Influential members like Tom Finnegan saw them as impediments to progress, and the influence of people like him began to seep into our branch.

Though we didn't stand a candidate in February 1974, we did benefit from the huge number of enquiries that came as a result of our election broadcast. We regularly had new people at our meetings, most of them former Tory activists or voters, and soon had to find a bigger meeting room. We didn't stop to think what this increase in membership might mean.

The next big activity of 1974 was to be a march and rally in London, on June the 15th. I don't need to repeat what happened there, other than to say "Red Lion Square".

Those of us who'd been on the march were cock-a-hoop at the publicity, and fired up by the rousing speeches of Tyndall and Webster in Conway Hall. But there were grumblings in some quarters of the home camp, which we didn't take very seriously.

There was also the tragic death of student Kevin Gately, which overshadowed the day. To us, he was just another Red who had got what he deserved. Five years later the death of Blair Peach at Southall brought out similar expressions of sympathy.

A march in Leicester came next, with more violence and more publicity. It ended with a meeting in a school, where John Tyndall gave the speech of his life. There was also a television film camera in the hall, and we were soon to find out why.

Our branch was well prepared for the October 1974 General Election. Unfortunately our candidate was a virtual illiterate, but he was the only one prepared to stand. His election agent knew what he was doing, but privately we knew we had to keep our candidate away from the press and never let him go near a public platform. At a WMRC meeting before the election one of Tom Finnegan's associates approached me to ask if I thought our candidate was up to the job. I had to admit he wasn't. Then he asked "Is he a Nazi?" which I thought was strange, and finally, "Something bad is going to happen, very soon."

The "something bad" turned out to be the infamous (to the far Right) "This Week" documentary, "The National Front", where the Nazi pasts of John Tyndall and Martin Webster were exposed for the whole country to see. It didn't faze me, I already knew that, but for our newer members it was a real problem and they were determined to do something about it.

Standing a candidate in the October 74 General Election was almost the last positive thing we did for a long time. The party was fracturing along its internal "Tyndallite" and "Populist" fault lines.

I had no idea how well organised the Populists were. Being a known Tyndallite I was kept in the dark over the furtive meetings taking place in the West Midlands region, and went to that year's annual conference completely unprepared for the stormy nature of the proceedings. JT attempted to make his speech and all hell broke loose as the Populists chanted "Nazi, Nazi!" And then JT was deposed in favour of Kingsley Read. As quick as that.

I couldn't believe it.

The acrimony at the top spread down to our branch. We were seriously divided, and the two camps only ever came together at branch meetings which became set pieces of factional power play. By June 1975 our activist base had shrunk and the paper membership was in freefall. In July, after attending a meeting addressed by John Tyndall, I was voted off the branch committee. We were being weeded out, but following JT's orders did nothing that might earn us expulsion. Local activities virtually ceased, as there was no point in bringing in new members only to have them leave when they saw how divided we were.

What I should say at this point is that if anybody thinks the Populists were anti-Nazi in any specific sense, then they weren't. Before the splits we'd all sit in pubs discussing the Second World War from the German side, and sounding off opinions that could only be described as Nazi. The difference was that the Populists were desperate to hide any outward show of Nazism. One of their leaders, in an attempt to persuade some of us into their camp, made no bones about his admiration for National Socialism, but: "We've got to get to power before we can do anything about it, and to get to power we must have a clean image."

Quite a lot of people went along with that. Quite a lot of people are still going along with it in the present BNP.

I remember the second half on 1975 as a quarrelsome, vicious time. We hated each other. The only thing we had in common was that we hated blacks, Asians, Jews and homosexuals more (except we Tyndallites weren't so prepared to lie about it).

Things came to a head in January 1976, when elementary procedural mistakes by the Populist faction on the NF's National Directorate led to them losing control and leaving to form the National Party. Different regions and branches were affected in different ways. Our branch divided very badly, and there wasn't much love lost between us.

With JT back at the helm we began an exhausting round of activities. These were meant to boost morale, to rebuild the party, and above all to destroy the National Party. Luck was with us in that year. It was a year of multiple immigration scares, each of them helped along by the media and leading mainstream politicians.

