1 June 2009

BNP campaign comes off the rails

‘‘We rather it hadn’t happened! ’’ That was the conclusion of Martin Wingfield, editor of the British National Party’s Voice of Freedom monthly, on the MPs’ expenses scandal. He was writing three weeks before polling day amid growing signs that the BNP’s campaign for the European election was falling apart.

MPs’ expenses had come on top of the “economic meltdown, credit crunch, Muslim threat, the loony left, employment, and home repossessions” combined with “a hated government and a mealy-mouthed Tory party” that Griffin claimed in a fundraising appeal in March would create a “perfect political storm” that would “result in this party exploding onto the world stage by taking several seats in the European Parliament”.

Yet even after days of media focus on political sleaze the opinion polls were reporting that the BNP was still only attracting 3-4% of the vote, far short of what it needed to win even one seat in Europe. It was the eurosceptic UK Independence Party to which disillusioned voters were turning.

Wingfield put it down to the “voter volatility” that the expenses scandal had caused. “Without the expenses scandal, the BNP was quietly working towards having three MEPs elected on June 4th,” he wrote. “It would have taken a political earthquake to stop us winning in the North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands … and now, of course, that is exactly what has happened.”

What had happened was that the BNP had attracted the attention it craved, but the media were not playing ball. Journalists, with a little help from Searchlight, were looking beyond the BNP’s carefully cultivated veneer of respectability and finding the same old fascist party it had always been.

The media did not have to dig far to find the BNP’s racism and shamefulness, which led Richard Pendlebury in the Mail on Sunday to describe it as “a marginal group with a rotten ideological core”. There was the embarrassing Activists’ and Organisers’ Handbook, which found it necessary to tell members not to look and behave like thugs and banned them from setting up local BNP websites and blogs because “they can’t write proper English” and “get carried away promoting cyberspace conspiracy theories which, even if true, strike the public as barking mad”.

Then there was the Language and Discipline Manual, which instructed members not to refer to “Black Britons” and “Asian Britons” because “such persons do not exist”. Exposure forced party bosses quickly to rewrite it.

The media revis-ited other episodes that the BNP would have prefer-red forgotten, such as the participation of its deputy leader, Simon Darby, at a fascist conference in Milan in April, where he was greeted by fascist stiff-right-arm salutes. The BNP’s claim that Private Johnson Beharry did not deserve his Victoria Cross and was only awarded it because he was black came back to haunt the party.

Darby came out with a clumsy attack on the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, describing him as an “ambitious African” and referring to his fellow Ugandans as spear-throwers. The BNP demanded that a banned Ku Klux Klan leader should be allowed to enter Britain, but was less keen on Gurkhas, with Griffin on Radio 5 Live describing them as “mercenaries” and saying, “We don’t think the most overcrowded country in Europe can realistically say, ‘Look, you can all come and all your relatives’.”

It did not help the BNP campaign when Richard Barnbrook, the BNP’s most senior elected politician, got an airing for his admission that he had invented three murders in Barking and Dagenham to highlight knife crime, a claim for which he could be suspended from the London Assembly for up to six months.

And Bob Bailey, the BNP’s London organiser, was caught mass mailing implicitly threatening emails to anti-fascists. When challenged he said lamely: “I’m not denying I sent it but I can’t remember”.

There was worse, far worse. The BNP’s main slogan for the campaign is “British jobs for British workers”. It is illustrated ubiquitously by a picture of three white men in hard hats in front of a Union Flag. But they were no British workers.

The BNP had bought the image from a picture agency. The men were American models who posed for a general photo shoot in Portland, Oregon.

Other images on the millions of election leaflets the BNP had printed for distribution by the Royal Mail had also come from agencies. Alongside a white pensioner couple are the words: “We’ve seen how this country has declined under the present government and we’re voting BNP because they will put pensioners before asylum seekers and ensure our future.”

The couple turned out to be the Italian parents of the agency photo-grapher, who were appalled that their picture had been used to spread far-right propaganda. A doctor, a Guardsman and a mother, all quoted supporting the BNP, were no more genuine.

