Internal splits threaten BNP's chances in London Assembly poll

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The British National Party is gripped by civil war amid bitter personality clashes and claims of dirty tricks by rival factions.

Nick Griffin, the leader of the far-right party, is facing vehement criticism of his stewardship. The party has hopes of winning seats in the London Assembly next year.

Tensions within party ranks came to a head when two key organisers were accused of plotting a coup against Mr Griffin and sacked for "gross misconduct". But they have been backed by at least 50 activists and councillors, setting the scene for a struggle for control of the party.

The rebels insist they are loyal to the BNP, but some observers suspect another extreme right-wing grouping could emerge to challenge the party.

Activists' anger focuses on two of Mr Griffin's allies Mark Collett, the party's director of publicity, and Dave Hannam, its regional organiser and the BNP leader's support for them.

The criticism has been led by Sadie Graham, the head of group development, and Kenny Smith, head of administration. The pair were removed from their posts following an investigation by the BNP's "intelligence team" which was alleged to have tricked its way into Ms Graham's home and taken away computers.

She and Mr Smith were dismissed for setting up an "anti-BNP smear blog" and for plotting a "spectacularly ill-timed and amateurish alleged coup attempt".

An email written by Ms Smith and a recording of a conversation between the pair have been posted on the BNP website to substantiate the claim.

Simon Darby, the BNP spokesman, said last night: "They have been caught out getting involved in some very unsavoury business. You have to have discipline in a political party or you have chaos."

The exiles have retaliated by calling for a grassroots revolution to take control of the party. They say that, despite record numbers of councillors, BNP morale has hit an all-time low. They are calling on sympathisers to stay in the BNP, but to resign from party positions and not to renew their membership for the moment. Councillors are urged to quit the party whip and describe themselves as "independent Nationalists".

The rebel faction says: "This fight is for our country and our people as much as it is for the party we love."

The BNP was itself born out of a feud when the right-wing National Front imploded in the 1980s. After struggling to make an impact for a decade, it secured its first council seat in 1993 in Tower Hamlets, London.

But it languished until 1999 when Mr Griffin became leader and set about modernising the party. It achieved a breakthrough in Burnley in 2003, when it won three council seats.

Its progress has been steady, but not spectacular, over the past four years. Its strategists believe it is now well placed to win seats in the London Assembly and the European Parliament.

After last year's local elections the party had 55 councillors, the most in its history but below its expectations before the contest.

Mr Darby insisted that 90 per cent of BNP members were not interested in the in-fighting and that the storm would "blow over".

Nick Lowles, spokesman for the anti-fascist group Searchlight, said: "This is a very serious split and one I cannot see being reconciled. One side or another is going to leave the party."

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