We took advantage of each scare as it came along, and the structure of the NF (activist based and quick to react) ensured that we regularly made the headlines. We didn't always care what sort of headlines, so long as we eclipsed the National Party. While the National Party attempted to sink roots and develop an electoral machine, we were here, there and everywhere, soaking up the support they needed. Though they won two seats on Blackburn council that year we knew that their membership was slowly evaporating.

By late 76 it was obvious that the NP was finished, and in dribs and drabs they began to return to the fold.

I was almost alone in opposing this. As far as I was concerned, we'd just rid ourselves of a destructive disease and here we were injecting it into ourselves again! But I was overruled, and had to accept that people who had stood candidates against our own just a few months before had the same say as I did. It was galling. With some like minded comrades I settled down to a few beers, certain that sooner or later we'd split again.

Our branch never returned to the harmony of early 1974. We treated each other correctly, but there was always an air of tension that sometimes exploded into open hostility. It usually happened because the activists tended to be Tyndallite, while the ex-Populists were good at raising funds, but also good at telling us what they should be spent on. They didn't like us getting into scraps with the Reds, and they tried to dictate what I should put into my press releases (I was Press Officer at the time). And, for the sake of a slightly late payment into our bank account, they deposed our Tyndallite organiser and replaced him with one of their own.

It was obvious we weren't going to last long like this. We knew that nearby branches were in a similar condition, but HQ liked to pretend that we could all get on together, and told us to focus on raising a full slate of candidates for the next general election.

That gave the ex-Populists in our branch the leverage they needed. They were far more experienced in fighting elections than we were, and it wasn't long before I was the only Tyndallite remaining on the branch committee. Somehow we struggled along, but not without a lot of bitching, and all the time the local Reds were paying us more and more attention. It was a brave man who openly tried to sell "National Front News" in the city centre, even when protected by other members.

Activities outside of branch meetings were really suffering. Delivering leaflets became a risky business because the Reds always seemed to find out where we were within half and hour of our starting, and even branch meetings became secretive affairs as we were forced to move from venue to venue, booking under a false name each time.

In August 77 came the Lewisham march. Half way down to London our ex-populist organiser called a rest stop, which nonplussed us as we were cutting it fine anyway. So we arrived in Lewisham late, unable to join the march, and got ourselves mixed up with the Reds, who were being baton charged by the police. We had no choice but to dump our banners and hide our badges and pretend that we were part of the mob we despised.

Despite the Reds getting the blame for the violence, the publicity we got from Lewisham was all bad. Even the party leadership seemed to know it (but would never admit it). Though it wasn't the NF attacking the police on that day, many members who'd made the march said that they'd noticed a change in the police's attitude. Until then individual policemen were completely neutral, sometimes even friendly at NF marches. At Lewisham their attitude was one of barely supressed anger, and many NF members were roughly handled by the police. The marching party had gone on for too long, and it wasn't funny any more.

I don't remember exactly, but it was at about this time that No Platform came in (or was enforced more vigorously), and the NUJ instructed journalists not to report the NF and its activities unless in a negative light.

That really hurt us. It was something we couldn't fight and had no answer for, other than to continue making a noise by marching and demonstrating, which just brought us more negative publicity. We were really frustrated by that, but otherwise things seemed to be moving forward. We had Excalibur House, money was coming in, we put on members, and had our election targets to meet. But it wasn't the same. The old comradeship had gone.

We were very confident before the 1979 General Election, though. Martin Webster assured us that we were going to attract "hundreds and hundreds of thousands of votes", and we worked hard to achieve them. While we were focussed on that our internal contradictions were disguised, but only temporarily. We weren't fazed when Margaret Thatcher told the media of the public's fear of being "swamped" by a tide of immigrants, but we should have been. When two of our members left to join the Conservatives we Tyndallites saw it as vindication for what we'd been saying all along, that Populists were just Tories and could never be Nationalists.

The lead up to the election was a violent time. We couldn't hold public meetings anywhere without meeting violent opposition, but it never stopped us trying. Our "public" meetings always filled up with Reds, who we were legally bound to admit to publicly owned property. We'd protect the platform and place stewards all around the hall waiting for things to kick off, which they usually did very quickly. Then we'd pitch in not particularly caring who we thumped. My response to this was to do the same to them, and we disrupted as many left wing meetings as we could.

Come election night, reality dawned. We'd been thrashed. 303 candidates (if my memory serves) and not one of them got a decent vote. It was a shattering experience.

