Part 1: The Tyndall Years, by Matthew Collins (from HOPE not hate magazine)
In October this year, the National Front (NF) belatedly commemorated its 50 years as a political party with a small rally in a Birmingham pub.
That it survives as a household name – or that it survives at all in the public mind – is more as a byword and symbol of racism, fascism, nazism and violence.
For over 50 years, the words “NF” have struck notes of fear and revulsion in the depths of British society that have outweighed the National Front’s numerical strength, popularity and electoral impact, none of which have ever been more than derisory.
The 50th anniversary commemoration was delayed because, as the NF’s long traditions dictate, the party was in the throes of an internal schism.
The now-tiny group focuses primarily in memory of, and warped tribute to, one of its former Chairmen and one of its fiercest critics in his later political life, John Tyndall.
The NF’s history of splits and internecine warfare ensures that few (if any) former leaders are recognised. Terry Blackham, the convicted gun runner, who came to save the party in the early 1990s, as it faced being wound down, refused an invitation to address the crowd.
Andrew Brons, the one-time MEP for the British National Party (BNP) and NF Chairman from 1980-84, did make a brief speech. Brons must find it quite galling that, despite his far greater achievements politically, people only seem to want to him talk about his former predecessor and long-term factional rival, Tyndall.
From the BNP to National Action, the English Defence League (EDL) and even UKIP, there are extraordinary lessons in understanding how the far right in Britain has modelled itself, how it has organised, rarely triumphed and ultimately failed electorally and organisationally at every turn.
Few Britons who lived in the 1970s and 1980s did so without knowing of the NF which, notably, ignited and radicalised social movements formed solely to destroy it. And yet, even as a poor, almost sickly imitation of what it once was, the NF has still staggered on.
Perhaps only the EDL, with which the NF now shares a tiny and fragmented constituency on the wider far right in the UK, can match it in terms of such spectacular decline in popularity and importance, both groups being wracked with personality and drug problems.
The NF was launched in February 1967 as a political party campaigning to stop the influx of brown faces, foreign goods and the reversal of Britain’s near-terminal imperial decline.
Irrespective of those factors, the NF was a creature born out of an ideology that had existed and survived prior to, and irrespective of, itself. Those who would form the party in 1967 sought to merge primarily immigration control-concerned organisations and groups with hard-line fascist and national socialist groupings.
This is not to say that ordinary people, wary of immigration and alarmed at Britain’s declining industrial and social position, were not drawn to the NF.
Like the BNP, the EDL and even UKIP, the leaders who made them “great” were also the Achilles heel. The pettiness, the souring of political and personal relations and excessive extremism were also their downfall.
In all their most dark hours on the cusp of either furtherance or failure and futility, these organisations were all compared with the NF.
John Tyndall (1934-2005), with whom the NF now appears to wish forever (and in many regards is doomed) to be associated with, was initially considered too extreme to join the fledgling party.
Although he tempered his outlandish Nazi behaviour, Tyndall was a known and unrepentant Hitler admirer. The early leadership feared he would take over their fascist anti-immigration party and drive if further to the extremes… as he eventually did in 1972.
Prior to the NF, Tyndall had formed, split and divided a series of fascist, paramilitary and nazi organisations. During that period, Tyndall formed a toxic double act with Martin Webster (born 1943). And so it would become that Tyndall was the “posh one” (despite a modest middle class upbringing) and Webster was the more common, working class boy from West London.
Not only were Tyndall and Webster poisonous, they were, in comparison with their competition, politically far more astute and brazen. No more than two years after being quietly admitted into the National Front, Tyndall was its leader.
A peculiarly British Nazi
However, the NF was not (and never was) under Tyndall an avowedly openly Nazi party. Both “blessed” and dogged throughout his entire personal and political life with self-importance, pomp and arrogance, Tyndall was a peculiarly British Nazi.
His belief was, despite a lifelong deference to Adolf Hitler and German Nazism, that he himself held a similarly worthy intellect and brilliance to the German Führer and that the British were themselves of a similarly masterful (if not shared) race and “stock” as the Germans.
This never stopped him however, often in no subtle terms to the initiated, making it perfectly clear where his personal and political aspirations were drawn from historically.
Britain in the 1970s was a country still very much living in – and driven by – the immediate post-war past. Both Tyndall and Webster played down their “youthful indiscretions” the decade before: of wearing swastika armbands or belonging to organisations that had openly promoted the belief that Adolf Hitler had been right.
After taking control of the NF in 1972, Webster was confident enough to declare (whilst being secretly recorded) that the much noticeable growth of the fledgling National Front was in essence the building of “…a well-oiled Nazi machine.”
They were helped in blurring the lines between their own nazism and the need to act urgently to close the doors to further non-white immigration by Ugandan President General Idi Amin’s decision to expel all that country’s Asian population. In 1972, Amin gave some 80,000 people just 90 days to leave Uganda, describing them as “bloodsuckers.”
Some 50,000 of those Ugandan Asians had British passports. In response, Leicester council even took the step of taking out newspaper advertisements advising people leaving Uganda not to go to Leicester as it was overcrowded.
From the moment Tyndall and Webster took over the National Front, the party grew dramatically. Although he was more than convinced this was due to his own supreme brilliance, Tyndall acknowledged later that the Ugandan crisis helped him.
Tyndall’s rise to party leader had only been possible with the tacit agreement of the party’s founder and first Chairman, AK Chesterton. Born in South Africa, Chesterton had for a short time in the 1930s been a publicist for Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. At the outbreak of the Second World War, like many of Mosley’s followers and other fascists, Chesterton saw active service for King and Country while their leader was jailed.
After the war, Chesterton carried on with his antisemitic politics and published the magazine Candour which, rather like Tyndall’s personal organ Spearhead, became a vehicle for his rampant antisemitism and exceptional self-belief (Tyndall’s Spearhead was also the name of his paramilitary group).
Chesterton had secretly promised Tyndall that he could eventually join the NF when he was convinced that Tyndall was no longer an avowed nazi. In anticipation of that moment, Tyndall began a long process of courting and convincing Chesterton of his political maturity. Chesterton acquiesced and Tyndall was finally admitted to the party sometime between late 1969 and early 1970. Chesterton passed away in South Africa in 1973.
In a changing environment, the NF found its recruitment challenged by the wider social and industrial unrest. Tyndall favoured parroting anti-Jewish and anti-Communist conspiracy theories about business. He was very much in both principle and practice against the organisation of workers on class lines.
In his very formative political years he had toyed with socialism but either failed to understand “Marxist” economics or realised it was against his self-interest. He admitted being drawn to its polemics and idealism but, instead, stuck with his favoured form of “patriotism.”
Frustratingly for some inside the party, this meant the party was not able to capitalise on growing industrial unrest. There was a national miners’ strike in 1972 and the National Front squabbled bitterly behind closed doors about developing a policy on union-organised strikes.
There were some NF members who might have had professional or cultural sympathy with those striking and, indeed, those within the party who had argued in favour of supporting striking workers on racial as opposed to class lines.
But coal miners, in South Wales and Scotland especially (with a long and proud history of anti-fascist struggle), would have none of it, confirming Tyndall’s anti-working class prejudices by ensuring the NF stayed away.
The one intervention the NF did try was during a strike by Asian workers in the Imperial Typewriters dispute in Leicester in August 1974. Initially, white workers had refused to support Asian colleagues in a strike for equal pay and the NF organised protests in support of the white workers. But they soon found themselves confronted by the left, the wider trade union movement and organised Asian workers.
Although the NF (and later the British National Party) would attempt minor interventions to racialise any disputes about pay and labour, the biggest winners on the front of organising the working class into action during the 1970s would be the Left.
Rise of the Left
As the NF grew in a period of growing industrial unrest and a rapidly changing workforce emboldened by changes in the Race Relations acts of 1965 and 1968, so did the Left.
Between 1972-1973, the International Socialists, later to become the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), was also experiencing a large influx of new members drawn from heavy industries and the London docks.
The growth would form the basis of the future Anti-Nazi League (ANL) as would the Indian Workers’ Association (IWA) that had helped organise Asian workers at Imperial Typewriters. Although there was now growing militancy against the NF, a large-scale unified effort to counter the NF physically did not develop nationally until the formation of the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) in 1977.
In February 1974, the NF fought 54 seats in the General Election. Reaching the 50-candidate mark allowed the party a five-minute televised election broadcast and, as a result, a further increase in membership ensued.
The results for the NF, however, were poorer than they had privately expected. The party managed only to save only eight deposits [5% of the vote]. Six of those seats were in the north and east of London and the other two were in Leicester.
With a hung parliament, the UK went back to the polls in October 1974 and this time, despite the derisory electoral performance earlier in the year, the party’s growth allowed it to field 90 candidates and obtain two televised election broadcasts.
In the midst of fevered electioneering Tyndall was challenged as leader by an “anti-Nazi” faction of the party, concerned by a growing series of exposés of Tyndall’s past and, at the time, current foreign friends, mainly nazis.
There was also mounting public concern about the growing violence of both NF and anti-NF protests. In June of that year, anti-fascist student Kevin Gately, 21, became the first person to die at a public protest on the UK mainland since 1919.
Tyndall found himself back as Chairman of the party in early 1976, after being briefly expelled in 1975. His period out of the leadership position further hardened his bilious hatred for much of the party’s democratic apparatus that had been written into the constitution by the party’s founders (in part in case he ever became its leader).
Splits & egos
Tyndall’s dethroned opponent John Kingsley Read went onto form a tiny rival party, the National Party, in 1976. Soon after, it gained two seats on Blackburn Council. It has widely been described as a “Strasserite” party but the reality is that Kingsley Read was, in the main, a racist, antisemitic, former Tory.
Although the party did attract some who would later be defined as or define themselves as Strasserite, like most of the splits within the NF, the overwhelming cause would appear to be personality and clashes of egos and interests.
The National Party was every bit as racist and antisemitic as the National Front but Kingsley Read was much, much less politically astute than Tyndall.
After two years of bitter uncertainty for the party, Tyndall and Webster were back in the driver’s seat. As the NF reorganised, Tyndall and Webster enjoyed and revelled in their party’s notoriety for racism and confrontation.
The NF was now a household name and there was very little veneer any longer about its nature and intentions. Violence had always been central to fascism and Nazism. While the NF courted it, Tyndall also tried desperately to foster an image of himself as a serious and intelligent family man who was firmly in the corner of traditional family values.
He openly bragged how he refused to let his wife Valerie wear trousers other than for housework. He was as misogynist as he was homophobic. Webster however, was openly gay.
Tyndall was not a particularly popular man with the rank and file. Often, people made fun of him to alleviate some of the frustrations and tedium they found in his pomposity. But, as the politics of the party dictated then and now, the role of leading the NF is often left to whoever is foolish enough to want the job.
In 1977, the NF created its own bit of Jubilee history. Resulting from a series of Metropolitan Police actions, primarily directed against London’s black community in May of that year, a series of raids and arrests were carried out to tackle alleged street crime.
Seizing the opportunity, the National Front applied for a march in Lewisham, south east London. The resulting events made headlines around the world as black and white Londoners came out to confront the fascists and stop them.
On the day of the march, more than 200 people were arrested and over 100 people (including 55 police officers) were injured. It was the first time that riot shields were deployed by police outside of Northern Ireland
For the National Front, Lewisham was either a disaster or a great success. The opinions of two former NF Chairmen oscillate, exemplifying perhaps how strands of opinion have varied in the NF throughout its history.
Tyndall did note a “hardening media attitude” towards the NF from 1977 onwards but, of course, he also attributed much of this to the “powers at work in the mass media” [i.e. the Jews].
In 1978, the Labour Party devoted a whole election broadcast to attacking the NF while the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and World in Action, Britain’s hardest hitting current affairs show at the time, also weighed in with exposés of the NF and its true nature.
While the NF had spent much of its efforts politically battling against the Left, the Conservative Party also had its own weapon against the NF: Margaret Thatcher. Elected leader of the party in 1975, she was a strong and robust right-winger with a fancy for attacking trades unions.
In the winter of 1978-79, Britain was plunged into industrial strife as the Labour prime minister James Callaghan fell foul of the unions in an attempt to control inflation.
Callaghan hit public sector workers particularly hard, plunging a frozen Britain into the so-called “winter of discontent’ which at the same time hardened Thatcher’s position on trades unions and the public sector, both of which she would go on to assault after her election.
In January 1978, Thatcher gave World in Action an interview to mark her third year as leader of the Conservative Party. The interviewer, Gordon Burns, began by asking Thatcher about immigration as she had already mooted that the Conservatives, if in power, would make drastic cuts to immigration, even a “clear prospect of an end to immigration.”
But it was one particular soundbite that was to have a particularly damaging effect on the NF:
“…but there was a committee which looked at it [immigration] and said that, if we went on as we are, then by the end of the century there would be four million people of the new Commonwealth or Pakistan here. Now, that is an awful lot and I think it means that people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture and, you know, the British character has done so much for democracy, for law and done so much throughout the world that if there is any fear that it might be swamped people are going to react and be rather hostile to those coming in.”
On 3 May 1979, Britain went to the polls for the fourth time that decade. The NF stood in 301 seats. Its results were disastrous, the party polling just over 190,000 votes, around 600 votes per seat.
This was the cue for the party to split. Tyndall and his supporters tried to temper the mass disillusionment felt within the ranks by reminding people that their expectations had been unrealistic.
But not everyone in the National Front had been, like Tyndall, a dedicated conspiracy theorist who could brush off such a crushing disappointment as his ideology and expectations had braced him to do even before polling.
For many in the party, it became apparent that the NF was hammered not just because of Thatcher’s promises but also because the party had been exposed as a “Nazi Front.” Photographs of Tyndall in Nazi uniform in front of portraits of Hitler had been plastered across newspapers and television from 1977 onwards but most regularly in the run up to the election.
And it was not just the NF staring into the abyss. At some stage, either in the run up to the election or in the aftermath of it, Tyndall and Webster fell out.
Tyndall began an attempt to protect and secure his position by pushing the party to drop its internal democratic structures, which the ruling Directorate refused to do.
Then, suddenly, dramatically and most conveniently, Tyndall “discovered” a “homosexual network” active in the party. Tyndall again asked for greater (dictatorial) powers to fight against this network (Webster) which he felt was destabilising the party.
“It did not seem too immodest to believe that I had greater capacity for judgement than the majority, if not all, of the other members of our ruling body”, he later said, recalling the debilitating fight that ripped the party apart.
The constitution, which prohibited mass expulsions and which Tyndall had himself used to get himself reinstated in 1976 was now, in his memoirs “laughable in respect of the powers it gave me to make decisions.”
One decision the party did allow Tyndall to make was the expulsion of the party’s Deputy Chairman, Andrew Fountaine who had indicated he would stand against Tyndall for the leadership of the party.
From then on, the party simply descended into bitter civil war and Fountaine would form his own National Front Constitutional Movement as the fighting intensified.
Tyndall resigned on 31 January 1980 in the hope that the party would, in his absence, see sense and call him back. Instead, he was replaced by Andrew Brons and the next chapter in the National Front’s warped and turbulent history was about to begin.
The National Front Leadership Tree
50 years of fascism, factionalism and infighting
▪️1967-70 AK Chesterton
Alcoholism and depression forced him to stand down
▪️1970-72 John O’Brien
Left over issues of Nazis in the party
▪️1972-74 John Tyndall
The main Nazi in the party
▪️1974-76 John Kingsley Read
Led what was identified as a “Strasserite” faction against Tyndall
▪️1976-80 John Tyndall
Took the party to court and won.
▪️1980-84 Andrew Brons
Lecturer in politics, with a history of Nazi activism
▪️1984-86 Martin Wingfield
Betting shop manager and journalist. Was sent to prison.
▪️1986 The party splits into two warring factions
Official NF (Political Soldiers)
▪️1986-89 Nick Griffin and Patrick Harrington
Ran their part of the party into the ground
▪️1989-90 Harrington closes down party
▪️1986-90 Ian Anderson
▪️1990 Reverting to the National Front
▪️1990-95 Ian Anderson
Hard drinking Anderson tried to change the party name, splitting into two more factions
▪️1995-98 John McCauley
Kept the party stagnant and irrelevant
▪️1998-2009 Bernard Holmes
Battled against interlopers expelled from the BNP
▪️2009-10 Mick Shore
Led a tiny faction in and then out of the party and then into EDL
▪️2009-14 Ian Costard
Led one faction of the party known as the Southern faction
▪️2013-16 Kev Bryan
Led a northern faction into conflict against the southern faction
▪️2016 Dave MacDonald
Held party together (badly) when Bryan took ill
▪️2017 Kev Bryan
Returned to the role as Chairman