29 May 2008

Nine years of vision and vermin

It's been nine long years since Nick Griffin unseated John Tyndall as BNP leader in what can fairly be described as the only relatively honest leadership election (in purely mechanical terms) the BNP ever held. And it's only ever held two.

Naturally, neither man was entirely honest in how they conducted their campaigns, and still less honest with their respective supporters as to their future intentions - but of the two only Nicholas Griffin was presented with the opportunity to demonstrate the fact, and upon winning lost very little time in giving the BNP a hefty dose of the control freakery and paranoia he had once administered to the National Front, the same which sent that organisation into terminal decline.

What is striking at this remove is John Tyndall's magnaminity in allowing the then recently arrived Griffin's 1999 challenge, to the point of permitting Griffin the full use of BNP structures and mechanisms even as the six-month campaign quickly descended into a long series of visceral dog-fights. It is, after all, John Tyndall who we see pictured in Nazi uniform, not the alleged "moderniser" Nick Griffin.

In 1999 Griffin claimed to be running an "open and honest" leadership challenge based on "positive ideas for the future", calling himself the candidate with "flair and vision". This certainly struck a chord with the BNP's newer members, and even appealed to some hardline BNP veterans all too aware of Tyndall's advancing years and of the tiredness of his leadership.

It did, however, obscure Griffin's woeful record in the National Front, where he spent much of his time engaged in factional activities, seemed to view political positions as expendable commodities, and was even then the subject of much disquiet in the matter of finance.

Griffin passed himself off as the BNP's "unity candidate", threatening that a Tyndall win would "lead inevitably to a most disastrous split" (presumably Griffin would be the leader of this putative split) - words that would earn anybody in today's Griffinite BNP instant expulsion. There were also dire warnings of purges ahead at the hands of Tyndall, while, "in happy contrast", Nick's "mature, level-headed and fundamentally decent approach" would restore unity and stability to the BNP. There would be "not one single expulsion" if Nick were to assume the leadership - "No cronysim, no favouritism, no grudges" he promised.

History tells a very different story.

One of Nick's first "positive ideas" as leader was to ensure that no challenger would ever again have the scope or freedom to campaign as he had done, and there began the first of a series of changes to the BNP constitution that should have rung loud alarm bells among those who had taken Griffin at his word

People like convinced Griffin supporters Steve and Sharron Edwards, who, within a year of Griffin's assumption of the leadership found themselves asking some searching questions about the new man's financial probity and as a result became victims of paranoic accusations that were the pretext for expelling them from the party.

They were among the first, and many legally dubious expulsions have passed under the BNP bridge since then.

That first proof that Griffin the BNP leader preserved exactly the same frame of mind as Griffin the National Front chairman (and author of the insane and infamous "Attempted Murder" pamphlet), gave wider currency to Tyndallite grumbling and opened the eyes of many early Griffin loyalists, few of whom have remained in place, due either to being cast aside as their usefulness to Griffin came to an end, were purged, or grew disillusioned.

The problem was that the only person capable of mounting a credible challenge against Griffin was John Tyndall, at the time subject to a campaign of vilification for that very reason - but Tyndall, with his Nazi past and barely reconstructed views, was anathema even to those Griffinites who had come to loath their leader.

Tyndall's death removed the biggest thorn in Griffin's side, and there has since been no other personality within the BNP who stands out even remotely as likely leadership material - not that a personality likely to present a future threat to Griffin will ever have the chance to stand out, as Jonathon Bowden discovered last summer.

Had the BNP not begun to experience its first real electoral successes as disaffection with Griffin began to rise then it quite likely that the party would have descended into vicious faction-fighting, which might have been the end of the extreme-Right for a decade or more. But election success - albeit localised - did come, and Griffin was quick to take the credit.