The blame game began, and the old divisions and the old arguments were quick to surface. At about the same time rumours of Martin Webster's homosexuality began to surface, with the circulation of photostats of statements various people had made alleging seduction attempts by him. And if there's one thing your average White Nationalist hates as much as a black, it's a gay. I was horrified, and wondered how Tyndall could continue to associate with Webster.

What I and most of the party didn't know was that JT had broken with Webster when the rumours were confirmed, but in the minds of most members Tyndall and Webster went together like bread and cheese. That gave the founders of the National Front Constitutional Movement a better opening than they otherwise would have had.

The NFCM was the sneakiest attempt to form a splinter party while pretending it wasn't that I've ever come across. In our depleted ranks the ex-Populists still had four out of five committee places (I was the fifth), and meetings seemed to be conducted as normal, except that sometimes, after the words "National Front", the words "Constitutional Movement" were tacked on. I asked what that meant, to be told "We're just supporting an internal Directorate attempt to change the party structure."

A quick phone call confirmed that the branch was actually operating outside the authority of the Directorate, and had to all intents and purposes joined a separate political party. It was obvious that a lot of secret meeting had gone on. I moved quickly with the only two other members to remain loyal and gathered up as much branch property as I could, but we lost most of it.

And there we were, just the three of us remaining in a branch that could once hold meetings of up to eighty. It was the same in other parts of the country. The NF seemed to be evaporating.

When we went on Webster's marches (there was one in Nuneaton, I think) we were only going through the motions and making up the ever dwindling numbers. Even the Reds didn't pay us much attention any more, and the whole point of marching seemed to have been lost. For me it was like being part of a beaten army fighting on to preserve its honour.

I was in touch with JT regularly at the time, and knew by now that he wanted Webster out. The plan was to change the constitution of the National Front, and to operate the party on authoritarian lines.

And so we reach the true genesis of the British National Party...

Part Two

The events of 1979/80 seemed to come together in a rush. Faction-fighting was no-holds-barred and former friends were now bitter enemies. Locally, the three of us remaining in the official National Front did all we could to eclipse the far larger NF Constitutional Movement, pulling off stunts and firing off press releases as if they were going out of fashion.

Despite our tiny numbers we succeeded. The three of us were dedicated activists, and that was three more activists than the NFCM talking shop could muster. We had learned a lot from the divisions of 75/76.

This bout of factionalism, however, was much worse, and it was difficult, even for the most dedicated, to see how we were going to dig our way out of the hole in which we were firmly planted.

John Tyndall was removed from his positions in the NF and Andrew Brons installed as chairman. But everybody knew that the real power behind the throne was Martin Webster, whose homosexuality made him anathema to many NF members.

There was little we Tyndall loyalists could do but wait to see which way our leader (we considered him so) would jump, in the meantime fending off HQ's frequent demands for loyalty and cash. The wait wasn't too long. A phone call from JT's father-in-law, Charles Parker, summoned me to London and a small gathering of trusted Tyndallites, where the possibilities were discussed.

Nobody liked the idea of founding a new political party, so, as David Bruce said, we'd pretend we weren't!

JT talked of a "lifeboat" coming alongside the sinking ship of the NF to take off the crew, a simile we all liked as we could tell ourselves that we weren't "splitters". The next meeting, which I did not attend, decided on the name New National Front, which seemed just about right, given the task we had set ourselves, as it showed our continuing identification with the National Front.

The NNF was tiny. Branches, as we had known them in the NF, hardly seemed to exist over much of the country, and in our own West Midlands region members were particularly thin on the ground. Our purpose, though, was not to act like a political party (something that was beyond our means), nor was it to waste resources in recruitment leafleting; our task was to bring on board the worthwhile nationalists remaining in the NF or those who had gone over to the NFCM.

I baulked at the idea of bringing NFCM people into the fold, and on one of our paper sales drives in Brick Lane spent a lot of time bending JT's ear on the matter. JT was supremely confident that the NNF's autocratic constitution would allow him to nip any future populist plotting in the bud, but he allowed me the luxury of a veto on membership applications locally, which mollified me.

