Published on Friday, 01 June 2012 02:26 Written by Sonia Gable
As Searchlight went to press, former BNP North East regional organiser Ken Booth and other supporters of Brons were preparing to hold a meeting in Benwell, Newcastle upon Tyne, on Sunday 27 May at which Brons and the veteran activist Richard Edmonds, now in the National Front, were expected to issue a statement of intent to form a new party.
And in London influential activists from several parties met at the Old King’s Head pub on Borough High Street on 17 May to consider the way forward for ‘nationalism’. Nearly all those present agreed to support a new party with Brons as a figurehead leader, though many emphasised that, as a busy MEP, Brons would need the support of a council of management to build a new party.
Until now Brons has insisted that the time was not right for a new party. At his BNP Ideas group conference last October he refused to be pressurised into leading a split with the BNP, believing that he would need at least 1,500 members to go with him to create a serious political force rather than yet another splinter group that crashes and burns. He wanted to wait until Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, had reached the end of the road in his attempts to wriggle out of paying those many people who have valid claims against the party.
But it is the BNP’s electoral failure rather than financial problems that has convinced Brons to act. Financially at least, the BNP appears to have put the worst behind itself, after Clive Jefferson, the BNP’s national treasurer, succeeded in drastically cutting the party’s costs, and the party came into a £500,000 legacy, though the cash has not yet been received.
Last month’s election results were certainly a disappointment. That and the collapse of BNP organisational structures in many parts of the country have convinced Brons’s supporters that the party has reached the end of the road.
In London, where four years ago the BNP took 5.3% of the London-wide vote to secure Richard Barnbrook a seat on the London Assembly, the party polled only 2.1%, far lower than its 4.7% in 2004 and even the 2.8% it took in 2000, well before its run of council election successes from 2002 onwards. As a result, the BNP lost the £5,000 deposit it paid to contest the London-wide poll – the first time it had done so. Coming on top of the £10,000 lost deposit for the mayoral election, the £10,000 cost of appearing in the London mayoral election booklet, and six lost £1,000 deposits in the constituency elections, the London election has cost the party dear for little benefit.
In fact the party claims to have spent over £200,000 on the London elections. That included one million copies of an eight-page election newspaper which the party claimed was made possible by the bequest. The paper, delivered (by a delivery company) after postal votes had gone out, proclaimed on its back page, “Vote for hope”, perhaps an attempt to take the wind out of the sails of the anti-BNP Hope Not Hate campaign, which distributed a leaflet calling on people to “Vote hope”.
The BNP paper’s front page headline, “Proud Londoner leaves £1/2 million to BNP”, was a strange way of trying to attract votes. In fact among all the messages of “hope”, “real hope” and love for London it was impossible to discern why voters should actually support the BNP. The only hint as to the party’s policies was the somewhat meaningless phrase “Protecting your identity and culture”. Did that include Muslim Londoners’ identity and culture, Afro-Caribbean Londoners’ identity and culture …? One of the boasts of the organisers of the Olympic Games is that London is the first city where every language spoken by competitors is also spoken among the city’s inhabitants. Did the BNP want to protect the identities and cultures of the whole world?
More love inside from Carlos Cortiglia, the BNP’s candidate for mayor, who promised to “uphold the traditions and values of this country I have grown to love”. Voters were unconvinced. Cortiglia attracted just 1.3% of the vote, coming last of the seven candidates, a poor comparison to Barnbrook’s 2.8% in 2008 and Julian Leppert’s 3.0% of 2004. Even Mike Newland in 2000 did better with 2.0%.
The choice of candidate was partly to blame. Cortiglia, a Uruguayan, has a strong foreign accent, guaranteed to put off the typical BNP target voter, and his widely publicised statement that he would have fought for Argentina in the Falklands war had he got the chance was unhelpful to say the least. That he was chosen as the BNP’s mayoral candidate indicates desperation or Griffin’s lack of control in the capital.
Outside London the BNP mostly fared little better. Five BNP councillors sought re-election and the BNP contested a further four seats where BNP councillors had been elected in 2008 but had since switched party or gone independent. In all of them the BNP failed.
Most gratifying was the defeat of Sharon Wilkinson in Burnley. Although she polled 30.4%, it was not enough to retain her seat in Hapton with Park ward, where the BNP once held all three seats. Her defeat means Burnley council is free of the BNP for the first time since 2002.
In Pendle, Adam Grant lost his seat in Marsden ward, where his BNP colleague Brian Parker had won in 2010. He nearly made it: his 34.2% was just 37 votes behind his Conservative rival. The BNP’s other losers were Will Blair in Rotherham, who came third with 16.9%; Pat Richardson in Epping Forest, who polled just 11.4% coming fourth compared to her 39.7% in 2008; and Cliff Roper in Heanor East, Amber Valley, who fell out publicly with Lewis Allsebrook, BNP councillor for Heanor West. Allsebrook did not stand again and his replacement finished bottom with 18.2%.
