Secret minutes obtained by Searchlight reveal a party struggling with several problems. Sonia Gable reveals what is really going on at the top of the BNP.
Nick Griffin, the British National Party leader, may have been wrong-footed by this year’s attempt to mount a challenge to his position. Colin Auty, a BNP councillor in Dewsbury until he resigned from the party in July, failed narrowly to gain the 100 signatures he needed to stand against Griffin but the attempt seems to have panicked the party leadership.
An extraordinary general meeting held at the end of the party’s Red, White and Blue festival last month was supposed to make it much more difficult for anyone to challenge Griffin in future. However BNP members led by Richard Barnbrook, the party’s top man in London, threw out a proposal that the party chairman should be elected for a four-year fixed term, leaving in place the present annual right to call an election.
A change to the party constitution that did get passed was that candidates for leader will now have to obtain the backing of 5% of members with more than two years’ unbroken membership of the party instead of the present 100 signatures from members of two years’ standing, where the candidate is not a party office-holder. Those few people designated as office-holders need only 10 signatures.
Auty’s supporters condemned the decision, calculating that with the leadership claiming around 10,000 members, it meant a challenger would need up to 500 signatures to stand. Griffin therefore “did in fact walk away with the entire Party almost secured in his back pocket unnoticed by most of the membership present”, they said.
In reality it means nothing of the sort. The latest BNP accounts certainly state that the party had 9,784 members at 31 December 2007, compared to 6,281 at 31 December 2006. And Searchlight has acquired minutes of a meeting on 20 July 2008 of the BNP’s Advisory Council (AC), which brings together all the BNP’s leading officers, in which the membership at 14 July 2008 is said to be 9,175, the drop no doubt the result of the dissent in the BNP last winter.
However, Tina Wingfield, the membership secretary, expresses concern at the very low renewal rate of new members. Of the 373 and 854 new memberships processed in February and March 2007, she reported to the AC, only 32% and 39% respectively renewed the following year. And of the 9,175 members in July, 1,832 had joined between March and June 2008.
These revelations suggest that the number of people with more than two years’ party membership is at the most 2,000 and possibly no more than 1,000. A further indication appears in the report to the AC from the education and training department, which stated that the number of “voting members” was a mere 243. Members only qualify for this status if they have been in the party for at least two years, though they also have to meet activist and ideological training conditions.
It does not take much mathematical genius to calculate that 5% of a possible 2,000 qualifying members is 100, the same as the present endorsers needed to challenge Griffin. And if, as is more likely, the two-year membership figure is little more than 1,000, a challenger would have to find a mere 50 or so supporters.
A further change to the constitution introduces a new opportunity for just 20 voting members to demand a leadership challenge at the party’s autumn annual general meeting. But as voting members have to undergo ideological training by Arthur Kemp, the South African white supremacist and former apartheid regime spook who rose rapidly to a senior role in the BNP last year, Griffin is no doubt confident of their trustworthiness.
Kemp is editor of the BNP’s website and has until recently been acting managing director of the party’s Excalibur merchandising operation and responsible for the distribution of the party’s monthly publications, Identity and Voice of Freedom. These tasks have left him with little time to attend to BNP propaganda efforts, but the one “successful” project he was able to report to the July meeting was “an eight-page full colour booklet entitled ‘Searchlightexposed.com’”.
This, he explained, “was not for general distribution”, but “was sent directly to the editors, political journalists and senior journalists at all major mainstream newspapers around the country,” and “played a major role in the very low amount of publicity given by the mainstream media to Searchlight-propaganda during the election campaign”.
Only in Kemp’s dreams! Media coverage of the BNP in the run-up to the elections of 1 May showed no evidence that journalists and editors had done anything other than bin the BNP’s eight pages of lies and libels.
The production of this booklet, a tactic Kemp says “will be repeated at regular intervals”, proves only that our anti-BNP campaigns are effective and are hurting the BNP. Griffin’s introduction to the party’s 2007 accounts complains angrily about “third party disparagers” of the BNP in election campaigns, funded by the trade unions, and singles out the Daily Mirror, which printed “hundreds of thousands of copies of a special supplement directed against the BNP”. This of course is the supplement prepared in conjunction with Searchlight, an exercise that the Mirror successfully repeated this year alongside our Hope not Hate campaign.
AC members were not able to question Kemp about his dubious claims as he was unable to attend the meeting. One man who was present and may have helped Kemp compile the torrent of lies was Lance Stewart, the shadowy head of the BNP’s intelligence department and former high-ranking member of the South African police. Other notable BNP personalities at the AC, which has little real power in a party run as Griffin’s personal fiefdom, included Barnbrook; his Barking and Dagenham council colleague Bob Bailey; Jennie Noble, the BNP’s new treasurer; Michaela Mackenzie, the national nominating officer; Martin Reynolds who heads the BNP’s thuggish security section; the unpopular Mark Collett and David Hannam both supposedly demoted last winter to appease the BNP rebels; Peter Mullins and Mike Howson from the South West; the deputy leader Simon Darby and of course Griffin himself.
Also present was Martin Wingfield, editor of Voice of Freedom, the BNP’s tabloid newspaper, who must have been dismayed when Griffin said that his publication had proved ineffective as a recruitment tool and may be discontinued, although it might remain in online form.
Another suggestion discussed was to publish only bimonthly to save on the £3,258 a month it costs to have the paper printed and shipped from Lithuania. This amounts to 17p a copy, which is rather a lot considering most copies are not sold but given away. And that does not include the £600 the party pays to transport the papers to branches from the BNP warehouse in North Wales each month.
The unit cost is so high because contrary to the tens of thousands of copies the BNP has always claimed to distribute, the print run is only 19,000, according to the AC minutes. Considering how many copies are given away to members of the public, one can only conclude that most party members cannot be bothered to subscribe to the paper.
Three years ago police seized the entire print run of Voice of Freedom in Dover, on its way from Slovakia where it was then being printed. Reports at the time mentioned 60,000 copies. Has the BNP been lying or has Wingfield presided over a disastrous fall in circulation at a time when the BNP has supposedly been so successful in attracting support?
The minutes record that “a printer in the North East” has offered 100,000 copies at 3.5p per copy but clearly the only use the party would have for such a print run would be to feed the recycling bins at the BNP warehouse.
The AC also heard that support for and development of party branches and groups had been a problem area since the expulsion last December of Sadie Graham, the party’s former group development officer and one of the leaders of the party rebels. Her departure followed that of Ian Dawson as head of group support a few months earlier. Tina Wingfield reported: “Before January of this year, we had two individuals on the full-time staff dedicated to group development and group support and their departure has left a vacuum in our administrative structure that needs to be filled”.
To the rescue came the ubiquitous Kemp, who will take over group support in his time out from attacking Searchlight. One of his first tasks, it seems, will be to train the apparently large number of local party organisers who do not know how to use computers.
The AC was unable to complete its agenda through lack of time but not before discussing an approach by Ashley Mote to head the BNP candidates’ list for the South East in next year’s European elections. Mote is currently an independent MEP, having been expelled from the UK Independence Party following his conviction for housing benefit fraud.
Collett and some others felt the publicity of an ex-UKIP MEP joining the BNP would rejuvenate the party, others did not trust Mote to stay with the BNP if elected. The upshot was that the AC voted to reject Mote’s offer apparently on the grounds that his conviction would result in adverse publicity and prove detrimental to the party’s reputation, a view the party does not normally take towards its members’ convictions.