British National Party
British National Party
LEADERS: John Tyndall; Nick Griffin
YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1980 as the New National Front; the BNP from 1982
ESTIMATED SIZE: Unknown
USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Britain
Founded by a former chairman of the National Front, John Tyndall, as the "New National Front" in 1980; the British National Party (BNP), as it became known in 1982, claims to be the United Kingdom's foremost nationalist political party. Its extreme right views and links to violent organizations, notably Combat 18, have resulted in accusations of fascism, claims that it vehemently denies.
Far-right politics has always been a minority interest in Britain, and the British National Party has traditionally punched above its weight, attracting more headlines and votes. It has never been a significant electoral force, collecting in its entire history a mere handful of the 6,000 council seats that become available in the United Kingdom every four years. In national elections, Britain's first "past the post" system precludes the BNP from making a breakthrough; but in any case, they have never polled more than one percent of the national vote.
Extreme right-wing politics has always been an ideology of the minority in Britain. Its most notorious advocate was the former Labour MP and government minister, Oswald Mosley, who formed the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932. This followed seismic splits within his former party after its leadership merged into a national government a year earlier, ignoring Mosley's ambitious economic program based on huge investments in public work schemes and empire based on protectionism. An inveterate publicity seeker, Mosley became notorious for his association with Adolf Hitler, and although BUF black shirts were involved in numerous inner-city disturbances, they were never remotely an electoral force.
Following the World War II, former members of the British Union of Fascists took on the name of the British National Party, although this would be a negligible force for years. In 1967, it merged to join the nascent National Front.
Over subsequent years, the National Front waged a noisy campaign against the influx of the so-called "Windrush" generation of West Indian immigrants. Encouraged by the outpourings of the Conservative MP, Enoch Powell, who spoke of "rivers of blood," it helped instigate a national debate not just on immigration, but on the very future of Britain and "Britishness." Prominent though it was during the 1970s—a period of deep industrial unrest and economic strife—it never came close to gaining an electoral breakthrough, despite claiming 15,000 members. When Margaret Thatcher led a resurgent Conservative Party to power in 1979, it was decimated.
Out of the ashes of this organization, John Tyndall, a National Front leader in the early 1970s, formed the New National Front, which was renamed the British National Party (BNP) in 1982. Tyndall would lead this new political party for seveteen years, a period largely characterized by successive public relations disasters. These ranged from Tyndall's public dedication to Nazi racial ideals, the party's attempts at Holocaust denial, and intermittent violence that accompanied its rallies. Nevertheless, the adage that "some publicity is better than no publicity", may have been true in Tyndall's eyes, and despite faring little better electorally than such marginal political organizations as the British Communist Party and even Screaming Lord Sutch's Monster Raving Loony Party, he was afforded a level of the public exposure that belied his party's electoral stature.
Despite repeated assertions that it was a nationalist, not racist political party, the bad headlines would not go away. Its poor image was typified by an incident in 1990 when Tyndall's deputy, Richard Edmonds, was asked if the BNP was a racist party. He responded: "We are 100 percent racist, yes."
Nevertheless in September 1993, a BNP candidate, Derek Beackton, was returned as a local councilor in Millwall, south of London. Far from representing an electoral breakthrough, this was the BNP's only success under Tyndall, and Beackton lost his seat the following year.
Following a leadership election in 1999, Tyndall was replaced by Nick Griffin, a Cambridge law graduate who had joined the party only four years earlier. Like Tyndall, Griffin had been a former National Front chairman, but he set out to transform the BNP into a respectable white-collar-friendly political party.
- Founded by former National Front leader, John Tyndall, as New National Front.
- Name changed to British National Party.
- Derek Beackton wins council seat in Millwall, the BNP's first electoral success.
- Nick Griffin replaces Tyndall as BNP leader.
- BNP accused of stirring up tensions ahead of race riots in northern England.
- BBC documentary exposes racism within the BNP.
- Griffin and several other leading members charged with inciting racial hatred.
He was helped, to an extent, by a change in the British political climate. As the country underwent its most sustained period of economic prosperity in living memory, electoral concerns shifted from issues like unemployment to the perceived explosion in immigration—with particular emphasis on abuses of the political asylum laws—and closer integration with the European Union. By the time of the 2001 general election, even the Conservative Party's single biggest electoral cause (which failed woefully) was the anti-European card. Griffin took advantage of this mood and mixed the sort of vows made by the so-called party of government with the usual BNP pledges about repatriation and reversal of equal opportunities legislation. This led to an increase in support at local, national, and European elections. As of 2005, the BNP has 24 local councilors, the largest number in its entire history. Nevertheless, this is still only around 0.004 percent of the total number of councilors in England and Wales. It has no elected politicians beyond that level.
The BNP remains tainted by intimations of fascism. The party is still accused of Holocaust denial and Griffin himself has published a pamphlet claiming a Jewish cabal controls the British media. In 2001 and 2003, the BNP was accused of stirring racial tensions, which directly led to riots in Burnley, Oldham, and Bradford. It is heavily implicated with Combat 18, which started off life as a kind of "storm trooper" wing of the BNP. Also, the Labour Party has repeatedly accused the BNP of using intimidating tactics before elections.
