Richard Barnbrook is the hero of the moment in the BNP. Party members are waxing lyrical about “Richard the Lionheart” in an attempt to draw a veil over their patchy electoral performance in the rest of the country. But he is a man of many failings and destined to disappoint those who put him in the London Assembly.
Richard Barnbrook was never going to get very far as the British National Party candidate for mayor of London. The only reason he stood was to enhance the party’s chances in the London Assembly, where it only needed 5% of the London-wide vote to win a seat.
In doing so he came to personify the BNP, a status he intends to maintain. Interviewed on the Monday after the results were announced, Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, revealed that Barnbrook’s ambition now was to make sure that the two people everyone at City Hall knew were Boris Johnson (the new mayor) and himself.
He nearly came unstuck. During the campaign he pumped for all it was worth the glamour of his engagement to a principal dancer with the English National Ballet, though he had to explain that Simone Clarke did not wear the diamond engagement ring he claimed to have given her because it had been stolen in a burglary, and was never seen at his side because she was spending time with her four-year-old daughter in Leeds after being away on tour.
The truth was that she had already departed from both the ENB and Barnbrook. Their relationship, and his campaign, cannot have been helped by the revelation in the News of the World the Sunday before polling day that at the same time he was proposing to Clarke, he was telling a Finnish nurse that he would like to marry her and have children.
Annika Tavilampi claimed that Barnbrook spotted her on an online dating site. He started sending her sexual texts and pictures of his private parts right away and asked her to send explicit pictures back. She fell for him but drew the line at appearing on a BNP election leaflet as an example of an NHS nurse who supported him.
Then two days before election day, the Daily Mail revealed that Barnbrook, 47, already had a wife to whom he had been married for ten years. Their marriage had broken down because of his “rotten politics” and she had then joined the Metropolitan Police to do some good in the world and, in part, to make amends for him.
She told the Daily Mail that they had married in early 1998 when she saw the sculptor, who had trained at the Royal College of Art, as “a great artist”, but his views had become very extreme around 1999. They eventually separated four years ago, though their divorce is not yet absolute. “He used me and he has admitted it and apologised,” she said. “He owes me a lot of money and is just starting to pay me back.”
Barnbrook always insists he is not a racist, although there was apparently an “awkward scene” when his brother invited his black girlfriend and her daughter to his parents’ house one Christmas. The relationship with Clarke gave Barnbrook the opportunity to demonstrate his tolerance. Her daughter is of mixed ethnicity, the result of a relationship with a Cuban-Chinese dancer. Even after they split up Barnbrook was keen to tell journalists that he would fully accept the child when they got married, despite the BNP’s policy of opposing interracial families. Yet he already knew full well he would never be the girl’s stepfather – which was a lucky escape for her.
Barnbrook’s place on the London Assembly comes two years after he was elected to Barking and Dagenham Council and became the BNP’s group leader, a position he has now relinquished to his deputy, Robert Bailey. But he should never have been there.
Before the 2006 local elections the BNP realised it had enough support to win seats on the council but no willing candidates. So Barnbrook and Bailey, who recently admitted that he had lied in claiming that the BNP secured 5,000 new homes in the borough, rented an uninhabitable flat above a cake shop to get an address in the borough. They then put their names on the electoral register days before electoral nominations closed. This was illegal because they were not actually living there.
It was only at the end of 2007 that Barnbrook admitted that he had been living in Lewisham, southeast London, all the time when, in response to jeers of “get back to Lewisham” at a council meeting, he announced that he had handed the keys to the property back the previous week. According to the News of the World Ms Tavilampi helped him with the move to Dagenham last December and found a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf under his bed.
It turned out that Barnbrook’s reluctance to move from Lewisham was because he was occupying a council property. The BNP always feigns concern about the lack of council homes but his duplicity had deprived a Lewisham family of accommodation.
Barnbrook was quick to gain a reputation for incompetence and lies in Barking and Dagenham. The 12 BNP councillors form the official opposition yet nearly a year after they were elected, they not only failed to put forward any budget suggestions but boycotted the Assembly meeting at which the Labour budget was to be considered.
Challenged, they claimed they were not given time to go through a bulky budget report or the chance to ask questions. In fact they were offered every assistance from council staff and the chance to attend a briefing session. They then spread misinformation in a leaflet to residents.
This year they did put forward a minority party budget, which proposed millions of pounds of cuts to council services, targeted mainly at old people, children and the staff of the borough’s human resources department.
Challenged at the Assembly meeting to explain how he would achieve his cuts and the effect they would have on services, he was completely unable to do so. Nor did he do any better in the written replies he offered to save him further embarrassment on his feet. It became evident that he knew next to nothing about how the council was structured and how services were provided. Nor did he have any concern for council employees or employment law, declaring: “the BNP is not going to burden taxpayers with redundancy payments”.
When it all got too much for him he retorted stupidly: “the Director of Finance permitted this to be presented, therefore, given his Accountancy qualifications, we trust that these are figures and proposals that can be worked with”, and in similar vein: “I suggest you ask the Chief Executive to help you if you want to compile figures so that you can copy the BNP’s good ideas and claim them as yours”.
In fact the borough’s Chief Financial Officer had previously expressed concern in writing that the BNP’s budget would compromise the council’s ability to deliver services it was legally obliged to provide. Barnbrook had failed to understand or deliberately ignored this.
One of the main powers of the London Assembly is that it can amend the Mayor’s annual budget. Barnbrook has shown that he hasn’t the faintest idea of council finance or how a council functions.
That did not stop Griffin saying “As Richard has already been a council group leader he already understands how councils work”.
Griffin wasted no time in explaining how the BNP would use Barnbrook’s position. Referring to City Hall, where the Assembly is housed, Griffin claimed: “I can walk in there when I like” (no doubt with his indispensable “minder” – security please note) and said they were working on getting several BNP members onto the staff to support Barnbrook.
He was especially impressed with the “enormous research library” where he hoped to find out all about the “discrimination” against “our people” – the “indigenous” people of Britain.
Griffin dismissed concern that City Hall staff would boycott his man, saying they have so far been friendly and professional. Nevertheless Lee Barnes, the BNP’s “legal adviser”, has already dashed off a rambling letter under Barnbrook’s name to the Standards Board for England, which regulates councillors’ conduct, complaining that the Labour and Conservative leaders in the Assembly had warned him to expect no cooperation from other parties and a possible staff boycott.
Richard Barnes, the Conservative Assembly leader, declared: “The BNP will have problems finding secretaries and getting support from the staff here, and I will totally support people’s right to say they don’t want to serve them. Len Duvall, the Labour leader, said: “Richard Barnbrook will have pariah status”.
That decent people do not want to be seen near him was apparent at the announcement of the results of the mayoral election, in which he polled a mere 2.8%. When it was his turn to speak, several other candidates walked off, leaving an obviously tired and emotional Barnbrook to slur his way through a belligerent speech quite inappropriate for the occasion. People who have the misfortune to come up against Barnbrook in Barking and Dagenham say that this is his usual condition.
Naturally the BNP was full of praise for the speech, a video of which appears on the party website.
As an Assembly member Barnbrook, who celebrates St George’s Day by parading around Barking on a horse dressed in armour and accompanied by a green fluffy dragon, will receive a salary of £50,582. No doubt he will come under pressure to make substantial donations to the BNP, something the party has previously said it would expect of anyone elected as a BNP MEP. His soon-to-be-ex wife will look for payment of his debts, but he may have enough left to indulge his polygamous interests and hone his appearance, which is noticeably modelled on Hitler.
A bigger waste of public money is hard to imagine.