Ex-squaddies, accountants, engineers - the leaked BNP membership list is a snapshot of far-right Britain, and a chance to find out whether its supporters live on your street...
It's a fascinating document. Row after row of names, addresses, telephone numbers, emails. Column upon column of personal, professional and biographical detail - career, education, family, hobbies. Here are 12,801 of our fellow citizens, their lives laid bare in this remarkable respect: we now know that they are, were once, or have at some time expressed an interest in becoming members of the organisation that calls itself "the foremost patriotic political party in Great Britain".
When I say "we", of course, I mean anyone with an internet connection and some time to spare. Nearly 13,000 individual records - 11,211 of them in England and Wales, the remainder in Scotland or abroad, from Alicante to California - is a lot of information. But it comes in a spreadsheet, which means it's searchable and (sort of) analysable.
And what emerges from a few hours spent with the membership list of the British National party that was posted on the net this week is a picture as alarming as it is, strangely, reassuring. It is a picture of a certain kind of England. At times, it's depressing. At others, it's frankly hilarious.
"Member describes himself as witch: potential embarrassment if active," reads a worried note appended to the record of one Wiltshire supporter. "Will not be renewing," laments another: "Objects to being told he shouldn't wear a bomber jacket." I'm also fond of: "Hobbies: letter-writing to local/national papers," "Retired shoe-shop manager: model figure collector (mostly medieval)", and "Retired local government officer. Static caravan on east coast".
Your first instinct, naturally, is to check if you know anyone. I didn't, as far as I could see: no one in the small Middlesex village where I grew up (though four in Pinner, where I was born), and only three in the district of west London where I now live. Colleagues have pored in amazement over the records for their home towns. "I would never have thought it," said one friend, from Ripon in North Yorkshire. "It's a prosperous middle-class market town, and there are are nine BNP voters there. Look! Two there; I know that street." A university friend said she had discovered to her not-altgether-immense surprise that her parents' nextdoor neighbours in Windsor were members. "Crusty," she said. "And very cheap sherry at Christmas."
The geographical stats are interesting, up to a point. Lancashire is our proud nation's farthest-right county by a bootlace, with 861 names on the list. West Yorkshire comes a close second, with 858. Yorkshire as a whole has more than 1,600 BNP supporters, including 263 in Leeds, 164 in Kirklees, 190 in Bradford and more than 100 each in Barnsley, Sheffield and Wakefield. Essex is up there with 670-odd members, including 73 in Barking and Dagenham, and the West Midlands has more than 580, including 187 in Birmingham.
But there are some surprises. Six members in Maidenhead? Fifteen in Bognor Regis? Thirty-eight in Bournemouth, 13 in that haven of lefty London-fleers, Brighton? There are six in High Wycombe, 22 in Cambridge, five in Oxford, three in Chelsea, eight in Cheltenham, 11 in Chichester, two in Henley-on-Thames, seven in Hemel Hempstead and, weirdly, 192 in Surrey.
Is this scary? Well, it looks as if it's a myth that the BNP fares best in areas of high immigration: according to one report that cross-matched the list with data from the Office for National Statistics, only 5% of BNP members live in areas classified as having high Asian populations, and 2% in areas with big Afro-Caribbean communities. Some 18% of the party's support comes from traditionally working-class white areas. Twenty-two percent of BNP members may live in deprived parts of England and Wales, but 16% live in the wealthiest.
Professor Roger Eatwell of the University of Bath, who has written extensively on the BNP, sounds a cautionary note: from his first look at the list, he says, "many BNP activists don't actually appear to be members". And in any case, "members and activists are not the same as voters". That's obviously true, and the list is clearly an incomplete picture of BNP support. But in its fabulous welter of detail, you can almost see some of those who feature on it.
In Surrey, for instance, is a "retired accountant. Fellow of Inst of Chartered Accountants/ Management Accountants. MA (Oxon). Hobbies: military history, ethnology/anthropology, carpentry/cabinet-making. Ex-serviceman & TA Capt. Former district councillor. Letter writer". Somewhere in Middlesex is a "chartered mechanical engineer. MD of high-pressure water pump firm. Hobbies: flying, fullsize & model aircraft. Restoration of 'O' & 'I' gauge trains. Caravanning, walking". Can't you just picture them? Or how about, in Sussex, a "retired antique dealer. Owner: tourist attraction abroad. Former racing driver. Hobbies: competition shooting, sword collector. Author." Or in Gloucestershire: "Business owner (antiquities). Public speaker. Has two suits of 14th- & 15th-century armour and can joust for rallies."
There are some common strands. One is the retired (or semi-retired, or nearly-retired) middle-to-upper-middle businessman who would probably never recognise himself (or his wife, who is often a member too) as racist, but who obviously believes, as they say, that the country's going to the dogs. Very often, their hobbies include "collecting WW2 memorabilia (British)" or "restoring classic vehicles (owns WW2 jeep)".
Then there's the ex-servicemen, of whom there are more than 100, former policemen, and Territorial Army. These may be self-employed, perhaps in building, or security. How about: "HM Forces (3 tours NI). Rhodesian Security Forces. Freelance security: Africa/South America/Europe. Hobbies: military history"?
Several proclaim Christian faith: "Retired labourer. Committed evangelical Christian, attends Bible studies/prayer meetings". Elsewhere is "retired chiropodist. Devout Christian lay preacher (non-conformist churches: Baptist, United Reformed, Presbyterian etc). Scottish country dancing", and "HND Chemistry. Hobbies: gym training, martial arts. Member of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal Church".
There are only three listed taxi drivers, but there plenty of builders and plasterers, IT workers - many eager to help: in Buckinghamshire is a "Classics BA (Hons). IT & PC skills (may be able to donate 2nd-hand PCs)" - and 38 HGV licence-holders. In Scotland, there's a driving instructor - "(discount for BNP members)". There is, generally, an obsession with further educational qualifications. Some, you feel, may have lost their way somewhere: "Mental health professional, specialism in mental health law, also retired university lecturer (plant sciences). BSc. Phd". Others are myth-seekers: "Window cleaner. Former pig farmer. Pagan prison chaplain. Hobbies: growing mistletoe, rune-making (wood)"; "Active Odinist/member of pagan organisations." A student is "willing to give talks on medieval/dark age subects" and "interested in ... setting up a British pagan group".
And there are, of course, the serious headbangers: BNP leader Nick Griffin may boast that this list proves his members are not "skinhead oiks", but there are still martial arts fanatics, people suspended for "inappropriate tattoos" and at least seven email addresses incorporating the number 88, which is neo-Nazi code for HH, or Heil Hitler. Other email addresses are lordhawhaw, saxondelight, darkenedangel and napalmdeath. Someone gives his pastime as "World War II reenactment".
Eatwell recognises these almost comforting stereotypes as "pretty much spot-on. Among BNP activists, there is certainly an older group. There are also a lot of ex-military people, and former National Front types of a more thuggish, even Nazi persuasion. A recent poll showed fully a third of BNP support to be middle-class, although the really big concentration is C2 - solid, respectable working-class."
But there's a worrying new element that doesn't show up on the list at all, Eatwell warns. "Young people are coming in who had no political commitment before. They don't see themselves as racist, and they're not thuggish. They're there for what they see as moral reasons: maybe because their grandad was let down by the NHS. And remember, by far the biggest issue among BNP voters, besides immigration, is simply pessimism. Pessimism's rocketing right now. They're the ones to watch."