...BNP leaders hope it's the 'perfect storm' that will sweep them to power
But as the Mail's investigation reveals, this vile bunch of racists, oddballs and thugs make today's MPs look like paragons
Almost exactly 75 years ago, Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, attracted an audience of 10,000 people to hear him speak at London's Olympia. That dramatic evening of June 7, 1934, with its highly choreographed bombast, noisy hecklers and brutish retaliation by black-shirted thugs, saw the high water mark of Far Right politics in Britain. The scales fell from many hitherto admiring eyes. The BUF was never an electoral force again.
Fascism, with all its ludicrous posturing, simply wasn't in the British social DNA. And yet today, after years in an electoral wilderness of skinhead haircuts and Third Reich nostalgia, British nationalists are displaying something of the cocky confidence of Mosley and his street corner cohorts.
On June 4, members of the British National Party - Mosley's ideological descendants - go to the polls in the European Parliament and local elections, with a spring in their step. In their target Euro election regions of the North West, Yorkshire and Humberside, the West Midlands and Eastern England, they need only between eight and 11 per cent of the vote (under the proportional representation system) to get seats in Brussels.
Part of this rise in expectations is due to the application of a (very thin) veneer of mainstream styling. Experience has taught them to swap their previous uniforms of denim and shaven heads for sober suits and ties.
They have also learned to tone down their racial supremacist rhetoric - in public at least. But what has given the BNP a sudden and unexpected confidence boost is the newly revealed behaviour of a large number of our elected MPs.
It would have been instructive, if not sobering, for the latter to have been present this week - as I was - when the BNP's chairman Nick Griffin breathlessly declared that 'a perfect storm' was about to blow his party back to a position of political credibility. They would win not just one, breakthrough, seat in Brussels but possibly 'six or seven', he claimed. He even used the phrase 'when we are in power', although that was only to whip up the credulous faithful.
The 'perfect storm' of which Griffin spoke is a confluence of various voter concerns such as the credit crunch, Islamic extremism, immigration and disaffection with Brussels.
But the BNP believes that the tipping issue for significant progress at the ballot box is the MPs' expenses scandal. After all, thanks to repeated electoral failure, no BNP MP has ever had the chance to claim from the taxpayer for his or her moat renovation, chandelier installation, helipad, tennis court, third home, non-existent mortgage or a riverside flat for their student daughter. Almost overnight, it is no longer a matter of what the BNP is - a marginal group with a rotten ideological core - but what it is not.
Earlier this week I travelled to Grays in Essex, where the BNP was launching its national election manifesto. As I drove there, I listened to a BBC talk show with increasing gloom and contempt as both Labour and Tory MPs refused to condemn their colleagues by name, while blaming 'the System'. Each interview was a little nudge in the back of the floating voter. I was heading for the eager, Far Right alternative.
Confidence may be high but the BNP continues to be shy of the kind of advertised public appearances which the mainstream takes for granted. I picked up its campaign trail, as instructed by the BNP press operation, in a quiet corner of an Aldi supermarket car park. A chubby little man in a suit and tie was waiting by a decrepit Vauxhall Astra and a shrouded BNP hoarding.
A few yards away, two policemen yawned and dozed in their BMW. They were there to protect Astra man from possible anti-fascist agitation, which was conspicuous by its absence.
He directed me to another car park, thence to the BNP launch at the town's municipal theatre.
'It's opposite the war memorial,' Astra man repeated (it wasn't but, as I was to learn, the modern BNP is anxious to commandeer British wartime sacrifice).
On arrival, the media was corralled into one part of the theatre lobby. A tall, gimlet-eyed young man in a tightly buttoned dark suit made sure there was no inter-action between the journalists (whom the BNP need, but hate) and the party candidates and members, who might say something off colour.
'I've told you before that the Press are not to speak to anyone,' the goon hissed at us, as we tried to strike up conversation with a pensioner BNP supporter. 'If you do, you will be out on the street. Simple as that, OK?'
Once allowed into the theatre auditorium, it was clear that this was no hot ticket. The room held 300, but the BNP had struggled to fill half the seats, largely with local election candidates and their supporters.
On stage, victory against Nazism in World War II was the dominant (and utterly cynical) motif. Winston Churchill's photograph was displayed alongside the image of a Battle of Britain Spitfire (the plane the BNP had unwittingly chosen to use for its campaign was from a Polish-manned squadron). Other pictures showed the D-Day beaches. Here was a party that clearly wished to be synonymous with our 'Finest Hour'. There were no searchlights, nor marching bands, a la Olympia, 1934.
But Griffin, the new Great Leader, was as late as Mosley had been on that momentous night. While we waited, the PA played a selection of what sounded very much like 'Forces' Sweetheart' Vera Lynn, while Richard Barnbrook, the BNP's eccentric London mayoral candidate and one-time gay porn director, pranced around trilling:
'This is going to smack of Cecil B. DeMille!'
What followed Griffin's grand entrance - he flashed a Churchillian Victory V sign - was more David Brent than The Greatest Show On Earth. The projector wouldn't work when required; the curtains failed to open on cue; the music was too loud and a 'piece of theatre' involving activists wearing pig masks grubbing in fake money filled troughs, smacked of the sixth form.
A centrepiece film boasting of the BNP's growth was so amateurish that it reduced some among the Press to giggles. (Griffin later emailed his supporters to say that we had been 'shocked' by its brilliance.) But one thing shone through: the MP expenses scandal now dominates BNP electoral strategy.
