|Onslaught of the BNP Wreckers||John Tyndall surveys an orgy of political self-destruction|
As I write these words I can imagine groans from some readers: "Oh no! Not more attacks, not more internal conflict!" Let me assure these people that I would far rather not be writing about such matters but be dealing with constructive politics. I had in fact planned to write an article addressing a topical national issue for this month when certain developments in the British National Party overtook things and called for urgent exposure. Developments of this kind become possible precisely because so many people prefer to turn their eyes away from them and wish away their consequences, thus leaving the field free for those of disruptive intent to get on with their business unhindered.
In July of this year I announced my intention to throw down a challenge to Nick Griffin for the BNP leadership. However, some time before this both his supporters and mine knew that this was on the cards. There has been a bitter internal conflict in the party ever since Mr. Griffin and his followers began it in the middle-to-late 1990s. It has continued to this day, fuelled by numerous policy changes which have been documented and commented upon in these columns.
To go back to the beginning, Nick Griffin began scheming to take over the leadership of the BNP almost from the moment he joined it in 1996. He was perfectly entitled to pursue this ambition: the party's constitution provides for it. He began travelling around the country, often at his own invitation, speaking at meetings clearly with the intention of building up his following. I knew this was happening but I made no attempt whatever to stop him; he had the right to speak in this way just as the host branches had the right to accept him as a speaker. We were not then a totalitarian party in which people were gagged. I point these things out here because they relate importantly to things that will follow later.
Mr. Griffin succeeded in his takeover bid and I accepted it, albeit with grave private reservations. The members had delivered their verdict, and I acknowledged this in an article in the October 1999 issue of this journal, calling on everyone to work together for the party's future.
Rift soon appears
It was less than a year before serious rifts began to occur in the party, beginning with a crisis of confidence among local leaders and members in the West Midlands over Mr. Griffin's handling of party monies. The then party treasurer also became involved in this dispute. Mr. Griffin's solution to this was summarily to expel both the treasurer and the two leading activists in the region (a husband-and-wife team) who had been at the centre of the conflict. All three had been keen Griffin supporters not long previously.
An emergency meeting was called in the Midlands in support of the couple, Sharron and Steve Edwards, and Mr. Griffin was forced to reinstate them. However, their disillusionment led them to leave the party not long afterwards - a sad loss.
I deliberately avoided any personal involvement in this dispute, though my sympathies were 100 per cent with those people who had been so disgustingly treated by Mr. Griffin.
I will not rake over the many other issues of division that have arisen since, for these have been adequately reported and analysed in these columns month to month. They have boiled down to this: many who had supported Mr. Griffin five years ago turned against him (and his partner in the leadership duo Tony Lecomber). Some of these, together with those who had never had confidence in the two in the first place, made representations to me that I should stand again against Mr. Griffin to retake the party leadership. I was willing to do so but believed that the timing was important and that the ground should be thoroughly prepared before the challenge was made. I am still of this view.
I have long believed that the Griffin leadership is backed by certain external forces hostile to the BNP who seek to keep it in place for their own purposes, and that to this end they are providing certain forms of clandestine support which help to entrench those in control. I make no assertions as to whether this is being done with the knowledge of Mr. Griffin and his associates; on that matter I could not back up any such claim with concrete evidence. It may well be that this support is being accepted quite innocently, but I am nevertheless convinced that it is being given. I cannot, for instance, fathom how otherwise the money could be found for the party's monstrous wage bill. All this renders a counter-takeover a much less simple matter than some of my own supporters realise.
Central to the takeover in the first place, and to the continued entrenchment of the Griffin crowd, has been a deliberate campaign of character assassination of myself. The most prominent spokesman in this campaign has been Mr. Lecomber, though there is no doubt that it has the support of his chief. It is the oldest rule of warfare: identify the lead man in the enemy camp, and take him out. It was done at Hastings, and it was done at Trafalgar - though I am not so presumptuous as to draw any further parallels! The rule is applicable in conflicts great and small, and it holds good whatever the stature of the targeted person.
Against this character assassination I have two weapons of defence. One is my pen and the other my voice. Mr. Griffin quickly sought to neutralise the first weapon when he ordered a ban on the circulation of Spearhead through the party, ruling that it may not be displayed or sold at party meetings. This meant that the many newcomers to the party would have little opportunity of hearing my and my allies' case through reading the magazine. I imposed no such ban on the Griffin lobby's house journal Patriot in the run-up to the leadership contest in 1999, though its intent was obvious to all with eyes to see and brains to think with.
