History of the British National Party
The British National Party (BNP) is a far-right political party in the United Kingdom formed as a splinter group from the National Front by John Tyndall in 1982 and currently led by Nick Griffin. The BNP platform is centred on the advocacy of "firm but voluntary incentives for immigrants and their descendants to return home", as well as the repeal of anti-discrimination legislation. It restricted membership to "indigenous British" people until a 2010 legal challenge to its constitution.
The British National Party[note 1] was founded in 1982 following a split within the far right National Front (NF) two years before. The NF had organised marches in an attempt to raise its profile, which sometimes led to violent clashes with political opponents such as the Anti-Nazi League. After a poor showing at the 1979 general election, internal factional division heightened within the NF. This culminated in chairman John Tyndall leaving the party in 1980, and founding the New National Front (NNF), which became the BNP two years later. According to Spearhead, a magazine produced by Tyndall, the split within the NF was initially intended to be temporary. Members of Tyndall's NNF wished to modernise and break with fascism, blaming the old NF for its lack of popular appeal.
Tyndall's new BNP absorbed the membership of the British Democratic Party, a small British nationalist party led by Anthony Reed Herbert which was attempting to distance itself from neo-nazism, and which had itself earlier split from the NF. Also joining were members of the Constitutional Movement, another NF splinter group who had distanced themselves from fascism and violent subcultures such as football hooliganism. These smaller nationalist parties attempting to modernise their image joined Tyndall's NNF through the Committee for Nationalist Unity (1981), which acted as a front to draw members from similar modernising nationalist organizations. However, despite Tyndall's attempt to distance the BNP from fascism, several individuals of the disintegrating British Movement were allowed to join. At its formation in 1982, the BNP had 2500 members, most of whom had joined from the Constitutional Movement through the Committee for Nationalist Unity. Eddy Morrison and his minor Leeds-based nationalist party merged with the BNP later that year.
Early years: 1983–1990
In 1983, Tyndall sought to make an electoral impact by fielding 53 candidates in the 1983 general election, which guaranteed a free party broadcast. This broadcast featured Tyndall flanked by two British flags, and included footage of the Brixton riot, a violent clash between predominantly black local residents and the police.[note 2] All of the BNP's candidates combined – including Tyndall and his wife Valerie – achieved only 14,621 votes and as a result they lost all of their deposits. It was revealed afterwards that the BNP Deputy Chairman Ray Hill had been working as a mole on behalf of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight. During the mid-1980s, Tyndall's BNP absorbed numerous existing NF Flag Group[note 3] branches including Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and Glasgow. The party also began to develop friendly relations with the Federation of Conservative Students. The BNP also made contacts elsewhere on Europe, particularly with Flemish nationalists of the radical Odal Group, which succeeded the Order of Flemish Militants.
Tyndall attempted to distance the party from neo-nazism and the skinhead subculture, claiming that the party's more moderate image attracted 3,000 enquiries for membership after the 1983 general election. However, despite an increase in membership and media exposure, the BNP continued to poll very low in council elections, ranging from 1 - 3%, the sole exception being a council by-election in Sunderland in 1984, where the party polled 11.7%.
In 1986, Tyndall and John Morse were imprisoned for inciting racial hatred. While in prison, Tyndall wrote the part-autobiographical, part-political The Eleventh Hour, making Richard Edmonds the de facto leader of the BNP during this time. While Tyndall was imprisoned, the party ceased its electoral activity; only one candidate stood in the London Borough council elections. While Tyndall and Morse served short 4 month prison sentences, membership of the party had shrunk, and with little financial income, Tyndall decided not to stand candidates in the 1987 general election. However two party regional organisers, Alf Waite in Bromley and Michael Easter from the BNP's West Kent branch, defied his wishes and declared their intention to stand as BNP candidates. Both stood in the 1987 general election polling poorly. Both were subsequently expelled by Tyndall. The party was further damaged, by the fact a 1988 Sunday Times report revealed that BNP Deputy Chairman Richard Edmonds was once involved with a newspaper called the "Holocaust" News, published by the Centre for Historical Review. The publication claimed that the Holocaust, as presented in state-sponsored accounts, was an elaborate, politically motivated hoax. It promoted instead the Leuchter Report, the Ball Report and the Rudolf Expertise. In 1989, the BNP had 800 members.