Few or no candidates
Many places where the BNP had done well in the past had few or no candidates, including Calderdale, which Griffin once claimed would become the first BNP-controlled council, Kirklees, Bradford, Leeds, Oldham, Dudley, Sandwell, Gateshead, Sunderland, Newcastle upon Tyne, Blackburn with Darwen, Thurrock and Bradford. Excluding London the BNP fielded fewer than 140 candidates in the whole country, with none in Scotland. It was a reflection of the internal divisions and the resignations and defections of activists and sometimes whole branches, which have left the party weak or non-existent in many areas.
The BNP now has just three councillors: Sharon Wilkinson on Lancashire County Council, Brian Parker in Pendle, and Catherine Duffy in Charnwood. Wilkinson and Parker are up for election next year and Duffy in 2014.
However, despite all the party’s troubles, there were still some pockets of BNP support – wards where the party polled over 20%. They include Middleton Park in Leeds, Brinsworth and Catcliffe, Rawmarsh, and Wingfield in Rotherham, Ashridge in Three Rivers, Hapton with Park in Burnley, and Marsden in Pendle.
For all the BNP’s failures, the other far-right parties to which BNP members have moved fared far worse. The British Freedom Party (BFP) only mustered six candidates who polled from 0.6% to 4.2%. The NF managed just 0.4% in the London-wide election. Outside London just four of the NF’s 35 candidates, many of them ex-BNP, took more than 10%, the top result being 16.9% in one ward in Thurrock.
Many former BNP members have joined the English Democrats Party, notably Chris Beverley, former BNP councillor in Leeds, and Eddy Butler, former BNP national elections organiser. Although the EDP managed to produce over 90 candidates, they mostly returned disappointing results, including losing the two council seats the party had gained through defections. Beverley polled 15.1% in Morley, Butler just 12.2% in Loughton, four EDP candidates in Doncaster, which has an EDP mayor, took over 20%, and the party’s best result was in Rochford where the party came second with 32.2%.
Although the BNP’s organisational collapse was a significant cause of its electoral failure, external factors were also important. Fascist parties generally do worse under a Conservative government, and certainly this time Labour benefited from a lot of the opposition to the Tory cuts and austerity measures. In many places the UK Independence Party appealed to largely the same voters as the BNP, making detailed comparisons of BNP results in individual wards difficult where the UKIP contested the same ward this time but not previously or vice versa. Of course antifascist campaigning achieved successes as well, but this has been a constant for several years.
These points mean that if the BNP could move on from its internal problems, or a new party could unify the far right under competent leadership acceptable to its activists, fascism could once again make headway, as it is doing in several other European countries.
The BNP’s main problem is Griffin. Spending much of his time on his duties as an MEP, he has failed to contain the competing egos of those around him in the party and mostly appointed people because of their loyalty – or apparent loyalty – to him rather than any ability. The result has been fallouts, splits, resignations and expulsions. Griffin now relies heavily on Jefferson, though it is rumoured that he might be about to get the boot, and Patrick Harrington, general secretary of the BNP’s fake trade union Solidarity, who was not even a BNP member until last month.
Griffin’s main aim clearly is to secure re-election as an MEP, not least because MEPs with two terms of office benefit from a substantial pension, and also so that he can continue networking from a position of influence with fascists elsewhere in Europe. In the January 2012 issue of Searchlight, I suggested that Griffin might do a deal with Jobbik, the violent fascist party in Hungary that currently has three MEPs, which would offer him a better prospect of re-election than as a BNP candidate in North West England. This has recently become a topic of conversation in certain far-right circles.
Some observers have suggested that Griffin is about to bring Jim Dowson back to pull the BNP out of its desperate financial troubles. That is highly unlikely. True Dowson raised a lot of money, but the party spent far more than he raised, and it is only since his departure that the BNP has managed to get on the road to financial health. And if Griffin were to reappoint Dowson he would lose Harrington. Faced with a choice between the two, Griffin would go with his long-term comrade from NF Political Soldier days.
Above all the ongoing prosecution of the directors of Romac Press remains a huge wedge in the way of any reconciliation between Griffin and Dowson. Friends of Dowson, Romac’s directors are in the dock alleged to have used certain unconventional methods to collect money the BNP owed their business, which ceased trading because of the unpaid bills. Dowson would lose a lot of face in Ulster if he ditched them.