The attempt to gag me as a speaker first revealed itself when I was scheduled to appear at a meeting of Burnley BNP in August 2002. Up to that time I had never used any party platform to attack my opponents in the party nor indeed engage in any internally controversial talk. Despite this, a tremendous amount of arm-twisting was applied against the Burnley organiser to cancel my invitation. It failed. The organiser, Steve Smith, stood firm.
And what confronted me when I arrived at Burnley for the meeting? A mob of 'Anti-Nazi' League demonstrators! They had never been seen at a Burnley BNP meeting before and never have since. Need any more be said?
Gagging campaign spreads
At that Burnley meeting I won a number of new friends and supporters as a result of my speech; this clearly incensed Messrs. Griffin and Lecomber and they intensified their efforts to silence me around the country - sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. They also began a campaign to discourage organisers from inviting Richard Edmonds to speak, though he is one of the party's very best speakers and invariably boosts meeting turnouts and collections. His crime has been, of course, that he is known to be a close friend and ally of mine!
We related in an earlier issue the case of a meeting at Clitheroe (Lancs.) to which I was invited last April. The party leadership, through its local regional organiser, ordered that I be kept away. The branch organiser would not be intimidated but reconstituted the meeting as just a 'nationalist' meeting and not an official BNP one. As a result, his branch, one of the best in the North of England, was 'deregistered' for several months and became effectively non-operational. The pretext for this was some small book-keeping irregularity by the treasurer but few were deceived as to the real cause. The branch has only recently been registered again. Several months were wasted in which that branch could have been actively promoting the party in the area in preparation for coming elections.
Shortly afterwards, Richard Edmonds was scheduled to speak at a meeting of the party's Rochdale branch. Tremendous pressures were exerted to get his invitation cancelled - solely on the pretext of his association with me. The meeting went ahead, but Mr. Griffin subsequently had a tantrum, and the organiser was threatened that the branch would be closed down if the 'crime' were repeated.
Meanwhile, down south, one of the best London branches has been immobilised for some months. This is the Hillingdon branch, whose organiser is Ian Edward, another strong character who is not prepared to be anyone's lackey. Mr. Edward had allowed the presence at one of his meetings of a person on the party's 'proscribed' list. To those with a sense of proportion this was a small matter which could easily have been sorted out privately and quietly by means of a few words down the telephone, but no! Ian was immediately dismissed as organiser by Tony Lecomber, presumably on the nod from Mr. Griffin. Without his presence, the branch became non-functional as a BNP unit because no one among the members, loyal to him to the last man and woman, was interested in taking his place.
In fact, everyone knows that the presence of the proscribed person at the meeting was just a convenient excuse for action against Ian Edward. A far bigger crime where he is concerned is his very cordial relations with Richard Edmonds and myself, and his regular invitations to us to speak. He is clearly on the 'hit list' and must go! No matter that Hillingdon BNP has achieved some excellent local government election results and is needed to make an important contribution to meeting the party's target of 100 candidates in the next general election, expected next year. A whole season of productive local activity has been sacrificed on the altar of Mr. Lecomber's paranoia.
Previous to this, another excellent local organiser became the target of a vendetta. This was John Cope, of the East Hertfordshire branch previously associated with the legendary Dave Bruce, who sadly died in 1998 - before his time. John Cope made a very brave effort to keep the East Herts. BNP going after Dave's departure, and managed to do so admirably. The branch held some excellent meetings, at some of which I spoke. It continued a regular output of activity and eventually scored a triumph by getting a councillor, Ramon Johns, elected in 2003, due in no small measure to John Cope's tireless work.
John, however, never made any secret about his unease over changes in party leadership and policy, and he became marked down for the 'chop'. At a meeting in East London in March 2003 he spoke from the floor at question time severely criticising the recent glowing report in the party newspaper on a BNP election candidate who had spoken proudly of his black son-in-law and his two mixed-race grandchildren. The point here was not the candidate's misfortune in having a race-mixing daughter and having to make the best of the situation; the point was the party newspaper editor's decision to write it up as if it were something to celebrate!
Shortly after this meeting John fell foul of Tony Lecomber over another matter, and almost immediately he was dismissed as branch organiser despite his excellent record. The East Herts. BNP has managed to survive, but it would still be much the stronger with John Cope's presence.
No doubt, Mr. Lecomber will have his own version of these conflicts, but at the end of the day the running of political parties is about personnel management: handling members the right way and making use of their services and talents, not alienating them and driving them off. The number of excellent activists who have become lost to the BNP because they were perceived to have 'incorrect' views about certain matters is incalculable.