In 2004, an undercover BBC investigation exposed "racist elements" within the party. For instance, Griffin was caught describing Islam as a "wicked, vicious faith"; one of its members gleefully described assaulting an Asian man in the 2001 Bradford riots; another that he wanted to attack the city's mosques with a rocket launcher; and a BNP council candidate even confessed to pushing dog excrement through the letterbox of an Asian take-out restaurant.
Born in Exeter in 1934, and brought up in London, John Tyndall started his lifelong association with fascism in his early 20s. Impressed by Mein Kampf—an attraction he partially renounced when it become clear that associating with Hitler was electorally disadvantageous—at 22, he briefly joined the League of Empire Loyalists. This marked the start of the path that led through a number of extreme-right groups, many of which he helped to form, including the National Labour Party (until forced by the Labour Party to abandon the name), the National Socialist Movement, the militaristic Spearhead, and the Greater British Movement.
But it was the National Front, which he led in the early 1970s, and the British National Party, which he formed as the New National Front in 1980, that brought him greatest public prominence. Essentially a latter-day Oswald Mosely, he was a rabble-rousing orator, energetic campaigner, and a man never shy of controversy or conflict—be it verbal or physical. He was jailed for a year in 1986 for inciting racial hatred.
His beliefs, which he toned down in public, were of "unashamed white supremacism" and of "real manhood and real womanhood". He sought a Britain from which black people and Asians would be "humanely but compulsorily repatriated" and where able-bodied people would feel the "stiff breeze of compulsion to work"
Replaced as leader by the more electorfriendly Nick Griffin in 1999, Tyndall was twice subsequently expelled from the party he had formed for criticizing the new leadership. Yet, he was always welcomed back, and always remained prominent.
Following the broadcast of a damning BBC undercover documentary about the BNP in 2004, Tyndall, along with 11 other members, was arrested and charged with inciting racial hatred. He died in July 2005 on the eve of the court case.
"He was one of the two or three key players in the post-war era," Gerry Gable, the antifascist campaigner, told the Guardian the day after Tyndall died in July 2005. "But essentially he was a loser who never managed to see a realization of his national socialist ideals."
Griffin denounced the documentary as a set-up and claimed that members had been plied with alcohol during filming and that the BBC used selective editing. Nevertheless, police arrested twelve people in the wake of the documentary, including Griffin and John Tyndall. In April 2005, Griffin was charged by police with four offenses of using words or behavior intended or likely to stir up racial hatred.
PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS
As probably befits a legitimate political party, the BNP is at once nuanced and cautious in publicly arguing some of the extreme racist arguments linked to its leading members. This is because of its current policy of seeking to engage the political mainstream. For instance, a glance at its web site or manifesto reveals nothing of the denial of the Holocaust or of the violence that is synonymous with the BNP's name; there is also an array of policy ideas unrelated to nationalism. These include everything from organic farming to the reintroduction of national service.
However, there is a hint at racial supremacy, and is at once explicit and unsophisticated in its linkage of Islam to terrorism.
In the BNP's mission statement, it defines its aims as seeking "to secure a future for the indigenous peoples of these islands." Its definition of "indigenous" is at once general and explicit, and describes "the people whose ancestors were the earliest settlers here after the last great Ice Age and which have been complemented by the historic migrations from mainland Europe." The ancestors include "Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Norse and closely related kindred peoples." Nevertheless, they are not clear whether this includes a recent influx of East Europeans into Britain.
According to its mission statement, the BNP is engaged in "struggle" on three fronts. They see themselves as the "torch bearers" of British culture and view it as their duty to preserve Britain's "rich legacy of tradition, legend [and] myth … The men and women of the British National Party are motivated by love and admiration of the outpouring of culture, art, literature and the pattern of living through the ages that has left its mark on our very landscape."
Extremists Target Students Claim
An academic claims extremists are operating on UK university campuses, threatening national security.
In a report to be published next week Professor Anthony Glees of Brunel University warns that the authorities are "ignoring the problem."
He says the extremists include Islamist Jihadists, animal rights activists and the British National Party.
University leaders have dismissed the report as "largely anecdotal."
But they say they take matters of extremism on campus very seriously.
Education secretary Ruth Kelly yesterday told universities to watch out for extremists.
She said that in the wake of the July terror attacks in London, universities should protect free thinking but inform police of "unacceptable behaviour" by students or staff.
Professor Glees, of Brunel's centre for intelligence and security studies, told the Today programme on BBC Radio Four: "There is a culture of extremism and terrorism on Britain's campuses.
"It may not be very large in number but you do not need very large numbers of people in order to do terrorism and the university authorities have simply ignored the problem."
Professor Gleeson says the extremists target universities, as well as other places, to recruit people, because societies at universities can be useful channels for them.
