BNP goes upmarket to target white middle class

Legal defeat prompts far-right party to 'refocus its propaganda on a new front'

The British National Party is attempting to cloak its image as a party of violent, racist thugs by appealing to middle-class voters at the general election.

Nick Griffin, the BNP's leader, has signalled a radical change in strategy for the forthcoming campaign after his widely derided performance last October on BBC1's Question Time, which draws a large middle-class audience. It will attempt to capitalise on disillusionment with both Labour and the Conservatives over the expenses and lobbying scandals.

The BNP's legal officer, Lee Barnes, in an article sent to activists, claims the BNP has "won over" the white working class and that it is now time to use "propaganda" to reach out to a wider circle of voters.

Yet the strategy remains targeted at white voters, with Mr Barnes telling activists they must appeal to the "white liberal middle class" and the "white Tory middle class".

The move is a sign that the court defeat inflicted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission over the BNP's ban on non-white members has forced the party to modify its election campaign strategy away from race to broader issues of class.

Yet critics described the plan as a cosmetic move to cover up its racist beliefs and showed that the BNP had gone as far as it could in picking up working-class votes.

Last week Robert Grierson, a barrister, was selected to stand as a candidate for the BNP in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, where the Conservatives have a majority of more than 12,000. After his selection Mr Grierson was forced to resign from St Philips Chambers in Birmingham where he has worked as a tax barrister for 10 years. "I felt I had to stand up and take the flak I will no doubt get. This shows that the BNP is not a party of skinheads and knuckle-draggers," he said.

But Sutton Coldfield's MP, the Tory frontbencher Andrew Mitchell, described his BNP opponent as "an extremist in a suit".

The BNP's top target seats remain the working-class constituencies of Stoke Central and Barking, and the strategy is unlikely to have a significant effect. Last year, however, a BNP candidate won a shock victory in a council seat in Sevenoaks, Kent, the heart of Middle England.

In his article, Mr Barnes dismissed the "smug, selfish, apathetic, politically correct parents" of middle-class voters, but said it was time to appeal to the next generation who are under 45. He claimed this group were suffering "racial discrimination" when applying for university places.

He wrote: "As a result of the Equality Commission case we must now refocus our propaganda on a new front – that of the Nationalist Classless Society and the creation of a meritocracy as opposed to the racist multi-cultural system. Even though we have failed to market ourselves properly to the White Working Class we have won them over.

"But we must now also reach out [to] the children of the White Liberal Middle Class and White Tory Middle Class and explain to them how mass immigration, New Labour and Cameron's Tories and multiculturalism have betrayed them."

The BNP is fielding 300 candidates at the general election, expected on 6 May, and more than 1,000 in the local elections on the same day.

A spokesman for Searchlight, the anti-fascist organisation, said: "This is an indication of Nick Griffin's desperation as he is unable to break through to the extent he had hoped following the European elections and he is casting around for a new strategy. This will inevitably increase divisions within the BNP which have already been created by his disastrous Question Time performance and his defeat at the hands of the Equality and Human Rights Commission."

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