On the brink

Searchlight Magazine June2011 by Nick Lowles | Wednesday, 18 May 2011

For the second consecutive year the British National Party suffered a humiliation at the hands of the voters with its impact reaching far beyond the immediate council elections. Nick Lowles reports

For the second consecutive year the British National Party suffered a humiliation at the hands of the voters with its impact reaching far beyond the immediate council elections. Nick Lowles reports

The British National Party suffered yet another electoral disaster last month, losing almost all the council seats it was defending without gaining any new ones. It was an electoral defeat that leaves Nick Griffin clinging onto power by his fingertips and his party on the brink of collapse.

The far-right party managed to retain just two of the 11 seats it was defending, leaving the party with 13 councillors, 12 at district level and one county councillor. This compares with a high of 55 just two years ago following the 2009 local elections.

Worse still, the BNP vote was well down on previous years, which will make it much harder for it to challenge for seats in the near future.

The BNP had 258 candidates in the English district council elections and averaged just 8.3% of the vote. This was a fall from 14.5% in 2007 – the last time these specific seats were contested – and even down on the 9.5% it averaged last year when high turnout in the general election suppressed the BNP vote.

The 14.5% average vote in 2007 was achieved with 742 candidates while 737 stood in 2010.

There was even more miserable news for the party in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections. The BNP polled 0.8% of the vote in Scotland, down 33% on its 1.1% in 2007, while in Wales its vote dropped from 4.3% last time to 2.4% now. This 44% fall was a personal humiliation for Griffin who even on election day was confidently boasting of success.

Catherine Duffy Linda Cromie

Holding on Catherine Duffy and Lynda Cromie

Independently minded

Griffin was quick to congratulate Catherine Duffy and Lynda Cromie, the two re-elected BNP councillors, but he had little for which to claim credit. Duffy, in East Goscote, on Charnwood district council, and Cromie, in Queensbury, Bradford, act semi-independently of the national BNP, with little or no mention of the party on their election leaflets.

In truth they were re-elected because they were considered hard-working local councillors and both represented traditionally Conservative-leaning areas, so were unaffected by a Labour revival.

For the rest of the BNP the election night was a disaster.

The party did badly across the board, including in many of the local authorities where it had polled strongly in previous years. Despite Griffin’s later boast that it had been the most professional election campaign to date, there was little sign of much campaigning in the majority of wards the BNP was contesting.

In Burnley, where once the BNP was the official opposition, the party struggled to deliver more than one leaflet across the key Hapton with Park ward that it was defending. In other areas, such as Sandwell, where the party once averaged 33% of the vote, there was no sign of any campaign at all.

Several other local authorities where the party had polled well in previous years had no BNP candidates at all.

In Yorkshire, the one victory in Queensbury could not disguise what had been an appalling election campaign. The number of candidates was down on previous years and the party was rocked with several high-profile defections to the English Democrats shortly before nominations closed.

The elections confirmed that West Yorkshire BNP is largely defunct, with the possible exception of Calderdale, although even here its vote was well down, and that the party had gone into reverse in South Yorkshire. The relatively poor results in Barnsley reflected the bad result in the Barnsley Central parliamentary by-election in March and the lack of candidates in Sheffield was a sign of another near-defunct branch.

Its only glimmer of hope was Rotherham, where the party averaged 16.7% in the wards it contested. While this was well down on previous years it still represented its highest average vote in any local authority where it fielded more than five candidates.

The BNP’s recent growth in Greater Manchester has been reversed, with a combination of poor votes in those areas it contested and an absence of candidates in other places where it has polled well in the past. There were no candidates in Oldham and Bury, and only three in Wigan compared to the 19 who stood last year.

The decline of the BNP in Burnley is obviously welcome; especially as there had been concern that some disaffected Liberal Democrats might switch to the BNP rather than vote Labour. There is a real prospect of the BNP losing its remaining councillor next year.

The BNP did appalling across Merseyside.

The North East region of the BNP has been in open rebellion against the party leadership for some time and this was reflected in the lack of candidates and the poor results where it did stand. There were no candidates in Sunderland and Gateshead, two councils where the BNP has fielded over 40 candidates in previous years, and its vote in other areas fell.

The 2007 elections saw a strong BNP performance across the East Midlands, with an average 24.1% of the vote in the five wards it contested in North West Leicestershire, 22.1% in 14 wards in Charnwood, 19.8% in five wards in Blaby, 16.4% in 10 wards in Broxtowe, 19.1% in five wards in Leicester, 16.2% in six wards in Ashfield and 12.4% across 12 wards in Lincoln.

The 57 candidates in these seven local authorities averaged 18.2% of the vote. This time the BNP contested a mere four seats.

The Black Country was formerly a BNP stronghold, with councillors in Sandwell and Dudley. In 2006 the BNP’s Russell Green won the Princes End ward in Sandwell with 43.5% of the vote. This time he came last with a poor 14%.

Michael Coleman Steve Batkin

Losing out in Stoke-on-Trent: Michael Coleman and Steve Batkin

The missing jewels

For the first time in many years the BNP has no representation on Stoke-on-Trent council, a city that Griffin once described as the party’s “jewel in the crown”. Only 16 months ago the BNP had nine councillors in the city, its second largest councillor group after Barking and Dagenham.