For his research, he studied 24 British universities and made case studies of a dozen convicted terrorists who had attended university.
He said there was no reason to believe that any one university was more prone to being targeted by extremists than any other.
Universities UK, which represents the vicechancellors of the country's universities, said it took the issues of extremism on campus and related issues very seriously.
A spokesperson said: "Universities UK has noted the report by Professor Glees.
"It appears to us that the report is based largely on anecdotal evidence and that university authorities were not involved or consulted in its preparation."
"Universities UK is far from complacent on the issue, which is why, together with ECU and SCOP, we are updating our existing guidelines on extremism and intolerance on campus.
"The updated guidance will look at the range of hate crimes and intolerance on campus, with a strategic and practical focus on solutions that promote good relations, and guidance on dealing with situations that can impede good relations."
The Federation of Student Islamic Societies said Professor Glees' comments were unsubstantiated and very damaging.
Faisal Hanjra, from the federation said: "The work that many Islamic societies have played in promoting interfaith relations, campus harmony and cordial mainstream participation has been severely undermined.
"There may be pockets of individuals who are operating on campus but they are not representative and they are insignificant in number. In fact they are often not students at all.
"We are urging all students to be vigilant and to work with university authorities to get this balance between freedom of religious practice and the safeguarding of national security"
Source: BBC News, 2005
They view positive discrimination and legislation aimed at promoting equal opportunities as fundamentally unjust. They claim to work with "our people in their homes and communities addressing the fundamental issues of civil liberties and reverse discrimination." They add that "increasingly our people are facing denial of service provision, failure to secure business contracts as well as poor job prospects as both reverse discrimination excludes our people from the school room, workplace and boardroom. A key role of the British National Party is to provide legal advice and support to victims of repression and those denied their fundamental civil rights."
Their ultimate aim, however, is political power. They have pledged to "contest and win elections at council, parliamentary, Assembly or European level in order to achieve political power to bring about the changes needed."
In elections at local and national levels, the BNP has stood accused of an array of malpractice that has ranged from assaults on rival candidates and their election teams, to photographing antifascist rivals and disbursing their images on the Internet. Speaking shortly after the 2003 local elections, the Labour MP Martin Salter told the House of Commons: "The BNP do not understand the process of government. They might be very good at getting elected by playing on people's fears and damaging race relations. They might also be very good, as they were the other week, at mobilizing support for a bunch of football hooligans to go rampaging round the streets of Halifax ripping leaflets out of the hands of members of opposition parties. They might also be very good at mobilizing thugs to cause the violence that we saw at the England versus Turkey game, but they are a cancer at the heart of British politics."
According to a leading expert on British far-right groups, Nick Ryan, Griffin wants the BNP to follow the example of France's Jean-Marie Le Pen, Austria's Jörg Haider, and Australia's Pauline Hanson. He is keen to abandon the public emphasis on forced repatriation of "foreigners" (he sees it as "one of the main obstacles to electoral success"), and to switch the campaigning focus to asylum-seekers, Islamic militants, and the threat to British culture from economic integration with the rest of the world.
The social commentator, Andrew Anthony, interviewed Nick Griffin for the Observer in 2002. He characterized Griffin's political tactics as typically "bald political analysis, followed by implicit controversy … finished off with an attack on extremism." It was the mission of Griffin, believed Anthony, to make the BNP the apotheosis of normality. Griffin's problem, however, was an inherent misunderstanding of "the diversity of the modern world, because he refuses to grasp its most sacred truth: there is no such thing as normality."
"When he makes the effort," wrote Anthony, "Griffin knows how to play with received opinions and casual assumptions. And he often attempts to disarm his opponents by agreeing with them. For example, he has recognized that he can recruit the liberal's politics of guilt for use in his own politics of hate. So when white bleeding hearts or black radicals accuse white people of being inherently racist, he is in complete accord. 'That's right,' he says, ' that's perfectly natural.' He also argues that it is immoral to import Third World skilled labor because Third World countries are in much greater need of that labor. But he seems unable to maintain this more nuanced stance for long before returning to more instinctive scare tactics. When I ask him about rumors that the BNP are thinking of admitting black members, he replies: 'We can put up with the blacks. The question of Islam is another matter. They convert the lowest groups wherever they go. As things stand now, we are going to end up with an Islamic republic some time in the future.'"
Despite the negative headlines attracted by the BBC's 2004 documentary and the court proceedings that, as of 2005, hang over the heads of a number of its leading figures, the BNP currently holds its strongest electoral position in its history. Griffin's attempts to modernize the party have met with some success, although the BNP continues to be tainted by accusations of racism, fascism, and violence. Following the London bombings in July 2005, when Griffin attempted to exploit the acts with an attack on the British Muslim community, his words attracted universal condemnation and derision.
Ryan, Nick. Homeland: Into a World of Hate. Edinburgh, Scotland: Mainstream, 2004.
Sykes, Andrew. The Radical Right in Britain. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Copesy, Nigel. Contemporary British Facism: The British National Party and the Quest for Legitimacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.