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Socialism Today 115 - February 2008

Splits in the BNP

INTERNAL PROBLEMS in the far-right, racist British National Party (BNP) have exploded into a very public dispute. Over 60 BNP officials, including ten of their councillors, are openly calling for Nick Griffin to be deposed as leader after he sacked two national officials – Sadie Graham, group development officer and East Midlands regional organiser, and Kenny Smith, head of admin and regional organiser for Scotland – and expelled various others for supporting them.

The ‘rebels’ are calling for BNP members to renew their membership rather than leave, but to cripple the BNP financially by withholding any money above their normal membership fees. They are planning to stand in the May elections under the name Voice of Change which they say is a temporary measure until the leadership changes in the BNP, but may well turn out to be more permanent.

This is a major problem for the BNP which looks likely to lose a large chunk of its most able organisers, many of whom only joined the party over the last few years. Much of the dispute, particularly accusations against the BNP leadership on the rebels’ blog, ‘Enough is enough Nick’, has been conducted on the internet.

Any illusions that the BNP supports democracy or free speech have been shattered by what the dispute has revealed about the party’s internal life. In 2007, Griffin set up an ‘intelligence department’, including at least two men who served in the South African police force under apartheid, to police internal opposition in the BNP. Griffin and his ‘security team’ have openly admitted raiding Graham’s house and taking a computer in her absence, bugging her phone calls, and looking at private e-mails.

The project to ‘re-brand’ the BNP as a European-style, far-right populist party and distance it from its origins as a small neo-Nazi group has seen it gain around 50 councillors and a much wider influence and reputation than ever before. It is clear that some of these new layers took Griffin’s talk of ‘modernisation’, democracy and free speech much more seriously than he did. It is also ironic that it was precisely the recent successes of the BNP and the role they played in this that gave confidence to this new layer to stand up to Griffin and his cronies.

Griffin has been prepared to argue that the BNP should ‘update’ some of its prejudices in line with public opinion – for example, replacing anti-Semitism with Islamophobia (with Muslims now the number one hate target for the ‘modern’ far-right) and removing the demand to legally ban homosexuality. However, despite allowing a small number of carefully chosen people like Lawrence Rustem to join the party (the BNP’s half-Turkish councillor in Barking and Dagenham), Griffin still clings to the pernicious idea of white racial superiority – no doubt partly to ensure some of his more right-wing supporters don’t leave the party in disgust.

One of the rebels, Danny Lake, national organiser of the Youth BNP until December, has argued publicly for the BNP to allow black people (or "patriots of other racial groups" as he put it) to join as full members: "In modern Britain we have many black people who have integrated themselves into and accepted British culture and the British way of life as their own. Our task must not be to alienate these people or their friends, but to take them on board and allow them to help build a Britain that we all desire. One thing that nationalists have to realise is that by alienating Britain’s black population, we are also alienating their white friends; and in doing so we alienate a huge section of the population which results in our losing votes as well as opening ourselves up to an ever increasingly hostile media". (Cultural-nationalism, Lake’s blog)

The split, however, is not a straight division between ‘modernisers’ and neo-Nazis who want to go back to the old days of the BNP. Griffin’s supporters also claim to be ‘modernisers’ who are fighting against a layer of neo-Nazis who want to turn the clock back. They also, incidentally, claim that many of the rebels are infiltrators from ‘the reds’ or the anti-fascist magazine, Searchlight.

On the other hand, although many of the rebels are fairly recent recruits they also have their share of long-standing neo-Nazis. A long article posted on January 18 by ‘membersrevolt’ (a regular contributor on the ‘Enough is enough’ blog) about Griffin’s crimes when he helped to split the National Front during the mid-1980s is clearly aimed at winning over people involved in the neo-Nazi scene long-term, not recruits from the last few years.

Matt Single, Sadie Graham’s partner, was the ‘department of security’ secretary and training officer before he joined the rebellion. In December his and Graham’s house was raided not only by the BNP ‘security department’ but also by the police on suspicion of possessing an illegal firearm, which Single claims was a set-up originating from Griffin. The police found ‘security training equipment’ that Single claimed to "use to train British National Party security recruits... for vehicle and personnel search training... I clarified that all these items, along with radios, body armour vests, scanners and a quantity of other equipment, I had a legitimate reason for possessing". (Griffin’s Political Coffin Nails, by Single, from the ‘Enough is enough’ blog)

As well as a stock of militia-type equipment, the rebels even have the traditional far-right hooligan element. Tony MacDonald reportedly showed his opposition to Griffin supporter, Mark Collett, in a BNP meeting in Leeds in December by threatening to cut his throat and running at him with a broken glass. (Fight Night in Leeds, Searchlight, January 2008)

This reflects the fact that the dispute began not over any political differences but over complaints that Griffin should sack or expel two other national officials – Collett (previously head of publicity but now demoted to graphic designer) and Dave Hannam (deputy treasurer) – over allegations ranging from incompetence, financial mismanagement and corruption, to bullying and attempting to sleep with underage girls on two separate occasions.

Collett, who Griffin apparently treats as his heir apparent, has been a source of embarrassment to the BNP ever since he appeared in a 2002 BBC2 documentary, Young, Nazi and Proud, making open comments about his support for Hitler. However, it appears the main complaints about him from the rebels at first were about his arrogance and incompetence, not his politics – until Griffin moved against them and they felt the need to attract wider support.

There is a question over how far Griffin will be able to develop the BNP as a far-right populist party with an active membership given his dictatorial attitude to any questioning or internal debate. The current dispute is only the latest and largest in a long list of people expelled from the BNP for disagreeing with Griffin, the appointment of his cronies to party positions, or asking awkward questions about the finances.

However, this is far from the end of the BNP or the far-right in Britain as growing anger with the three main capitalist parties is providing fertile ground for the further growth of the far right’s influence – particularly as there is no workers’ party yet to provide a genuine alternative. In Sandwell in the West Midlands there was a by-election in December after James Lloyd, a BNP councillor, was thrown off the council for non-attendance after he failed to go to a meeting for over six months. The BNP failed to keep the seat, but even after the disastrous performance of Lloyd they still attracted 19% of the vote.

There is still a wide layer of BNP officials and members who are likely to cling to the BNP because it has given them more electoral successes and political influence than ever before. But Griffin will not last long if the BNP begins to falter electorally. Next May’s elections, including the Greater London Assembly (GLA) elections where the BNP hope to get more than 5% and be represented in the assembly, will be very important for both factions.

The fight for a new workers’ party could not be more urgent. Unless working-class people see a viable alternative to the establishment capitalist parties, far-right groups like the BNP will be able to maintain a base of support, at least electorally. The need for the trade unions, as mass working-class organisations, to take the initiative, disaffiliate from New Labour, fund and build a campaigning and electoral alternative is paramount. Coming together on a federal basis with community and environmental activists, young people and socialists, to campaign against privatisation and in defence of public services, would be the start to building that positive alternative.

Naomi Byron


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