Dowson remains seemingly happy raising money for Britain First, another bunch of former BNP activists, led by Paul Golding, the BNP’s former Sevenoaks councillor, and Andy McBride, former BNP South East regional organiser.
Other activists, however, want a new party. Some new parties have already been formed, of course, and some older parties have attracted new members out of the BNP’s splits, but none has had any impact and impatient fascists want action. The BFP, formed in autumn 2010 and now led by Paul Weston, a former UKIP candidate, recently joined forces with the English Defence League but all they have in common is their hatred of Islam. The EDL’s thugs are unsuited to, and not interested in, electoral politics, and the appointment of the EDL leaders Stephen Lennon and Kevin Carroll as joint deputy leaders of the BFP has already resulted in the exit of some supporters of Brons, who joined thinking the BFP represented the future of nationalism. It is not – contrary to the view of some antifascists.
The London meeting on 17 May was chaired by Chris Roberts, a former BNP London organiser, and attracted several prominent former BNP activists and some from the NF. Joining Roberts on the platform were Edmonds;, former BNP now NF activists Tess and Bill Culnane, and Peter Phillips, whose BNP membership was exposed when he stood for election as President of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2006. Also present were Julian Leppert, the former BNP Redbridge councillor; Derek Beackon, the BNP’s first councillor in 1993, now NF; Arthur Flinders, a well-off old friend of the BNP’s deceased founder John Tyndall; and Sam Swerling, a law lecturer and former Tory councillor who confused people by using the alias Peter Strudwick. Swerling featured on the front cover of last month’s Searchlight at a Traditional Britain Group function.
Brons’s change of heart about a new party follows a series of three articles entitled Beyond the Fringe by a writer who hides behind the name Durotrigan and claims never to have belonged to any party. Much of it brings together the well-rehearsed criticisms of Griffin and the BNP, and he (or perhaps she) correctly writes off all the BNP’s existing rivals, including the EDP and UKIP, which Durotrigan condemns as fixated on a single issue – for an English Parliament and anti-EU respectively.
Durotrigan, who is understood to be close to Ivan Winters of the Bradford-based Democratic Nationalists, also set out a timetable for progress towards a “symbolic Westminster breakthrough in 2015”, claiming that “given the manifest bankruptcy of globalism and its attendant system of economics, a new credible nationalist party pursuing a campaign focused upon economic policy stands a decent chance of achieving this”.
Brons, who has been involved in fascist politics for nearly 50 years without coming even close to any Westminster breakthrough, questioned how this could be done, also asking how a new party might win seats in Europe in 2014 “against all of the competition that will undoubtedly be there”. However he agreed with most of Durotrigan’s content.
It may be Durotrigan’s articles that caused Brons’s change of heart over forming a new party, or the realisation that if he did not make his move now, it would be too late to build any sort of support in time for the 2014 European election, and UKIP would become too well established in a new party’s target areas.
No new policies
Any new party will have similar policies to the BNP but its founders, likely to include Adrian Davies, the barrister of choice for fascists in trouble, will want to avoid the party becoming the personal fiefdom of a dictatorial leader, especially an incompetent one. Brons, 65, would be more of a figurehead and it is likely that Steven Brady, several years younger, would play a major role, especially if he can arrange a lucrative early retirement from his job at Mercedes Benz head office in Milton Keynes.
Brady, who started his fascist career in the NF in the 1970s, has been vocal against the EDP, but might succeed in enticing Beverley to join a new party. Certainly Beverley, a hardline fascist, is an unlikely EDP supporter. Another man likely to join a new party is the veteran fascist Martin Wingfield, former long-time editor of the BNP’s newspaper Voice of Freedom and on Brons’s EU staff as Communications Officer, though no longer doing that job for Griffin. The potential combination of Brons, Brady, Wingfield and perhaps Mark Cotterill, leader of the England First Party, would be a return to the old days of British fascism.
A new party would have several divisions and fault lines but might manage to unite under Brons. If such a party can attract enough of the former BNP activists now scattered between the NF, EDP and other minuscule parties, it might eventually reprise the BNP’s success up to 2009 – if its supporters have the patience and dedication needed to build support. They will also have to get over the dilemma, highlighted by Brons, that “breakaway parties always fail if the parent party is still operative”.
UPDATE 1 June 2012
Despite strong support for a move to form a new party, at the meeting on 27 May Andrew Brons continued to express doubt over whether there was enough momentum for a new party to attract enough activists, even whole former BNP branches, to succeed. Although he and the rest of the 50 or so people present considered that the BNP was now dead as an electoral force, the upshot was that there will only be further discussions between the various groups with a view to a merger in the north of England. The failure to make progress towards a new party was much to the disappointment of the Democratic Nationalists in particular.
More in the July Searchlight.