Despite appearances that were sometimes to the contrary, John Tyndall always believed that any nationalist party must necessarily be "broad church", even though this would (as it still does) bring with it the same problems that had plagued the NF in the 1970's. With himself as Leader with sole power to make internal party appointments, however, it seemed that the issue of factionalism might have been solved. To put it bluntly, the organisation's grass roots could become as populist as they wanted, but with Tyndallites installed in every position of power and influence, that would henceforth be of little consequence.

And it worked, until the conman in Nazi clothing came knocking at the door.

These were hectic days. We got ourselves over to the few National Front branches that continued to operate in order to poach their members, continued to pull stunts locally, supported NNF demonstrations wherever they were held, and made the journey to Brick Lane every Sunday morning.

It's all a bit fuzzy now, but even though my views have changed completely since those times it's still difficult for me not to look back on them with a certain amount of fondness. If I could go back now and undo everything I did then, I would do it without hesitation, but I did lead that life and I was involved in those events, and there's nothing I can do to change them.

Chief Constables in those days sought bans on far Right marches almost as a matter of course, but we learned to play this to our own advantage as we could often cause ourselves reams of publicity without ever really doing anything. We could also play the sometimes obvious Special Branch spying on us (through our mail and telephone calls) to our advantage, and gleefully did so.

Some years before a manager at my workplace called me in to his office. I knew him well, because he was a sympathiser, and so it was fortunate that when the SB came calling at the factory to gather information on me, he was the manager detailed to do it. As a result, we learned far more about the SB than they learned about us.

It had been obvious for a long time that my mail was being opened, and sometimes, usually just before a major NF or NNF event, I'd pick up the telephone and hear distant voices and random noises of movement that would suddenly disappear as the dialing tone came on. As I called JT and Charles Parker regularly after the formation of the NNF, we used other routes of communication when discussing party business, but used our home telephones or the mail when we wanted to feed the SB something.

That happened quite frequently. For example, I knew that the NNF was going to march in Burton on Trent, a march we knew would be banned. So we hatched a plan whereby midland NNF organisers received a bulletin calling them and their members to a redirection point at Corley Services, on the M6 in Warwickshire. Of course, the police were waiting for us, and would not allow us to leave. Charles Parker arrived, and the location of the march was quietly passed on. In the meantime, the main body of the NNF went sailing by on the motorway, hotly pursued by a large contingent of police vehicles.

Shortly afterwards, the police keeping us penned in at Corley Services said they were going to escort us out of the area. By then I had secretly passed on photocopied maps showing the back lanes of north Warwickshire and south Staffordshire by which everybody could make their way to Burton. The idea was that as soon as the opportunity arose, drivers would dive into the first country lane they could and try to lose the police by taking non-obvious routes. In our case, we headed four miles west, before shooting into a skein of lanes I knew like the back of my own hand, and played a thrilling game of cat and mouse with our police pursuers. We got the better of them by pulling into a wood, waiting for them to pass, then (suspecting that they would expect us to head back towards Corley Services and the M6), took a long-winded route to the west. We arrived in Burton with time to spare, and so, it appeared, had most of those trapped at Corley Services.

That kind of adventure builds comradeship like nothing else can. We had completely outwitted the police and were bloody proud of it. The escapade impressed quite a number of our old NF colleagues, and that was a large part of the point.

So was the march that never was, which again involved taking advantage of police spying. In a certain Midlands town the "Reds" were to stage a march in support of a highly unpopular cause. It came at short notice, and there wasn't much we could do to physically oppose it. We had a feeling that the police would ban the march if they could, but they needed a good reason. We decided to give them one, taking the credit for ourselves and reaping the publicity.

Despite knowing that if our bluff was called a derisory march of perhaps 50 NNF members would take place on the same day as the much larger Red march, we decided to pretend otherwise. I saw the local police and gave them the most provocative route I could think up together with wild overestimations of the numbers intending to show up, and JT played his part in sending out emergency bulletins that seemed to confirm this. And, naturally, we talked very loosely over the telephone.

I'd also learned to forget using the established local evening newspaper, where articles on the far Right, if they appeared at all, were always negative (the same newspaper had also run several exposes of our activities in the past). There was an independent free newspaper, delivered to every household whether they wanted it or not. Its headlines were rarely inspiring, and I had a good idea they would jump at the chance of an "exclusive".