The scale of the defeat in Stoke-on-Trent was large. Every BNP candidate lost by a sizeable margin, including Michael Coleman, the leader of the BNP group on the council, whose 24.3% of the vote was a long way off Labour’s 45.1%. The result was even more satisfying in that the Labour candidate was a Muslim woman and the BNP campaign largely focused on an imagined threat from Muslims.

The local BNP angrily cried foul and promised to be back stronger next year but as table 2 shows the party has been experiencing steady decline over the past three years.

Its anger was matched in other parts of the country. As the BNP campaign began to unravel several of its candidates and supporters became increasingly aggressive and even violent. There were incidents of intimidation and harassment in Thurrock, Luton, Burnley, Barnsley and County Durham, to name but a few.

On election day, BNP candidates and supporters even blocked the entrance to a count and a Labour supporter in a wheelchair was hit by eggs. A few days earlier, the BNP’s national organiser Adam Walker was arrested after chasing a group of children on bikes and threatening them with a knife.

Parallel universe

Nick Griffin must have watched the results come in with increasing horror, knowing full well that a second electoral drubbing could signal the end of the BNP. He had spent the final week of the campaign in Wales hoping that success there would offset failure in England. He was so sure of victory that he went to the count in Swansea, only to see his party’s vote collapse.

What followed was the usual Griffin reaction to political defeat – at best ignore it and at worst cry foul.

“Here in Swansea our vote doesn’t match the great public response of last few days,” the BNP leader noted on Twitter as the count began. “Weird.”

We … have been handicapped by the energy and money we have had to expend in beating off the attempts of the Equality Commission and a team of Searchlight moles and malcontents to break and bankrupt us from without and disrupt us from ‘within’

NICK GRIFFIN

This soon turned to conspiracy. The BNP was not only up against rival political parties but the sinister state machine. The Electoral Commission had tried to shut the party down, while worried faceless bureaucrats had even redrawn the Stoke-on-Trent electoral boundaries just to undermine the BNP’s chances. At one point during the campaign Griffin had claimed that the whole AV referendum was a sinister plot to defeat the BNP because the state realised the party was so dangerous.

Griffin also had some choice words to say about Searchlight’s intelligence operation, claiming: “We … have been handicapped by the energy and money we have had to expend in beating off the attempts of the Equality Commission and a team of Searchlight moles and malcontents to break and bankrupt us from without and disrupt us from ‘within’.”

Aside from his conspiracy mentality, Griffin simply could not admit to any personal or political failings by himself or his party. They ran, he claimed, the most professional and sophisticated campaign to date but “were generally steam-rollered by Labour’s well-financed and superbly organised election machine, which works hand-in-glove with Searchlight/UAF smear-mongers to get maximum turn-out of Labour’s client blocks while artificially depressing our vote. This deprived some of our best councillors, including in Stoke and Burnley, of their seats.”

Without taking anything away from the local Labour parties, especially in Stoke-on-Trent, to describe Labour as a “superbly organised election machine” is quite wide of the mark.

The truth is that the BNP was undone by a combination of poor leadership, demoralisation among activists and supporters, a resurgent Labour Party now in opposition and a determined and more focused anti-fascist movement.

The BNP has never recovered from the drubbing it received in Barking and Dagenham last year when instead of taking control of its first council the party completely wiped out. Perhaps victory in east London was never achievable but Griffin raised expectations among his members only for them to be humiliatingly let down. A year later and Griffin was making the same boasts about the party’s forthcoming electoral success and political importance.

For this, he has no one to blame but himself.

Table 5 Remaining BNP councillors
CouncillorWardLocal authorityRe-election year
Pat RichardsonLoughton BroadwayEpping Forest2012
Lewis AllsebrookHeanor WestAmber Valley2012
Cliff RoperHeanor EastAmber Valley2012
Adam GrantMarsdenPendle2012
Sharon WilkinsonHapton with ParkBurnley2012
Martyn FindleyBarpoolNuneaton & Bedworth2012
Will BlairMaltbyRotherham2012
Tom BatesIllingworth & MixendenCalderdale2012
Sharon WilkinsonPadiham & Burnley WestLancashire County Council2013
Brian ParkerMarsdenPendle2014
Paul CromieQueensburyBradford2014
Catherine DuffyEast GoscoteCharnwood2015
Lynda CromieQueensburyBradford2015

The future does not look good for Griffin. Even if he manages to retain control and the party avoids bankruptcy there is nothing to indicate that its political fortunes will change anytime soon. The BNP has just 12 district councillors left, of whom eight are up for election in 2012. With demoralisation deepening and membership haemorrhaging, another year of political failure and defeat beckons.

The BNP eventually admitted that the results had not been good but Griffin was still positive about the future. He linked the party’s poor performance to that of other small parties and promised that as long as they continued to move forward and modernise victory would eventually be theirs.

“The Guardian, Searchlight and their useful idiots, and every Nazi crank under the sun, will spend the next week or so in a mini-orgy of writing off the party, and me,” Griffin wrote in obvious anger. “I can assure you that, as usual, their wishful thinking will come to nothing. 

“The British National Party is here to stay, and I personally have been absolutely invigorated by the incredible level of support I have encountered from the public over the campaign. I know exactly what we have to do to move forward, and I know that, together, we can make it work. This is a moment that requires not navel-gazing, negativity and scapegoating, but intelligent analysis, level-headed experience and positive leadership. You’ll get all that from me – cross my heart!”

Griffin claims to have all the answers, the problem for him is that the electorate and increasingly his own members are tending to disagree.

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Wards to watch


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