BNP members - more like the "sheeple" they despise than they care to believe - were happy to go along with him, and in so doing were prepared to overlook their leader's less savoury character traits and blind themselves to the stark evidence that the BNP was increasingly beginning to look like what Martin Webster christened "the Griffin Family Business".

Of course there are many reasons for the BNP's initial spurt of electoral success, none of them much at all to do with Nicholas Griffin.

It might be argued that the best election agent the BNP ever had was Blairism and its apparent (if not intentional) attempts to disconnect itself from its core electorate - an electorate unlikely, especially in the northern towns where the first BNP gains came, to find any merit in voting for the then divided and demoralised Tories, or the Liberal Democrats. We must add in to that the 2001 Oldham riots, and the fact (much as it grieves us to say it) that in certain areas of strength the BNP did have capable organisers who ran intelligent, competent local campaigns with which Nick Griffin had no connection at all.

Further gains followed, of course, and Nick identified himself with every success, to the point where many BNP members really did (and still do) believe that without the guiding hand of Griffin the BNP would have achieved nothing at all.

This is utter nonsense. If there were any truth to it at all then the BNP would have achieved comparable results to those it obtained in places like Oldham and Burnley over the remainder of the country. Save for some small pockets where the circumstances outlined above pertained, it did nothing of the kind - but Nick was never eager to take the credit for that.

The probable truth is that finding himself the leader of the most electorally successful British racist party to date came as of much as a surprise to Griffin as it did to anybody else. Even so, Griffin seemed fixed on undermining "his" achievement by continuing the ludicrous (and legally expensive) hunt for John Tyndall's scalp, the unending litany of expulsions and proscriptions, and was quite prepared to wreck the BNP in its strongest electoral areas (Burnley being the textbook case) if he smelled the least whiff of personal disloyalty.

To many, even the BNP's enemies, these seemed like the actions of a demagogue more interested in preserving his hide than those of a man possessed of "flair and vision" with "positive ideas for the future".

Tyndall died, and the BNP's then electoral high point came and went, Griffin and his leadership team reduced to promising breathroughs to come.

Last year, as we all remember, along with the BNP itself we expected the party to add to its tally of 49 sitting councillors at the 2007 local elections. Everything seemed set fair for them to do so. We gritted our teeth, the racists prepared to crow - but early into the election night results it was clear who would be doing the crowing, and it wasn't the BNP.

The next morning we wrote:

The BNP's march to power turned into a cul-de-sac of indifference yesterday, with the racist party failing to make any impression in the English local elections.

Predicting at least a doubling of their 49 councillors, a devastated BNP finds its tally (at the time of writing) remains 49. Though the BNP did pick up seats it lost the same number, making no net gains. Of the nine BNP councillors up for re-election only one successfully defended his seat.

Claiming "mixed results" in an attempt to hide an electoral calamity from its shell-shocked members, there was no real disguising of the BNP's utter failure over large swathes of the country. The party's fortunes stalled and went into reverse in areas where its hopes were high, notably Sandwell and Birmingham, where thousands of votes were lost. Votes in cities such as Coventry were barely improved over those obtained thirty years ago by the National Front. In an effort to distract attention from the Birmingham debacle, the BNP is focussing attention on the fact that it gained more votes than the renegade Sharon Ebanks and her tiny number of New Nationalist Party candidates.

Griffin did not rush to identify himself with this particular set of results, nor did he attempt to explain why, when - by its own assessment - conditions had never been better for the BNP, all that could be reported was abject failure.

Of course, Griffin had other concerns by then, the lacklustre leadership challenge of Chris Jackson assuming a new and threatening importance in the light of the appalling election results, which challenge had to be hamstrung (as it was) before any damage to Griffin's position was done.

The paranoid sequel to Jackson's challenge was well enough reported here and is fresh enough in our minds not to bear a full re-telling, save to recall Griffin's infamously insane "vermin", "thieves" and "liars" blog diatribe, backed up by an equally hysterical and inventive four page spread in the BNP's "Identity" magazine - and, naturally, the purging and proscribing quickly followed.