They bit like a hungry shark. Their journalists, used to parish-pump stories, were as green as grass, and I sensed as much as they began to interview me. I did not play down the idea of clashes between ourselves and the Reds, and got them to take down a heck of a lot of disinformation, some of it at JT's instigation. It was all repeated in banner headlines two days later, and soon I had the hacks of the evening paper and the BBC on my doorstep infuriated that I hadn't broken the story with them. It was news all that weekend.

Three days later all marches in the town were banned. JT and I sighed with relief, but were cock-a-hoop that so much success had cost so little. We had earned ourselves a lot of publicity, and into the bargain many NF people came over to us. It was also the end of the NFCM in our area. Again, that was a large part of the point.

It was also virtually the last thing I did for a long time, as one day I went to work and woke up in hospital, where I remained for six months. I've never really had good health since.

I was on the sidelines when the NNF became the BNP, but did my best to return to activism. It was a chore by now though, as my old strength had gone, never to return. It was also very difficult to keep one's morale intact in those hard and barren days of the 1980's. I did keep up certain friendships, including that with JT (though it was now mostly by mail and the odd telephone call), and with one or two people who remained in the National Front.

We watched the antics of Nick Griffin and the NF with bewildered amusement. Much that went on in the NF in those days was known to us very quickly, and their internal bulletins always found their way into our hands. Even though we were no longer NF, we still had affection for our old political home, and it was difficult for us to watch as Griffin steadily ran the organisation into the ground, always managing to blame somebody else for every self-inflicted reverse.

Those who knew Griffin had learned the hard way not to trust him. They are still learning the hard way.

My memory of those bulletins and other internal NF literature of the time is that they came from the pen of a madman. I wish I had retained them: they are a salutory lesson in how, with Nick Griffin, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Nick's frequent political flip-flops aside, there was a hardening suspicion among my NF friends that Nick's number one priority was Nick.

More illness came my way. The 80's became the 90's and not much seemed to change. Nationalism was stuck in a rut that it just couldn't seem to get out of. I was unhappy at C18 involvement with the BNP - if you like, I thought they were the "wrong" kind of National Socialists! And the NF finally broke down, as, with the leaders available to it, it was always going to.

By now I was hardly active at all. Health and the call of family commitments saw to that. There was no local organisation, and as far as I can recall we had less than fifteen members in our city, most of them doing little more than meet up for drinking sessions. Then came the election of Derek Beacon, and suddenly the BNP was in the headlines - and out of the shadow of the NF.

I don't know for sure, but I presume that was the moment when a certain well known political acrobat sniffed the air, smelt money and power, and sat up and took notice.

My correspondence with JT was by now very infrequent. I was conscious that he was very busy, and I was hardly doing much for the cause. When news filtered back to me that Nick Griffin was making overtures to JT I wrote him at once reminding him of Griffin's previous antics in the NF. JT's reply was bland, and not at all what I expected of him.

This was odd, as I had mostly respected JT's judgement. At a London meeting I sought out Val Tyndall and asked her what she thought of Griffin. She simply didn't trust the man, was her flat answer. And so, I thought, all would be well: if Val thought that, then JT must be influenced by her, as Val was no fool.

Then I learned that Griffin was in the party. I was horrified. This ambitious man had done little but involve himself in factional wars for as long as anybody could remember his name. But never mind, he was just a member...

The biggest shock of all came when JT handed the editorship of Spearhead over to Griffin. It was unbelievable, and JT was starting to look all too fallible. He stopped answering my letters.

With Griffin as editor, I found Spearhead difficult to read. I felt that every word he wrote served another purpose, and that he lacked the sincerity of a convinced Nationalist. I wasn't the only one to detect that. It was also becoming obvious that the ageing JT would soon have to stand aside and pass the leadership on to a younger man. I had a queasy feeling that man would be Nick Griffin, who seemed to me to be sitting there like a spider in its web, biding his time.

With my health still bad, I needed the kind of job that wouldn't be too taxing and where my employer would be flexible. I found one, but it was 140 miles away from the city where I lived. I made the move and my family began anew. As far as I was aware, there were no other BNP members in my adopted town, and I wasn't inclined to kick things off. In many ways it was a relief to be away from it all. I let my membership lapse after 26 years, but continued to take Spearhead.

