On the Le Pen menu: roast beef and raw bigotry

The far-right party may have the French extremist's support, but it is plagued by splits, defections and sleaze

The notice reads like an invitation to a Rotary club dinner. Men are required to wear bow ties and dinner jackets, ladies "suitable frocks", and guests will dine on a traditional menu of Welsh vegetable soup, roast beef and apple pie.

The notice reads like an invitation to a Rotary club dinner. Men are required to wear bow ties and dinner jackets, ladies "suitable frocks", and guests will dine on a traditional menu of Welsh vegetable soup, roast beef and apple pie.

But tonight's £50-a-head banquet, billed as the "patriotic Dinner Event of the year", is not a charity fund-raiser. The guest of honour will be Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French fascist, who will address an audience of British National Party members following an invitation from Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP.

This is the first time M. Le Pen, who once described the Holocaust as "a mere detail of history", has openly supported the BNP, and his visit, engineered to boost the far right's election prospects, has provoked outrage. Hundreds of protesters are set to demonstrate in Birmingham ahead of the dinner, which is being held in Shropshire at a secret location to prevent demonstrators disrupting the event.

Last week, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, warned M. Le Pen, the leader of the Front National, that he faces arrest if he stirs up racial tension during his visit to Britain, which was revealed by this paper three weeks ago.

"If he incites, if he fosters hate, if he causes a disturbance or public disorder, then the police will take appropriate action," he said on Friday.

The BNP believes it has achieved a great publicity coup in securing the visit of M. Le Pen, a mainstream politician in France, and that it boosts its own credibility. The Le Pen visit comes a week before Britain opens its borders to migrants from 10 accession countries that join the EU on 1 May. It will fuel concerns that Britain's far-right movement is using fears over immigration to make political gains.

But an investigation by The Independent on Sunday has revealed that the BNP is plagued by splits, defections and sleaze, which undermine its attempts to create a broader, more respectable image. The BNP, which believes in the "voluntary resettlement" of "immigrants", told this paper it had been "overwhelmed" with public support, especially in reaction to asylum-seekers. So great is this support, a spokesman said, that new phone lines are being installed to cope.

According to the BNP, membership stands at about 10,000. Other sources suggest the real figure is fewer than 6,000 and that the party is woefully short of funds for the forthcoming European and local elections.

At present, the BNP has no MEPs or MPs but holds around 15 council seats across the country. Its greatest representation is in Burnley, Lancashire, where it holds six seats out of 45 and where, until recently, observers were worried the BNP would take hold of the council and could also win the parliamentary seat. A series of scandals and resignations has meant these fears have receded. A by-election had to be called in the Lanehead ward after Luke Smith, the BNP councillor who has a conviction for football hooliganism, attacked a fellow BNP member with a beer bottle.

Last month, Maureen Stowe, 65, a BNP councillor in Burnley, resigned from the party. "I've never been a racist," said Ms Stowe, who is now an independent councillor. "I didn't agree with a lot of what was being said by the BNP and found the party badly organised ... When you come in with big ideas, you have to live up to them and they haven't."

Outside a few key areas, the BNP has little party organisation. Those branches that do exist are reported to have few party activists.

Gerry Gable, the publisher ofSearchlight, an anti-fascist magazine, said the BNP's performance since the 2002 elections has been "pretty dismal". "Since May 2003 the BNP has fought many more than a dozen elections and won two. In my book, that's not a winning streak."

The criminal pasts of many members, including senior officials, also makes it difficult for the BNP, formed in 1982 by the right-wing extremist John Tyndall to shake off its pro-Nazi, bully-boy image.

Nick Griffin, who will sit next to M. Le Pen at tonight's black-tie dinner, received a two-year suspended sentence in 1998 for inciting racial hatred. His magazine, The Rune, carried obscene, anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial material, as well as crude racism.

Colin Smith, the party's south-east London organiser, has amassed 17 convictions for burglary, theft, stealing cars, possession of drugs and assaulting a police officer.

And Tony Lecomber, the BNP's group development officer, was convicted on five counts for crimes under the Explosives Act in 1985. He was handed a three-year prison sentence for offences that included possession of home-made hand-grenades and electronic timing devices.

In 1991 he notched up another three years' imprisonment for his part in an attack on a Jewish schoolteacher who Lecomber found trying to peel off a BNP sticker. His sordid history clearly slipped the mind of Mr Griffin when he was grilled by the BBC's Panorama programme three years ago. He said Lecomber's only conviction was for handling fireworks.

Politicians and anti-racism campaigners have been quick to expose the reality behind the party's new image. Alice Mahon, MP for Halifax, said the BNP liked to "prey on people's fears. These people dress in smart suits but underneath they are the same ugly human beings trying to bring division wherever they go," she said.

Sir Herman Ouseley, a former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, joined in calls for M. Le Pen to be banned. "We need people like him like a hole in the head," said Lord Ouseley, a Labour peer. "We should not let him in. He is someone committed to destroying people because he stirs up racial hatred."

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?