Racial pride and prejudice

Nick Griffin is the frighteningly plausible new front for the British National Party. Just don't call him a Nazi.
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The Independent Culture
He is the very image of the country squire. There's the blazer and tie, the hint of distinguishing grey and an undisguised arrogance. Striding up and welcoming me as "mate", he appears cultured, charming and urbane.

There is little to suggest he is anything but what he seems. Nothing the families sitting about us would notice, too polite to register the odd comments about race, betrayal and Jewish conspiracies.

Yet later this year, Nick Griffin, 40, will spearhead the biggest push the far right has attempted in Britain. Waiting in the wings to take over leadership of the extremist British National Party (BNP), Griffin is looking forward to next June's European elections with relish.

"If we managed to produce one MEP," he says animatedly, "if you think of the fuss Derek Beackon [the BNP's first and only councillor] caused with one council seat on the Isle of Dogs, one MEP would be spectacular - an historical earthquake."

Not since council elections in Millwall in 1993, which led to Beackon's success, has the BNP stood a chance of upsetting the status quo. These could be the first nationwide elections to be held under proportional representation, which usually favours smaller parties. And for Griffin, the spectre of a single electoral success, and even participation in the electoral process - with the TV broadcasts and promotions which come with it - is a Holy Grail.

If his plans are realised, 15 million Britons could receive BNP publicity material, as part of a free mail-out available to every party. They will be targeting "more graduates and small businesses", the kind of people that may once have voted for the Tory Party right wing. Their inspiration is France's Front National which, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, has some 15 per cent of the vote.

Griffin's quiet changes have begun to take shape gradually. British farmers started reading a new paper at rural protest marches. The British Countryman talked their language, of a "silent majority" fighting back to defend British agriculture. It supported the smallholders and spoke out against the bosses supposedly running the National Farmers' Union and the governments which had let them down over BSE.

"Some of the farmers are suicidal," he says, in his soft, educated tones. "They can see no hope and there's nothing they can do to regain some self- respect." He pauses for effect. "But we can provide that."

It isn't just farmers Griffin has been looking towards. Mothers on estates suddenly found campaigns springing up to sweep out paedophiles, and he also tried to forge an unlikely alliance with anti-road protesters. This was all part of Griffin's campaign to build up the BNP's profile and prepare the party for being "acceptable and electable".

However, beneath the talk of modernisation, Griffin is not all he seems. This is a man for whom the past will not disappear. While violence was happening on the streets of Millwall, he wrote about creating a strong political organisation with the ability to back itself with "well-directed boots and fists". He wrote: "When the crunch comes power is the product of force and will, not rational debate." Hardly the talk of a moderniser aiming for electoral respectability.

This is also the man who, as Vice-Chairman of the National Front, was a guest of Colonel Gaddafi - just after the American bombing of Tripoli (and just before Libya supplied arms to the IRA). The same man who tried to link up with Louis Farrakhan's militant black Islamic movement, The Nation of Islam - yet who tells me that Islam is a violent religion, bent on taking over this country, which must be resisted.

But Griffin is a man for whom the inconvenient past does not stand in the way of political ambition. "There werecrazy periods in my past," he says. "But I hope I've learned from my mistakes." Such as? "Allowing my youthful enthusiasm for perfect ideas to run far beyond what's politically possible." The tone is smug, final.

Yet this is the man who last year wrote "Who are the Mindbenders?", about Jewish figures dominating the media; who associates with Holocaust deniers; believes the number of deaths in custody shows that black people are "more susceptible to being strangled than whites"; claims homosexuality is "fundamentally unhealthy" and would withdraw pension rights for gays.

Because these opinions are"vote losers", he says, they won't be presented to the public come election time. For example, the BNP's fundamental and most contentious policy is compulsory repatriation for non-whites. Griffin says he privately agrees with this line, but that he recognises it was one of the main obstacles to becoming "acceptable and electable". So the policy looks set to be diluted or even temporarily dropped for the elections.

To Gerry Gable, editor of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, Griffin is the classic wolf in sheep's clothing: "He may bang on about the farmers, but there are any number of parties out there representing such interests.

"What makes the BNP different is its uncompromising stance on racial nationalism.

"What he's now trying to do is find a way of repackaging the same racist ideas in more respectable form."

Griffin is characteristically confident: "The BNP is going to win Euro seats and you'll see BNP councillors established in local areas. We've got potential mass support in every part of the country."

And in a final parting shot, he adds: "You can pretend the BNP is Nazi, but when thousands of people continue to vote for it, you won't be able to label all of them as neo-Nazis. It just won't be practical."

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