After a while I found I was reading Spearhead with a certain detachment. I wasn't even keeping my eyes and ears open for positive mentions of the BNP on the television or in the press, as all BNP members compulsively do. And my wife, long suffering but loyal, was glad to have me "back". I realised that all my activism had caused me to miss my kids growing up when my daughter said she intended to marry - I still thought of her as a little girl! And for the first time I talked to my kids, and finally listened to what they had been saying for years: that they hated my membership of racist parties, and were often ashamed by my frequent appearances in local newspapers, which led to them being taunted at school.

That really hit home.

I was still interested enough to follow Griffin's challenge to JT's leadership. For some reason the BNP didn't seem to know that I was no longer a member, and I got all the election bumpf from both sides. I also spoke to old friends by telephone, and from them heard what I expected to hear, namely that the political acrobat was up to his old tricks again.

Griffin's victory came as little surprise. The BNP had been growing its membership in the mid and late 90's, none of it to do with Griffin, but many old populists were now back, and (as ever) an increase in membership brought with it an increase in the numbers of those we Tyndallites sometimes called "National Tories" - or populists. This was inevitable, and it was the constituency Griffin directly appealed to. JT's comment to me, years before, that he would have the power to nip any plotting in the bud rang very hollow by now.

With Griffin as leader of the BNP, I lost any interest I ever had in the party, even allowing my Spearhead subscription to lapse. I can say, without benefit of hindsight, that I felt then that not only would Griffin fail to live up to his election promises, but that it wouldn't be a very long wait before he manifested his old paranoid NF ways. Every action of his since then has proved me right.

Mentally renouncing the BNP (but not my racism and Nationalism) did me a power of good. I stopped seeing conspiracy in every dark corner. I also took a new attitude to my fellow man, no longer seeing them as unenlightened "sheeple". And I began to read books that I'd never have dreamed of reading in my party days.

Some time in late 2000 I happened to be in my local library when I saw a poster advertising an open seminar to be put on by the local Community Relations Council. That raised my hackles, and I thought I'd go along to see what went on.

In my days as a Nationalist activist I always enjoyed people in the race relations industry making statements that could only inflame any existing tension. The more they alienated whites, even if unintentionally, the more I liked it. I held then, and I hold now, that if you pay people to seek out racism, then they will inevitably find racism wherever they look, even if it's completely undetectable to anybody else. If somebody's living is dependent on doing that, then as sure as eggs is eggs, that's what they'll do.

In my adopted town, ethnic minorities barely existed. But according to the agenda of this CRC seminar, their invisibilty was due to the racism they faced. It's the kind of sweeping, unproved statement that raises the hackles of more than dyed-in-the-wool racists, as it seems to be blaming the majority community for something they never knew existed, let alone imagined themselves to be guilty of.

That sort of thing is damaging and it is unnecessary.

I went into the seminar laden with preconceptions. The three CRC people were white, and around the room there were several Asians and blacks, all of them looking completely bored. The only whites were people I thought of as the usual local do-gooding suspects. The seminar started and it was the whites (and only the whites) who kept banging on and on about the "racism" supposedly stalking this peaceful town. It also became obvious that only three of the Asians and two of the blacks actually lived here. When asked to describe their experiences, they were stuck for something to say. One of the blacks said he'd been shouted at once, but that was it.

The meeting dragged on and on, and finally broke up for refreshments.

As we went for tea, one of the Asian gentlemen began talking to me. He was a shopkeeper, he said, and only came to the meeting after having been pestered into it. "There is no racism in this town," I said flatly, and not in the most friendly tone, "but this is the kind of thing that could kick it off." "Yes, you're right," said the Asian gentleman.

That surprised me. He introduced himself, and his wife, and both offered me their hands, which I reluctantly shook.

For the want of something better to do while I drank my tea, I carried on talking with the pair, and we found ourselves in agreement on our negative opinions of the seminar and its purpose. Several of the other locals gravitated towards us, and their general opinion chimed with ours. It wasn't what I was expecting at all. These people were quite happy with their lives, asked for nothing, certainly had no wish to be treated as somehow different from any other citizen of the town, and were a little disturbed that the intent of the seminar seemed to be to find wrongs that nobody else could.

Much to my own surprise, I found myself enjoying their company.