Gains at local level, 1990s
The British National Party in the early 1990s picked up in its membership and support through the decline of the National Front, which had split into further factions. It had also mobilised 200 people for a "Rights for Whites" demonstration resulting in the 1989 Dewsbury race riot. The BNP claimed the demonstration was in support of white parents who withdrew their children from predominantly Muslim schools. Writing about Dewsbury, Tyndall made the claim that "the name of our party, for long languishing in obscurity, is now on thousands of lips". Around this time, the party also saw a popularity growth in east London and relocated its bookshop to a heavily fortified headquarters at Welling. At the 1992 general election, Tyndall and Lady Birdwood were noted candidates who unsuccessfully stood for election. Following this, BNP candidate Derek Beackon—a last minute replacement for Eddy Butler—won the party its first local council seat in 1993 from Labour, during a local-by election for the Isle of Dogs, Tower Hamlets. The seat was fought on a "Rights for Whites" platform, in which it was alleged black families were being favoured in local housing initiatives. In May 1994, as local elections approached, the BNP hoped to hold its seat, but was defeated by Labour. However the BNP polled well elsewhere in London, particularly in the neighbouring borough of Newham where a BNP candidate came within 65 votes of being elected. Eddy Butler remarked on the results at the time: "Compared with results achieved by nationalist candidates in the recent past, our votes were nothing short of phenomenal.". John Tyndall also succeeded in retaining his deposit at a parliamentary by-election at Dagenham in June 1994, a first ever for the BNP.
In the aftermath of Beackon's electoral victory and losing his seat the following year, the British National Party clashed with paramilitary organisation, Combat 18, which had evolved in 1991 from a 'security force' made up of nationalists drawn from football casual firms was created to defend far-right activists, allegedly in response to a hammer attack at Kensington Central Library. The force firebombed the headquarters of the communist newspaper, the Morning Star, and by 1993 had transformed into the Neo-Nazi paramilitary organisation Combat 18. That same year, the BNP proscribed membership of the group and claimed it had been infiltrated by MI5. In September 1995, Tyndall maintained that in response to the BNP's victory in Millwall, C18 had been 'created' by the State security services in order to wreck the BNP and its electoral support. Nick Griffin, who later became British National Party chairman, stated in Spearhead during 1999 that members of Combat 18 had been a faction of the British Movement some years earlier, from which they were expelled, but never part of the BNP. He claimed that it had "been known for some years that MI5 encouraged or even ordered the setting up of C18 in order to disrupt and discredit the BNP after historic electoral success in Millwall in 1993", and also that The Observer had confirmed that Combat 18 was a state-sponsored "honeytrap" right from the start. It was revealed around this time that another Searchlight mole, Tim Hepple, had infiltrated the BNP, proving controversial in far-left circles, since he was the primary organiser of the Dewsbury incident in 1989. However, Hepple also worked as a Searchlight mole amongst the radical left as an "agent provocateur". According to author Larry O'Hara, Hepple attempted to get Green Anarchist to publish works by radical nationalists, with the intention of publishing an expose in Searchlight that they were "working with fascists"—thus leaving them open to attack from all sides. This happened to Class War. Political opponents claimed that "racist incidents" occurred around the BNP's headquarters and instigated a "close down the BNP" march in October 1993.[note 4] In 1995, Bexley Council shut down the BNP headquarters. The same year, relations were built up with William Luther Pierce's US-based National Alliance.
In August 1995 Tyndall committed the party to contesting 50 seats at the next general election. However the party was in a poor state, as the membership had dropped to 700 and there was an on-going conflict with Combat 18. The party attempted to further modernise its image for the upcoming 1997 general election as Michael Newland, the party's press officer looked towards the example of the Austrian Freedom Party as a model for a 'new', modern and respectable British nationalism. Newland however briefly resigned from the party in early 1996 convinced that it needed a new leader. Nick Griffin joined the party in 1995, having led a faction of the National Front and Tyndall employed him to edit Spearhead. Griffin believed the British National Party needed to be further modernised, with no fascist connections, but through a forthright commitment to what he regarded as historical revisionism. A booklet, Who are the Mind-benders? co-written by Griffin was unveiled by the BNP in early 1997, arguing that Britain and its media was mass-controlled by a "liberal-elite". Furthermore, Griffin flirted with Holocaust Denial writing in The Rune that the Holocaust was a "mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter-day witch-hysteria". He was consequently prosecuted under the Public Order Act at the instigation of Alex Carlile MP. These claims some British National Party members believed were losing the appeal and ideology of the party, Newland considered them to be the views of "Nazi cranks". However, according to Tyndall in his "July Members' Bulletin", the BNP's support was increasing with between 2,500 and 3,000 membership enquiries just prior to the 1997 general election. The party managed to save two deposits in this election, Tyndall with 7.26 per cent and Dave King with 7.5 per cent, in the East End of London and Canning Town. However it has been alleged that Dave King benefited from voter confusion since he shared the same surname as Oona King, the winning Labour candidate.
