11 December 2008

Named and shamed: BNP squirms under the spotlight

As the British National Party was preparing for the official launch of its campaign to get Nick Griffin elected to the European Parliament, the wheels were about to come off the party’s wagon big time.

The BNP had ended its annual conference in Blackpool on 15-16 November bemoaning the “deliberate media blackout” of the event. But Nick Griffin, the party leader, was hoping for publicity for the announcement the following Tuesday that he would head the BNP list for the European elections in the North West, where it has a realistic chance of winning a seat.

But Griffin’s campaign launch was completely overshadowed by the discovery that a list of BNP “members” had been posted on an internet blogsite. It included home addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and interesting notes about their jobs, hobbies, whether they were activists or party donors and concerns about individuals who might prove an embarrassment to the party, including a prominent activist with unspecified convictions.

It unleashed a media feeding frenzy. The national papers and radio and television stations pored over the names searching for minor celebrities, service personnel, teachers, doctors and anyone else who might spark a “shock horror” reaction in readers. There were former members of all the three main political parties, which was no great surprise. Two members of Queen Elizabeth’s staff were said to be on the list, though one turned out to be retired and the other said he had never actually joined.

And that was the problem. The list contained 12,801 names compared to the BNP’s current membership of around 9,300, down from 9,784 at the end of 2007. So there were at least 3,500 who were lapsed members or people who had merely shown some interest.

Several newspapers produced maps and all kinds of statistical analysis. Local papers counted all the members in their readership area. But it meant little because the list was unreliable.

The names appeared largely to date from late 2007 with a few more recent additions. Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, seized on the date to blame a “former head of administration of the party”, who had kept a “membership and skills list”. This was Kenny Smith, one of the leaders of last winter’s unsuccessful internal rebellion in the BNP.

Since then, Smith has become a convenient scapegoat. When the BNP’s 2007 accounts embarrassingly failed to pass audit, Griffin wrote, “Accurate accounting for this year is problematic owing to the point-blank refusal of the former head of Administration to account for large amounts of expenditure”. Smith was also blamed for failings with the 2006 accounts and their lateness, which resulted in a fine.

Smith strenuously denied leaking the list and grabbed another chance to hit out at Griffin. “Whatever the reasons for the publication of the list, ordinary BNP members should not have to suffer because of the crass incompetence, flawed personality and arrogance of the Party Leader.”

It does seem unlikely that Smith and his supporters were responsible for the publication of the list, in contravention of a court injunction and legal proce-edings by the BNP which have already cost them money. The BNP has never been very good at data security and such lists were undoubtedly held and circulated by several senior members. It is not the first time such a list has leaked, though never before in such spectacular form.

A more likely explanation is that it has come from a senior BNP member with a more recent grudge against the party. There are plenty of possibilities. Griffin runs his party in an autocratic manner and stamps firmly on any dissent. The annual party conference debates motions supposedly put forward by the party’s regions, but in fact selected by its central Advisory Council. Although it is possible to force a leadership election, every obstacle is put in the way of a challenger. And although the party website allows comments, only those supporting the party’s line are posted and anyone expressing hostile sentiments has their website registration cancelled.

Whoever did it, Griffin had to act fast to save his embattled party. A few members insisted that the leak only confirmed their allegiance, many others were worried. Police officers are prohibited from BNP membership and joining the party could constitute gross misconduct leading to dismissal. Officers have already been suspended and several police services are combing the list carefully.

Others too feared for their jobs. It is interesting to consider why someone in a sensitive position, perhaps working in teaching, local government, the civil service or the NHS, should join a party that they clearly realise is so disreputable that it would cause them to be ostracised.

Here the BNP apparently scored a bit of a coup. “One of this country’s top employment law firms … has offered pro bono – free – representation to any person who is threatened by their employers as a result of the ‘leaked membership list’ smear,” announced the party website. The firm was not named. Solicitors often work pro bono, partly mindful of the good publicity this generates, but these solicitors must have realised that helping the BNP for free was more shameful than charitable.