It was the first time most of us had met, and we got on very well. More or less distancing ourselves from the CRC people, who kept butting in, some of us repaired to a nearby pub to continue a jokey discussion that was a million miles away from the spectre of racism. That was the first time I had ever seen Asian or black women in a pub (and to judge by the landlord's face, the first time he had, too).

To cut a long story down to size, friendships were made that evening which endure today. My addiction to racism took a big knock that night.

There were no journalists at the seminar, so the local weekly paper printed a rehash of the CRC's press release. It was predictably heavy handed and hysterical; and, just as predictably, the letters page the next week was filled with diatribes from indignant readers unhappy that they and their town were considered a hotbed of racism, and wanting to know why the invisible ethnic minorities considered themselves victims of it.

Satnam, the shopkeeper, rang me that night. He was very upset that the CRC had given such a distorted picture, and wanted to put things right. We got together with two others and presented ourselves at the local newspaper offices asking to see the editor. As it was, we were seen by a young journalist. And we wasted our time, as nothing ever appeared.

I saw my new friends occasionally, Satnam in particular. I'd never told any of them about my past, which increasingly seemed to be a fading memory, but one night I emboldened myself to do it. Satnam looked as if he was about to fall over, but he collected himself and started laughing. "I've been an idiot too," he said. "We're all entitled to be idiots, as long as we learn not to be."

The admission changed nothing between us, and nothing more was ever said about it.

By now I didn't even think about my BNP and NF days. It was as though somebody else had lived that life, and I'd merely tapped into a stray memory belonging to somebody else, but even I didn't realise how far away from my previous life I'd travelled.

A year or so later I walked through our local market place and came across a huddle of BNP paper sellers. They were doing no business at all, but an unexpected impulse came charging through me.

I wanted to rip their papers from their hands and kick them bodily out of the town! I really did.

In fact, I wanted to do more than that.

The BNP was beginning to make the news, especially when it began to win council seats. News like that would once have had me leaping for joy, but now it filled me with disgust. I was filled with disgust when I saw BNP people on television lying through their teeth about their racism, and with explosive anger whenever I saw Griffin dissembling, as if all he had written and said in the 80's and 90's had never happened. I knew all about the political acrobat. It's one thing to misrepresent yourself to the gullible members of the BNP, but to do it to the nation is something else again.

Those BNP paper sellers, it turned out, had come in from elsewhere as there was no organisation in this town, as I found out by calling some old contacts. The day, however, must come when the BNP would arrive here, and I thought "we" (there was only me, as far as I knew!) should be ready for them.

Certain things happened in this town at the time, mostly to do with Portuguese migrant workers and asylum seekers, which brought the small National Front presence here out to exploit the situation. I became aware of a small group of people actively opposing the NF's efforts, but had no idea how to contact them until by chance one of their leaflets came into my hands.

The leaflets were sensible and constructive, with none of the hysteria I associated with anti-racist literature (an old frame of mind dies as hard as an old habit), so, after giving it a little thought, I wrote off to the PO box number given, and was quickly invited to a meeting.

The four people I met weren't the raging Trots of far right legend. They were just ordinary people who looked at black faces and white faces, and saw only human beings. At that meeting I first met somebody you are all familiar with, and even as I laid my murky past out in the open I met only kindness. Their businesslike approach appealed to the natural activist in me, and before I knew it I was out and about with a map and my share of leaflets.

It had been nearly 32 years before that I first so enthusiatically joined the National Front, and now here I was, just as enthusiastically opposing them - and loving every minute of it.

Our little group went on for a couple of years until work relocations broke us up, but in that time we did a lot to oppose fascism and racism in our part of the country, and, as individuals, we continue to do so. Maybe we've just been lucky, or maybe our work has had a positive effect, but in this neck of the woods the BNP has failed to grow at all, and we aim to preserve that status quo.

Just ten years ago I could not have conceived that one day I would come to be writing as I have here, for the readers of what I would have considered to be a lying extreme Left website visited only by Trots, junkies and deadbeats. But it's not like that at all.

Others before me have made the same journey from fanatical racist to normal human being as myself, and others will again.

It's a journey well worth making, because it's great not to hate.

1 comment:

HNH Norfolk Team said...

This is a very well written account of a journey to some sort of enlightenment. Thank you.
May I make use of this for HOPE not Hate, Norfolk?