The former Scots Guards NCO Stuart Walker was shocked when the leaflet dropped through his letterbox with his picture and the made-up quote implying he would back the BNP because the party would stop soldiers being “abused” by Muslims. “They are scumbags and I’d never vote for them in a million years,” he told The Sun, adding that when he phoned the BNP to complain he was told to “f*** off”.

The only British voters on the leaflets were the Cass family, who in last year’s local elections appeared on BNP material all around the country pretending to be local voters – everywhere. Deceit is nothing new for the BNP.

The pictures were not the only lies. The leaflet outlined three key BNP pledges. One was to oppose “the dangerous drive … to give 80 million low-wage, Muslim Turks the right to swamp Britain”. But the population of Turkey is only just over 75 million and growing slowly, and they are by no means all low-waged.

No wonder many Royal Mail staff refused to deliver the BNP leaflets.

The British workers’ image has been plastered over the side of the BNP’s “truth truck”, better known as the lie lorry, a white Iveco advertising vehicle with Northern Irish registration plates. It toured the country during the campaign, though remarkably almost all the many pictures that appeared on BNP websites showed it cruising empty streets.

The BNP claimed to have bought the “truth truck” last year after a successful appeal to supporters to raise the £26,550 needed. In his 2009 New Year address, Griffin wrote, “your cash allowed the party to buy our very own state of the art advertising lorry and roll out the first of many nationwide Truth Truck Tours”.

It turned out to be another deception. Mark Croucher, a UKIP activist and freelance journalist, had obtained a county court judgment for several thousand pounds against the BNP for infringement of copyright for using one of his photographs without permission. When bailiffs tried to enforce the judgment by seizing the vehicle the BNP’s solicitors responded that: “the goods referred to are registered in the name of another person who … has no connection with the judgement debtors”.

The BNP’s campaign has run into other money troubles. In March the party started appealing for the £395,000 needed centrally to fight the European election. It included £210,000 to print 29 million leaflets, though this was not entirely honest as each region was also expected to raise the money itself for its own leaflets. It was because London region was unable to raise enough that it only had the A5 version of the BNP leaflet, according to Bailey.

There was also £25,000 for billboard advertising during the final two and a half weeks of the campaign and an-other £25,000 for newspaper adverts, including the online adverts that have appeared, though not for long, on local newspaper websites. All feature the stock American “British workers” picture.

A thermometer-style graphic on the BNP website showed rapid progress up to a bit over £325,000 and there it stuck. A succession of increasingly desperate campaign emails to supporters pleaded for donations to raise the final £90,000.

But the party could not leap the final hurdle. On 11 May David Hannam, the BNP deputy treasurer, passed on a letter from Griffin to branch fund-holders (the BNP term for treasurers) asking them to make all surplus funds available to Central Office “ASAP”. “Work with me on this it really is all hands on deck!” the letter ended.

On 18 May another campaign email appealed for the final £35,393, although the thermometer graphic, no longer on the BNP site’s home page, still showed a shortfall nearer to £60,000.

The BNP claims to be receiving 100 enquiries a day at its new call centre, the fruit of its “rapid expansion plan”, which Griffin claims raised £85,000 to equip four new party offices across the country. At its campaign launch in Grays the BNP proudly showed a film of its new staff hard at work in near identical surroundings. A sceptic might wonder whether was the same office filmed from different angles.

Amid all the bad publicity surrounding the BNP, the party grabbed the chance to crow after The Sun printed a story about a damaging BNP local leaflet that attacked the Gurkhas. The BNP said the leaflet was a forgery, The Sun took the story off its website and Griffin lied blatantly that he had always supported the Gurkhas. Had a maverick BNP supporter decided to set his very own Reichstag fire to kick new life into a faltering campaign?

The latest BNP begging letter implored: “It is crucial that we win a seat”. It was a far cry from the “six or seven” seats the party thought possible when Griffin appealed for funds in March. His desperation was palpable, as was his very personal interest in the outcome. “If you want to see me elected on June 4th … Help me now!” he wrote in a postscript.

The BNP has poured everything into this campaign. Griffin’s emails repeat the mantra, “We won’t get a second chance! It’s now or never”, and he is probably right. If the BNP cannot make it in the present political and economic climate, it never will.

Sonia Gable writing in Searchlight

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