When the leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, was invited to appear on the panel of the current affairs programme Question Time, the BBC came under great pressure to rescind the invitation on the grounds that it was giving publicity to racists – pressure that the corporation resisted.
This newspaper maintained that the BBC was right to do so. A ban would have been arbitrary and illiberal. It would also have been counter-productive, feeding the BNP's persecution complex and giving traction to the party's claim that a liberal establishment was trying to gag it.
Recent developments have confirmed the conviction that giving the BNP the publicity it sought would do it few favours even if, back in the days of the Question Time row, few can have realised quite how turbulent and faction-ridden the party would turn out to be. News that the BNP's former publicity director, Mark Collett, was placed under arrest last week for having allegedly threatened to kill Mr Griffin marks a new and bizarre turn in the party's fortunes. Tales of Labour plotters against Gordon Brown pale by comparison.
The twilight world of the far right mirrors that of the far left in that it is regularly shaken by seismic convulsions, usually centring on the discovery of a plot by a leader or faction that has swerved away from the movement's straight and well-signposted path and into heresy.
This is the world of Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, of loyalists exposed as traitors, of purges and defections. In Mr Griffin's case, allegations of lack of transparency over his expenses, anger over the way that the courts forced the party to theoretically open its doors to non-white members, and dismay over what some felt was Mr Griffin's lacklustre appearance on Question Time combined to embolden plotters to attempt a putsch. In breathless fashion, the party went public on this internal civil war last week, denouncing Mr Collett for "conspiring with a small clique of other party officials to launch a 'palace coup' against our twice democratically elected party leader", and referring to "serious allegations potentially affecting the personal safety of party chairman Nick Griffin MEP" as a result of which they had called in the police.
As of now, it is hard to tell how this seamy business – with its Cluedo-like suggestion of murder by candlestick in the library – is going to unravel. But release of these factional feuds into the public domain clearly will not help the party pursue its goal of slicing into alienated working-class votes and capturing its first seats in parliament. The party has stripped Mr Collett of his right to take on David Blunkett in his seat in Sheffield. Margaret Hodge is the Labour MP probably feeling most relieved right now – her seat in Barking and Dagenham, which Mr Griffin is contesting, is widely seen as one of those most vulnerable to BNP penetration.
None of this, of course, means that the BNP can be shrugged off as a spent force. Far-right parties have emerged across Western Europe in the last decade, and success in combating their appeal will continue to depend on the carefully calibrated response of the mainstream parties in those societies to the grievances they play on. Splits or not, the BNP will remain part of the landscape. Nevertheless, giving the party the media attention it craved has not worked out in the fashion its leader imagined. It will be interesting to see how the BNP presents itself in the run-up to the general election, when it will be allowed a party political broadcast. No mention, presumably, of the suggestion that the leader has been rendered safe from assassination at the hands of his former close ally.Reuse content