Only when pressed in a concluding media question-and-answer session did Griffin rant about race and Islam, the core issues which recently saw him support an internal party 'style' manual which stated: 'BNP activists and writers should never refer to "black Britons" or "Asian Britons" etc, for the simple reason that such persons do not exist.'
Twenty-four hours after the rally in Grays, I was sitting down in Yorkshire with an old friend of mine, a former coal miner called Pete. We both knew that this would be a slightly awkward conversation; rather like the confession of an extra-marital affair. On the phone the previous night, Pete had even used the phrase 'indigenous people', which is straight from the BNP lexicon of racial terminology.
Pete used to be, as he puts it, 'a Red'. He first went down the pit as a teenager and immersed himself in Left-wing politics. Marx's Das Kapital was on his bookshelf while Robert Tressell's socialist novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was his Bible. As a card-carrying member of the Labour Party, CND and of course the closed shop National Union of Miners, he saw the UK via marches and rallies. During the miners' strike of 1984-85 he was arrested twice while on flying picket duty in the 'scab' coalfields of Nottinghamshire.
'We used to go down there at night in balaclavas to put in the strikebreakers' windows and set fire to their cars,' he admits without a hint of regret.
From the window of the pub near Wakefield where we meet he can see the car park where '100 scab buses would gather every morning. Me and me mates would hide behind those hedges down there and pelt 'em with bricks before legging it across the fields.
'All very cowboy and Indians.'
Pete's pit closed a couple of years after the strike, though he continued to work on mining contracts elsewhere. He still voted Labour and to this day hates Margaret Thatcher. But his part of Yorkshire was changing and Pete grew 'hugely disillusioned'.
'I was a socialist and believed in socialism,' he said. 'But any man-made system or belief will be corrupted. The Labour Party grew complacent. They believed that they had the white working-class vote in their pocket by right. It stopped being concerned about us. We weren't given the chance to vote on whether or not we wanted multiculturalism. Now there are parts of Yorkshire that are no-go areas for me because I'm white. I'm surrounded by industrial estates where you can't get a job unless you are East European and prepared to work all day for peanuts. I'm not racist, but. . .'
He stopped voting in elections in 2001. He won't ever vote Tory, nor support UKIP because 'it's too middle class'. But six weeks ago he phoned the BNP. They snapped him up, very efficiently. Pete even got to talk to Griffin who, he says, promised to make him a local councillor if he wanted. Pete is still thinking on this. It may be a step too far. But he will be voting for the BNP in the foreseeable future 'to say "up yours" to the mainstream parties as much as anything'.
He drives me to the station. As we parted he said 'Don't make me look too much of a s*** . I know they still have the nasty Nazi knuckledraggers in the shadows, but the leaders are saying the things that I am thinking.'
We stared in silence at each other. Then we shrugged and went our separate ways. What was there to say as the expenses scandal raged on? Well, this perhaps: for all their newly donned suits, calls for 'patriotic duty' and posters of Spitfires and Normandy beachheads, the BNP was founded by a man called John Tyndall who said of Hitler's political work: 'Mein Kampf is my Bible.' Tyndall was the party leader before Griffin.
Churchill's use as a BNP vote winner is strange as BNP director of publicity Mark Collett once said of the great man: 'He was a f***ing c*** who led us into a pointless war with other whites [Nazi Germany] standing up for their race.'
BNP deputy leader Simon Darby appeared on stage at Grays to say: 'We are not like the other politicians, who are, quite frankly, a greedy, lying treacherous bunch of swine.' Mr Darby is also different from 'the other politicians' in that he attends neo-fascist conferences. He was recently photographed entering one such event in Milan, as other delegates gave the Nazi salute.
For his part, Griffin admitted this week that he had shared a platform with former Ku Klux Klan leader Don Black. He did so, he claimed, 'because I believe in freedom of speech and argued that his way of doing politics is wrong'. It seems Black has yet to be persuaded. The American is behind the Stormfront website which carries a forum thread titled 'BNP revolution is happening'.
One contributor writes on it, not untypically: 'I'm sorry, but Jews are not British no matter how far their lineage goes back. Jews out. Always. It's all or nothin' folks.'
Griffin has spoken of his 'direct' political line back to Mosley. So it is timely to recall that while Poles were flying Spitfires in defence of Britain, and our soldiers were fighting, Griffin's fellow-traveller was interned in Holloway jail or under house arrest, as a danger to national security.
When the Grays launch had ended I passed two BNP activists who were complaining about a question asked by a Channel 4 journalist. 'Of course, Channel 4's full of Asians,' one told the other, by way of explanation.
It was a relief to be out in the clean air and sunshine. I walked back to my car, past the memorial on which the World War II dead of Grays are listed alphabetically, from a Private Allen to Aircraftman Williamson. They did not fight and die for the right of MPs to charge moats, chandeliers and non-existent mortgages to the taxpaper. Nor for bankers to line their pockets while the economy imploded. Or communities to be divided down racial or religious lines. But it is also a travesty that their sacrifice is now being used by the Far Right.
This week, Lord Tebbit suggested that on June 4 voters should turn to the smaller parties - except the BNP which he described as 'Labour with racism'. Certainly, respect for the mainstream parties is at an all-time low. But 75 years after Olympia, we mustn't let our rotten MPs hold open the door for Mosley's successors.