New name just a Front for 'National Democrats'
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Monday 17 July 1995
The old name, with its skinhead connotations, was "bad news", said a party spokesman.
The latest mix'n'match of party names has driven the right to steal a label which normally belongs to the political centre. The Liberal Democrats are understandably upset. "Any party which clearly does not regard each voter as of equal value cannot justify the description of Democrat," said Simon Hughes, MP for Bermondsey.
The new name will take some getting used to, even for the National Democrats' press officer, Martin Wingfield. Asked if it might be a misnomer for a party that wanted to take democratic rights away from non-whites, he said: "Not at all. Under a National Front government, people would have all the rights they have at present, but we would have a referendum on the question of repatriation of people to their country of ethnic origin, or the ethnic origin of their parents."
The party, now led by Ian Anderson, has split twice and has been marginalised since its 1970s heyday, when it opposed the influx of Ugandan Asians. It has been supplanted by the BNP as the only far-right organisation capable of winning local council elections.
The name change was agreed after the National Front was humiliated in the May local elections, standing in just 15 seats and polling an average of less than 4 per cent of the vote. As an experiment, an NF candidate stood under the National Democrats name in South Staffordshire and won 8 per cent.
The change, which was first proposed in the party three years ago, is designed to underline the shift from the strategy of "marches and aggression", said Mr Wingfield.
In a postal ballot of members counted in Slough on Saturday, 72 per cent are said to have voted for the change and 28 per cent against. The party does not disclose details but it is believed to have fewer than 1,000 members.
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