Local and EU elections 2014: Five years on from his zenith, Nick Griffin's BNP faces political oblivion
In 2009, the BNP won two seats in Europe, and secured almost one million votes. This time round, pundits predict catastroph
It is an unwise journalist indeed who predicts the result of an election on the day of voting – for publication the following morning when the results have been announced.
But this year one outcome seems safe to predict in advance – the electoral annihilation of the British National Party as a force in UK politics.
Its demise is a story of personal hatred, vengeance and vicious infighting and is perhaps a fitting end for a party whose success was built around the divisive politics of fear.
Things looked very different five years ago in 2009 at the high watermark of BNP fortunes.
Then the party won two seats in the European Parliament for the party’s grimly charismatic leader Nick Griffin and his deputy Andrew Brons. The BNP also won its first three county council seats in Lancashire, Leicestershire and Hertfordshire.
Overall, almost one million people voted for the party – 6.26 per cent of the national vote and only 10 per cent less than Ukip.
Mr Griffin at the time described the result as a “great victory” from which “we go on from here”, with voters rejecting the “ruling elite” who made the “indigenous majority second-class citizens in every possible sphere”.
Yet within four months the seeds of the BNP’s downfall were sown – even though at the time it was not seen as such. Controversially, the BBC decided, in the light of the European election results, to invite Mr Griffin to appear on Question Time.
Before the broadcast many feared such a national platform would boost the party’s support and give it a legitimacy that it never had before. The BBC was widely condemned.
But in the event Mr Griffin humiliated himself in front of 7.8 million viewers and his past very publicly caught up with him. Asked whether he denied that millions of Jews and other minorities had been killed by the Nazis, Mr Griffin would only reply: “I do not have a conviction for Holocaust denial.”
Asked why he had suggested such things in the past, he told the audience: “I can’t explain why I used to say those things.” After the programme Mr Griffin said: “That wasn’t Question Time. That was a lynch mob.”
But the damage was done. BNP supporters took to right-wing chat rooms to criticise his performance while senior members of the party began to question internally whether Mr Griffin was any longer an electoral asset.
At the same time, when the party should have been preparing for the General Election, Mr Griffin decided to concentrate on fighting an expensive and futile court case trying to prove that its membership policy was not discriminatory.
As expected, the BNP lost the case – and thousands of pounds of party funds – not to mention the impression it gave of a party that wanted to exclude people simply because of the colour of their skin.
Worse was to follow in a disastrous election campaign. The week before polling day the BNP’s website was closed and replaced with a posting from Simon Bennett, the party’s website manager, accusing Griffin and James Dowson, the BNP election fundraiser, of being “pathetic, desperate and incompetent”.
The party’s publicity director, Mark Collett, was arrested on suspicion of threatening to kill Mr Griffin – while in Stoke, the senior BNP councillor, Alby Walker, decided to stand as an independent because of a “vein of Holocaust denying” within the party.
“They’ve still got senior members of the BNP who will be candidates in the general election that have Nazi, Nazi-esque sympathies,” he said.
On election day the party performed dismally – being soundly beaten into third place in Barking which the BNP had been targeting to unseat the Labour MP Margaret Hodge.
In the BNP’s other key target seat of Stoke Central, the party’s deputy leader Simon Darby came fourth, with 2,502 votes.
Things then went from bad to worse. Andrew Brons challenged Mr Griffin for the leadership and lost by just nine votes. He was frozen out and 17 months later announced he was leaving to set up the British Democratic Party.
In a furious statement he said Mr Griffin had described him as “vermin” and added that he had been “marginalised to such an extent in what is left of the British National Party that I have been expelled in all but name”.
He claimed that up to 90 per cent of the party’s membership, activists and former officials had already left the BNP.
Finally, at the start of this year, Mr Griffin was declared bankrupt over unpaid debts to the law firm that advised the BNP on its fight against the ECHR.
It was a telling sign of the perilous state the party’s finances were in. Records from the Electoral Commission show that in the last year and a half it has raised little more than £400,000 – and because the BNP was set up as an unincorporated association, Mr Griffin was personally liable for £77,000 in unpaid legal bills.
Matthew Goodwin, co-author a book on the collapse of the BNP, said its problems have largely been down to Griffin’s “catastrophic leadership”.
“In 2009, the BNP was actually polling more than Ukip in a number of areas and council seats,” he said. “And you would imagine that 2015 would be an even more favourable political climate for them than 2009. But what has happened is that the BNP has fragmented.
“Griffin has been a divisive figure and managed to alienate anyone who is anyone on the far right. His style of leadership was authoritarian and he purged dissenting voices from the party. A lot of people within the BNP also just felt he was out to make as much as he could from Brussels and was basically in it for himself.”
But not for much longer. Griffin is certain to lose his seat and Peter Kellner, of YouGov, believes the party will get just 1 per cent of the vote.
On that basis the BNP’s electoral obituary in 2014 can safely be written before the actual votes are counted.
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