Following the 1997 general election, the BNP once again suffered a set back. At local elections in May 1998, the BNP fielded five more candidates than in 1994 but its average vote fell from just over 13% to a derisory 3.28%. In Tower Hamlets, its average share of the poll slumped by almost half. At the end of 1998, membership stood at 1,100. Having gone from the verge of a major electoral breakthrough to the point of stagnation, the party held its first leadership election.
Griffin leadership, identity nationalism
In October 1999, Nick Griffin, supported by Tony Lecomber, stood against Tyndall for leadership of the BNP. John Tyndall, only received 411 (30%) of the votes, while Griffin the majority. After Griffin won he began modernising the party's image, though the crucial policy change from compulsory to voluntary repatriation had already been accomplished under Tyndall's leadership. Griffin moved the party from a focus on the status of Jews in Britain, to allowing Jews to stand for the party. A new monthly newspaper, The Voice of Freedom, was initiated, as well as a journal, Identity. During the 2001 general election, following the milltown riots, Oldham and Burnley polled highest for the BNP. Following 9/11 the BNP made further political capital.
At local level, the BNP continued to improve on its electoral results in 2002—03, gaining council seats in Blackburn, Calderdale and Burnley, despite an extensive opposition campaign. This success led to a large number of the National Democrats party, including Simon Darby and Martin Wingfield defecting to the British National Party from 1999 to 2003. After the 2004 elections, the BBC and Searchlight created a documentary called The Secret Agent, featuring Jason Gwynne infiltrating the BNP. In it, Griffin and Mark Collett made comments critical of Islam. Following the documentary, Barclays Bank froze the party's accounts. Collett and Griffin were acquitted on charges of incitement to racial hatred in 2006. The BNP branded the BBC "cockroaches". In Burnley, the BNP lost one of its councillors, Maureen Stowe, who left the party after claiming it was racist. She told The Guardian, "I became a BNP councillor, like most people who voted for me, by believing their lies". Following the 7/7 bombings in London, the BNP released fliers with the slogan; "maybe now it's time to start listening to the BNP". Griffin claimed that this was the "cost of voting Labour", attacking the government for bringing the United Kingdom into an "illegal" Iraq War and for its immigration policies. YouGov claimed in 2006, that support for the party stood at up to 7%. Large gains were made in the 2006 local elections, where the BNP more than doubled its number of councillors and became the second party on the Barking and Dagenham council.
In December 2006, it was revealed that a Guardian journalist, Ian Cobain, had worked undercover in the BNP for seven months, becoming the party's central London organiser. Among the accusations made by the paper was that the BNP used "techniques of secrecy and deception ... in its attempt to conceal its activities and intentions from the public". It asserted that the BNP operated with a "network of false identities" and organised rendezvous points to allow members to be directed to "clandestine meetings". Party members were directed to avoid "any racist or anti-semitic language in public". Cobain also claimed that the membership in central London had expanded beyond the party's traditional range, now including "dozens of company directors, computing entrepreneurs, bankers and estate agents, and a handful of teachers". Following the report, the campaign group Unite Against Fascism called for ballerina Simone Clarke to be dismissed from the English National Ballet, because her views on immigration were "incompatible with a leading arts institution such as the English National Ballet" and because she had "used her position to support a party which fosters division". Clarke said: "the BNP is the only party to take a stand against immigration". The BNP was investigated by the Electoral Commission in 2007, after The Guardian revealed that it had set up a front organisation to raise money from sympathisers in the United States. Later in 2007, three BNP councillors resigned. In Epping, Terry Farr resigned after suspension for writing abusive letters to Trevor Phillips. In Sandwell, James Lloyd was disqualified for not attending any meetings. In Blackburn, Robin Evans left the party and wrote a letter to his former colleagues denouncing it as a party of drug-dealers and football hooligans. Evans remains a councillor, describing himself as a "national socialist".
In late 2007, several BNP officials, including councillor Sadie Graham and head of administration Kenny Smith, had pressed for the expulsion of three senior officials—treasurer John Walker, his deputy Dave Hannam and director of publicity Mark Collett—who they accused of bringing the BNP into disrepute. The BNP later accused Graham and Smith of being "far left" infiltrators. In December Graham and Smith launched a blog detailing their complaints against the trio. They were dismissed from their positions by Nick Griffin. During the ensuing dispute, members of BNP security seized a computer from Graham's home. Griffin claimed that they were recovering party property, while Graham claimed that it was her own. A number of BNP councillors later resigned the whip after Councillor Nina Brown claimed that BNP Security had misled her into giving them the key to Sadie Graham's home.