Victimisation of a good activist
Others have stayed but have been marginalised because of their falling foul of either Mr. Lecomber, Mr. Griffin or both. There is Keith Axon, who did more than anyone else to build up the BNP in the West Midlands during its first 16 years. Utterly dedicated to the nationalist cause, he is right now willing to assist in party activities in his home city of Birmingham but has been given the cold shoulder by the local leadership, no doubt on orders from higher up. There are Steve Smith and Simon Bennett, the two main architects of the initial election successes of the party in Burnley (though others more recently have contributed in generous measure). They now have no roles in the running of the branch because they were squeezed out by Mr. Griffin's people. They too got on the wrong side of the party leadership and had to go. Both are men of first-class drive and ability, which could still be at the disposal of the party had matters involving them been handled sensibly.
I know of many more who hold Messrs. Griffin and/or Lecomber in absolute contempt, but have been careful to avoid being overly outspoken so as not to risk dismissal and the consequent damage to their branches. They subordinate their personal feelings to the greater good of the party - if only everyone else was like them!
Earlier this year it became clear to me that Messrs. Griffin and Lecomber were determined to effect a ban, even if only an unofficial one, on my speaking at party meetings around the country. They were anticipating my making a bid to recover the party leadership and their policy very obviously was to shut me up. Though, with one exception in London in March 2003, I had never used meetings to criticise the party leadership but spoken only about general national issues, the fact I am fairly capable on the platform and, as with Richard Edmonds (RE), attract good audiences and boost collections obviously scared them - if nothing else because I was able to undo the negative image of myself that they had contrived to create. I just had to be stopped, and so also did Richard Edmonds.
The reader may perhaps contrast this with the completely free reign given by me to Nick Griffin back in the 1990s to go around the country campaigning to build up his support for the leadership challenge that he was obviously planning. One of the key words Mr. Griffin now likes to use in the promotion of the party is 'democracy'. As our experience should tell us, the loudest advocates of 'democracy' are often its worst defilers.
I decided that something had to be done about this speaking ban on RE and myself, and so I contacted a solicitor for advice. The advice was that as long as the two of us were bona fide party members the leadership had no right whatsoever to prevent us speaking, and that should either of us defy the ban and be punished (by expulsion perhaps) a civil court would have no hesitation in overruling this. This was communicated to Mr. Griffin in a solicitor's letter, the most relevant parts of which were reproduced in our October issue.
The answer: suspension!
The letter, which would have been received by Mr. Griffin a short time earlier, was acted upon immediately. If as a bona fide party member I could not be prevented speaking, that could quickly be remedied by suspending me from membership! In a letter dated the 26th September from Mr. Lecomber, I was notified of that suspension and informed that I would be facing a whole new packet of disciplinary charges. The details of the charges were sent to me last month. I shall not comment on them here save to say that they were thirteen - yes, thirteen! -- in number, and ten of them related to things I was alleged to have done during or before February this year. So why was I not charged over these matters a long time previously? The reader will have little difficulty in working out the answer. It was to provide a means to prevent me standing against Mr Griffin in a coming leadership election, but now also to silence me as a speaker. Highly convenient!
It will be recalled that barely more than a year previously I was charged and expelled over other alleged offences. I took the matter to law and won. Mr. Griffin was forced into an out-of-court settlement under which my expulsion was annulled and I was reinstated. The alternative was for the matter to go to court and much higher costs be incurred. I knew it was only a matter of time before they would try to 'get' me again. In fact, Mr. Lecomber lost no opportunity to tell people so.
On receiving and studying the latest batch of charges, I wondered how on earth they thought they would get away with these - knowing that, if expelled, I would again seek a review of the case in the courts and they would be faced with yet another expensive and time-consuming legal battle at no benefit whatever to the BNP.
Constitutional goalposts moved
The answer was provided in a general members' bulletin that I found in my letter box early last month. The bulletin announced a large number of constitutional amendments. The most significant of these read as follows:-
It is blatantly obvious that this new clause is being inserted to prevent me seeking legal redress against any expulsion that may result from the hearing of the new charges against me, which has been fixed for December 4th.
Mr. Griffin knows very well that if I am expelled on his latest charges I shall be forced to do the same as last year and bring the matter to law. His latest constitutional manoeuvre is clearly intended to prevent this.
My own case aside, the move is also obviously aimed to give the party leadership licence in the future to kick out any other member upon Mr. Griffin's personal whim if that member happens to meet with his disapproval. All that would be needed would be another kangaroo court appointed by Mr. Griffin or on his authority, which would be comprised of lackeys who could be relied upon to deliver the verdict that was ordered, and against which the victim would have no legal redress!