Post the 2007 locals, the BNP continued to fight in by-elections, where it could concentrate its resources in pursuit of the best possible showing. Their results were lamentable - though there were areas, the East Midlands and adjacent districts being salient cases, where the party could produce a good first-time vote. Unfortunately for them, where the party's performance could be measured against previous outings in the same ward, their vote invariably fell.

Seeking a crumb of comfort, the party was overjoyed to retain a seat in Loughton, making a great deal of fuss over this "achievement" - and going to great lengths to silence wiser voices which pointed out that the BNP vote had fallen by a notable 5% and that the seat had been retained by a margin of 20 votes against a candidate who did not belong to one of the major parties. To say, as some did, that this was no small cause for concern was to invite attack as a "troublemaker", a "splitter", an "anti-BNP Red" and all the usual epithets beloved of the Griffinite BNP.

All that mattered was that the seat had been retained, and to hell with any unwelcome analysis - thank you, Nick!

They were to pay for this self-deluding complacency.

Ignoring for now the damp squib of the BNP's Decembrist revolt, the BNP began mustering its electoral troops early for the 2008 locals. As was clear from their numerous blogs and their posts on their usual internet hang-outs, they had worked themselves up for a real breakthrough.

This was going to be their year - they could feel it in their bones.

We couldn't. Everything we'd seen and recorded of BNP performances over the past year told us that though some gains were likely, nothing much was going to change and the established picture of electoral stagnation and reverse would continue.

For once, the BNP leadership cultivated a healthy restraint in its predictions, even inventing the meaningless spin-phrase "quiet revolution" to explain the BNP's snail's pace growth (or lack thereof) to a potentially restive membership. And there was a distinct air of unreality in the lead up to election day.

What struck us was the idiotic claim made by BNP deputy chairman and Griffin cheerleader Simon Darby that he had made a "breakthrough" by sealing a deal with the Pensioners Party whereby that party would recommend its members and supporters to vote BNP. The only fly in the ointment was that the PP had a total of six members, was completely unknown and without influence, and its leadership seemed to be unaware of any deal with the BNP. Members of other parties might have resented this cynical attempt to con them, but, all too typically, the BNP sheeple seemed more outraged that the con had been exposed.

Unreality continued as virtually powerless parish councillors became equated in Griffinite BNP spin with district councillors, an exercise designed purely to push up the total number of BNP "councillors" gained and to prove to an all too gullible membership of how well things were progressing for the BNP - proof in itself that the BNP's leadership had no great expectations for the 2008 locals. Several non-political parish council seats fell unopposed into the hands of the BNP, each "gain" being proudly reported on the BNP website.

It was so much whistling in the dark.

The BNP gained a grand total of ten "real" councillors, and its vote in its own heartlands fell, frequently by considerable margins.

Nick Griffin did not rush to bask in the reflected glory of this particular success, and though many BNP members still regurgitate the Griffinite smoke-and-mirrors line that something remarkable happened on May 1st, it is apparent that hard reality is finally beginning to bite for some of their number.

The plain fact, which they cannot ignore, is that by its own lights electoral conditions were never better for the BNP than they were on May 1st. A long serious of immigration controversies preceded the elections, some in the same week, there was the 40th anniversary of Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech, falling together with the BBC "White Season" series, and the party frequently received completely uncritical press coverage. They themselves were reporting on ecstatic doorstep receptions for their canvassers.

And still Nick Griffin could deliver only 10 extra councillors from the 612 seats fought by the BNP.

Following the locals we had to wait 24 hours for the results of the London Mayoral race and the GLA elections - 24 hours in which Griffin must have prayed for a miracle. At all events, the BNP's spinmeisters began to play down expectations (and with good reason), uncertain whether they would gain anything at all.