A number of BNP officials resigned in support of Smith and Graham, or were expelled. These included the head of the Young BNP. The BNP leadership said that the significance of the dispute was exaggerated and that it would quickly blow over. In late December 2007, the dissidents began to refer to themselves as the "Real BNP". They said that they would stay within the BNP and campaign for a change of leaders. In January 2008, the group launched a new website called "Voice of Change", "an umbrella group to assist candidates who wish to stand as independent nationalists in the local elections in May 2008, and in any local by-elections throughout the year". They aimed to challenge Nick Griffin's leadership, calling him "tyrannical", "arrogant" and surrounded by "yes men".
The constitution of the BNP has been criticised by members for giving far too much power to the chairman and for not being easily accessible by the membership. In 2007, a leadership challenge by a Tyndallite faction led by Christian (Chris) Jackson succeeded in forcing an election, which was however lost. The following year saw the resignation or expulsion of scores of activists from a different wing of the party and an unsuccessful bid for the leadership by Councillor Colin Auty.
BNP candidate Richard Barnbrook won a seat in the London Assembly in 2008, after the party gained 5.3% of the London-wide vote.
Electoral breakthrough, European Parliament
In the 2009 European elections the British National Party won two seats in the European Parliament. Andrew Brons was elected in the Yorkshire and the Humber regional constituency with 9.8% of the vote. Party chairman Nick Griffin was elected in the North West region, with 8% of the vote. Nationally, the BNP received 6.26%. Griffin stated that it was "a great victory ... we go on from here." Meanwhile, the Labour and Conservative parties both referred to it as a "sad moment". The Archbishops of Canterbury and York said it would be tragic if people abstained or voted BNP at the local and European elections. In local elections held the same day, the BNP also won its first three county council seats in Lancashire, Leicestershire and Hertfordshire. The breakthrough of the British National Party in the 2009 European elections was widely reported throughout Britain by the media. Matthew Goodwin in his article "The BNP's breakthrough", notes that the British National Party was able to capitalise on widespread public anxiety over immigration. Also in light of the United Kingdom Parliamentary expenses scandal, there was media speculation that the BNP could do well in the polls, as voters sought an alternative party to register their protest. Nick Griffin claimed that the success of the British National Party was down to its modernisation, having kept things "simple" and ditched the fringe in the movement who were concerned with "... genetics, Zionism and historical revisionism". He also claimed the party's success was down to the fact the mainstream parties in Britain never discussed immigration, while the British National Party openly did and were not scared to do so:
"The Labour Party, the Lib Dems and the Tories, by leaving the door to Britain open, has forced people to turn to a party which speaks openly about the problem of immigration."
At the end of 2009, the party's membership was 12,632, its highest. It also had set up BNPtv, its own online video outlet, a student wing (Student BNP) and the Young BNP (British Nationalist Youth Movement). The party's financial resources had also increased from £726,455 (in 2006) to £1,983,947.
2010 General Election, leadership challenge
The British National Party in the 2010 General Election fielded a record 338 candidates, polling 563,743 votes, but won no seats. Nick Griffin came third in the Barking constituency, where the party the same year in the local elections lost all of its 12 councillors it held on the borough. In total, 26 BNP councillors lost their seats, leaving the party with 28 seats overall. In aftermath of the elections, the party further suffered from infighting over concerns over the finances and leadership of the party. However the British National Party's campaign during the 2010 General Election already had been beset by problems before the results, as publicity director Mark Collett was arrested on suspicion of threatening to kill Nick Griffin. A day prior to the General Election, the BNP official website was also closed and replaced with a posting from its Simon Bennett, the party's website manager, accusing Griffin and James Dowson, the BNP election fundraiser, of being "pathetic, desperate and incompetent". Membership of the party also declined after the General Election.
Nick Griffin announced that he would step down as leader in 2013. Three senior BNP members subsequently challenged Griffin for the leadership of the party. Having failed to secure enough support to trigger a leadership ballot, both Eddy Butler and Richard Barnbrook were expelled from the party some months later.
2011 Leadership election
Following disappointing election results in 2011, and a General Members Meeting which did away with the virtually insurmountable nominations' requirement for a leadership election, a leadership election took place in 2011. Griffin was challenged by fellow MEP Andrew Brons. Griffin secured a narrow victory, beating Brons by nine votes out of a total of 2,316 votes cast. In October 2012, Brons left the party, leaving Griffin as its sole MEP.
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