In reality it would be difficult to sack an employee with more than a year’s service simply for belonging to the BNP unless the employer can show that membership is incompatible with the individual’s job or has a negative impact on colleagues, customers and the local community, and that there is a clear policy spelling this out. It was under this principle that Serco dismissed the former BNP councillor Arthur Redfearn from his job as a driver transporting vulnerable adults and children to schools and day centres, a decision upheld by the Appeal Court.

Protection of the law was not enough for the BNP’s self-styled “legal eagle”, however. Writing on his blog the day the story broke, Lee Barnes advised: “For those people who have been named on the list all you need to do is deny you are a member if asked. Your employer cannot ascertain whether you are actually a real member of the BNP, and we will confirm that you are not a member if you ask us.” In other words the BNP was prepared to back up its members’ lies with more of its own.

The BNP also played the victim card as hard as it could. There were ridiculous accusations from Griffin and Simon Darby, the party’s deputy leader and press officer, that “call centres” were being used to make threatening phone calls to BNP members. The media sought out members who expressed fears that they or their families would be attacked.

We would condemn absolutely anyone who thinks the way to fight the BNP is by physical attacks on individuals or their property. But history shows it is the racists who call for violence against opponents. The vicious hate website Redwatch posts photographs and personal details of hundreds of people, many supplied by BNP organisers and activists, as a way of intimidating their political opponents. Some have had threatening phone calls and abusive letters as a result. Others have been attacked. They include two teachers whose car was firebombed outside their home in Leeds in a case of mistaken identity, and Alec McFadden, president of Merseyside Trades Council, who two years ago was confronted on his doorstep by a man wielding a knife and slashed repeatedly across his face in front of his two young daughters.

Indeed Darby’s initial reaction to the publication of the list appeared to be a threat of violence. If the culprit was found, Darby declared, “it will turn out to be one of the most foolish things they have done in their life” and “I wouldn’t be sleeping very well tonight”. Griffin had to leap in to explain that Darby was only threatening legal action with a potential prison sentence.

Griffin, a conspiracy theorist par excellence, claimed the list had been leaked to coincide with a hearing of the General Teaching Council (GTC), which he expected would stop a BNP member from working as a teacher. “Had that been the result,” Griffin wrote, “the verdict would have been a big news story, which would have set things up perfectly for the follow-up publicity storm about thousands of BNP members being ‘exposed’ which would have broken over the rest of the week.”

In the event the GTC postponed the hearing, but the publicity storm happened anyway and Griffin worked desperately on spinning it in the BNP’s favour. “Nothing could show better just how frightened the liberal ‘elite’ now are of our coming breakthrough,” declared Griffin in an “urgent message” two days after the story broke.

“The publicity about the high quality of our membership has massively improved our image,” he claimed. “The whole affair has blown up in the faces of the plotters and the anti-British traitors. The public are more eager for our message than ever, and many of our new website visitors will keep coming back, become committed nationalists, and join our ranks.”

“High quality” would not describe the two men sentenced in Blackburn at the end of the week for sexual activity with 14-year-old girls. Ian Richard Hindle, 32, and Andrew Paul Wells, 49, had exploited the girls’ vulnerability, police said, welcoming the total of five years and three months imprisonment the pair received. Their BNP connection did not emerge in court or in a local newspaper report, but both their names can be found on the list. Wells is also a convicted football hooligan and has acted as a bodyguard to Griffin. (See pages 18-19 for more details of criminals and extremists in the BNP.)

The BNP may gain a few members out of the thousands who visited its website, assuming they accept Griffin’s assurances that the party’s “investment in new technology and procedures” will stop any more leaks. What the party finds hard is keeping members. Less than 40% of members renew after the first year, the party itself admits.

We have been contacted by people on the list who say they joined but quickly became disillusioned when they found out the truth, which is that the BNP is still a racist party infested with thugs and Holocaust deniers. The presence of a few managers, IT professionals and ex-servicemen will not change that, just like two years ago when it was revealed that a principal dancer with the English National Ballet was a BNP member, despite the BNP milking the connection for all it was worth.

© Searchlight Magazine 2008

No comments: