It was once Britain's strongest far-right movement, with MEPs, councillors, GLA members and its eyes on Westminster. Today the skeleton of the BNP is kept alive by legacies from dead and former members.
It seems almost an age since the British National Party (BNP) presented an electoral threat.
With one million votes in 2009, the party accrued 60 councillors, an elected member of the Greater London Authority and two MEPs. By 2010 Nick Griffin’s new-look fascist party was on the brink of capturing seats in the House of Commons.
The – and his – subsequent failure to do so, and the beginning of a slow and agonising death for Griffin’s leadership, was played out and broadcast from a sports hall in Dagenham in outer east London in May 2010.
BNP leader Nick Griffin challenged by HOPE not hate’s Nick Lowles
Not only did we learn the party had failed to win the two electoral seats of Barking and Dagenham & Rainham (following a large HOPE not hate campaign), the party lost all its 12 councillors in the borough. Right across the country the party’s officials were similarly being kicked out of office.
The same afternoon Griffin got his bad news, a schism that had been a long time coming opened up in the BNP, one from which it would never recover.
Griffin retreated to his Brussels office and a resulting series of splits and fallouts (including a kidnapping with ransom notes) saw many of the party’s activists disappear. A noticeable few found their way into Stephen Lennon’s thuggish English Defence League (EDL), which would dominate street protests for a while but never seriously trouble the Electoral Commission.
Griffin wilderness years
The party sacked and expelled Nick Griffin in October 2014. Yet aside from its nasty internecine squabbles, it was already politically dead.
Griffin had lost his seat in the European Parliament a few months earlier, before being humbled and humiliated by being removed as party Chairman. His expulsion, for “lying” and “harassment” of the party’s few remaining and increasingly disinterested office staff, was also an act to get him off the party’s debilitating wage bill.
Griffin would contend his removal was so that his replacements – the disgraced former school teacher Adam Walker and Griffin’s former “criminal” advisor Clive Jefferson (the party’s treasurer) – could live off the fat of a series of bequests from elderly members to the BNP, expected to be in the region of £8m.
The last undying legacy of Griffin’s leadership was to press these ageing members to bequeath their property to the party. It was something we drew attention to repeatedly at the time. In fact we made it quite clear that the BNP actually preferred its members to be dead.
The BNP has since become a new generation’s National Front (NF). It survives in the collective memory as something dark and sinister, that presented and represented the very deepest anti-immigrant and anti-immigration sentiments of some parts of de-industrialised parts of Britain.
Of course, the BNP was simply a newer model of the old NF and its electoral results proved that it was far more nuanced than its predecessor (where the BNP’s leadership had cut its early political cloth).
In 2018 the BNP survives as a post-Griffin enterprise, with the loss of much of its political machinery, such as offices, call centres and a roster of full-time stuff. Today it is cramped into a caravan and apparently exists in two rooms above a small convenience shop in Cumbria.
A report last week in The European newspaper stated that:
“Although general donations increased slightly from £40,826 to £45,828, the party’s total income dropped from £416,533 to £229,665” in 2017.
That’s still not a bad return for doing next to absolutely nothing other than literally squatting the party’s name. The party today – Walker and Jefferson – literally lives off the monies from its (mainly ex-) members dying before they change their wills.
No chance for leadership challenges
Last year it was rumoured that the party’s London organiser was considering a leadership bid to remove Walker and Jefferson, in a bid to distribute some of the not-unsubstantial lucre to the remainder of the party’s apparatus.
Rumours persist among current and former members that the money has been invested instead of serious electioneering, used to buy rental properties along the Cumbria coast.
A challenge to Walker and Jefferson mounted in 2015 gave an early insight into the impossibility of removing the pair.
One former party employee told us how the party leadership would simply cast, by proxy, thousands of votes sold as ‘lifetime’ memberships in 2009. Those memberships, as good as dead, are believed to account for more than half of the BNP’s membership today.
The actual membership figure cannot be accurately gauged, because as one recent defector told us the party regularly buys its own membership cards.
Speaking to The European, Jefferson said:
“The indications are that legacy income will continue to be a large contributing factor in the future of our movement.
“Although there has been a drop in membership income during 2017, we have seen membership figures start to rise again and I expect 2018 to show an increase in membership of the party.”