Disaster seemed to beckon for what party apparatchniks were calling the BNP's finest campaign, but finally the much-hyped Richard Barnbrook scraped a GLA seat with 5.4%.

In the wake of this apparent "landmark" victory, as they touted it, the BNP seemed oblivious to the fact that 30 years ago the more honestly racist National Front averaged pretty much the same vote and better over large swathes of London. The truth is that the BNP should have achieved election on 7-8% of the vote if there was to be any credibility to their claim of "progress". They did not.

Again Nick Griffin failed to deliver.

After nine years of Nick Griffin's "vision and flair", in the most favourable circumstances imaginable, the BNP still manages a miserable grand total of 55 (real) local councillors and one elected (just) member of the GLA.

This is not a record that would wash in any political party other than the BNP.

To sum up the nine years of Nick Griffin's leadership, then, there has been, from the beginning and ever since, a long series of legally challengable expulsions of those who either cast doubt on Griffin's financial management of the party or who were deemed a threat to his position. There has been a ruthless willingness to wreck the BNP in its own areas of strength for no better reason than that members in those areas felt their loyalties to the party over-rode any presumed loyalty to a man they did not trust or in who they lacked confidence. In short, there has been continual internal strife since 1999.

If the incessant amendments to the BNP's risible constitution were not enough to make Nick feel safe, then, as some of you will be aware, the party has issued "Activist Declaration" forms - the only case we know of in British politics where ordinary members of a political party are being forced to swear something not a million miles removed from the Nazi oath of allegiance, and at the same time to give themselves as hostage to fortune to whatever constitutional changes Griffin chooses to enact.

Clearly a trap is being loaded, since: "I agree to abide by the British National Party’s Constitution and any amendments made to it under the provisions of the Constitution".

Those signing this (Barnsian?) document, especially those closely allied with Griffin's internal opponents, may as well hand the man a loaded gun and wait to be shot the moment the inevitable constitutional amendments are made.

It can have no other purpose.

Perhaps the sudden appearance of this scurrilous document can be best explained by the fact that elections for the European parliament are now a year away, and if there is one thing we know Griffin longs to do it is to bag his ticket on the Euro gravy-train.

To that end he has already deposed Chris Jackson as North-west Regional Organiser in favour of himself, and parachuted himself in as the BNP's number one candidate in the region. We also saw, when a general election seemed but weeks away last autumn, that Griffin's overarching concern was to preserve BNP finances for the Euro elections - strange behaviour for a British "national" party.

You or I might think a good general election performance would be of more lasting benefit to the BNP than Griffin's flying off to Strasbourg and the riches of an MEP on the back of a tiny vote in north-west England, but the BNP have convinced themselves that this is the way forward - failing to notice that a similar exercise has done the UKIP no good at all, and never really asking themselves exactly what a lone BNP representative in Europe is going to achieve for the party.

However that may be, with the prize now in sight the Griffin Family Business must be protected from hostile takeover, and we can't help but to think that the "Activist Declaration" form is a large and sinister part of that protection.

In perspective, then: in nine years Nick Griffin has taken the BNP from nowhere to next to nowhere. In the most favourable conditions ever to exist in which a racialist and nationalist party could expect to grow, the BNP under Griffin has remained stunted, its membership numbering well under 10,000, despite the regular repetition of the lie that hundreds join every week.

It remains electorally moribund, and where it has met with success it has done so despite the turbulent Griffin, not because of him. His record is, by any measure, lamentable, nine years of effort and eye-watering expenditure on the part of the BNP producing a paltry crop of 55 local councillors who all too often are not up to the job and all too prone to find themselves confronted with past indiscretions.

That Griffin has managed for so long to pass off his leadership as a story of unparalleled success is an achievement of sorts, we suppose, but we on our side of the fence really do thank our stars that the BNP chose to land itself with the most divisive and incompetent leader ever to grace the stage of the far-Right in Britain.

"Flair and vision"? It seems more like stuff and nonsense to us.

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