It is somewhat amusing in the quoted constitutional amendment is the passage which says that members ... "will legally affirm and agree..." In what way agree? Perhaps when sitting in a disused warehouse tied to a chair, with electrodes being held close to their most sensitive parts!
New clause legal non-starter
I quickly made contact with a solicitor to obtain his opinion of the legality of this latest constitutional clause. He confirmed my opinion that legally it was a non-starter, and would not survive scrutiny by the courts. So just what is Mr. Griffin's purpose in introducing it? Has the man gone completely off his head? Does he want another legal battle, almost certain to be more expensive than the last one - which incidentally cost the BNP over £6,000 and the cause of nationalism as a whole over £12,000? Or is there some other agenda here, not obvious at the time of writing? Coming events will perhaps provide a clue.
One thing that is clear is that during the months pending a court verdict overruling my expected expulsion I will be deprived of my rights as a party member and thus not able to attend party functions at which I can make myself known to other members and solicit their support. Highly convenient to Mr. Griffin!
So, being under suspension I have to find other means of reaching party members with the spoken word. A series of meetings have been set up to take place in Bradford, Hillingdon (North West London), Lincoln and North Buckinghamshire, all of these promoted under auspices other than those of the BNP. The Bradford meeting was reported in last month's issue, the Hillingdon one elsewhere in this issue. The Lincoln and North Bucks. meetings will be taking place as the new issue is at the printers, and readers will be informed of them subsequently. More meetings will follow in the new year.
I have given most of the past 22 years of my life to the BNP. I deeply resent having to travel around the country speaking at meetings which should be BNP ones but cannot be because of these ridiculous prohibitions. And I think I speak for others who have put and are putting much hard work into organising and promoting the meetings, which they too wish they were doing on behalf of the BNP and for the benefit of the BNP.
Lecomber rampage continues
And here again the maniacal rampage of Tony Lecomber continues. He is now trying to run Hillingdon organiser Ian Edward, one of the BNP's best, out of the party - the latest pretext being his role in promoting the Hillingdon meeting on the 7th November. Ian is now being threatened over the alleged use of the party's local membership list to circularise people about that meeting, the Data Protection Act being invoked.
Meanwhile Mr. Lecomber is threatening the organiser of the Lincoln meeting, Mick Holmes, in a similar way. Mick has told me that our Group Development and Regulation Officer is frantically ringing members in the Lincolnshire and East Midlands areas urging them to boycott the meeting, making the absurd allegation that it is an 'anti-BNP' meeting. As these words are written we do not know what will be the results of his sabotage campaign.
And the cause of all of this? There are differences within our party over matters of leadership and policy. The proper way to resolve these differences is to have a leadership election conducted on a level playing field and according to the democratic traditions of this country, and that means that the respective candidates in that election should have the facility and freedom to address party members to present their cases. All this was accorded to Nick Griffin when he challenged me in 1999. Why can the same rules not operate again?
Party being crippled
Before ending, we should step back for a moment and look at the broader picture. The party has set itself the target of contesting 100 parliamentary seats in the next general election. This is an ambitious undertaking but one which can be achieved if all are pulling together and all the party's skills and resources are focused on the objective.
Yet what do we have? We have a major party official - probably its effective number-two man (some would even say number one!) - running around like a bull in a china shop antagonising almost everybody in sight, imposing bans, suspensions and prohibitions in the manner of a Lord High Executioner; closing down, or causing to be closed down, important branches whose input into the coming general election is a vital one. We have first-class nationalists, able to make great contributions to the party's growth, sidelined in petty vendettas because they do not genuflect to the party leadership in the way it is thought they should do. We have yet more good nationalists who have been exiled from the BNP for the crime of dissent or have exiled themselves because they cannot stand the stink within. And now we have a re-run of the vicious and hysterical action to railroad me out of the party of which I was the leading founder, an action that ended in fiasco last year and cost the party money that could have been spent on deposits for 12 parliamentary election candidates or heaven knows how many thousands of pieces of valuable promotional literature. Not only is this re-run likely to cost yet more precious money but it, together with all the other witch hunts currently being conducted, costs priceless man-hours of time that could otherwise be given to constructive projects for party development.
One has to ask of these people: do they seriously want the BNP to succeed and prosper? Or do they want to wreck it? Whether the latter is their intention or not, it is certainly going to be the consequence - if they are not stopped very soon!