Nick Griffin is engaging in contortions and sleight of hand to keep his members happy and ensure they keep on giving him their money. Sonia Gable investigates
The British National Party “has almost righted itself financially after the massive outlay incurred in winning seats in the Euro elections,” according to Eddy Butler, the party’s national organiser.
The announcement on 9 September followed three months of desperate begging letters and emails from Nick Griffin, the British National Party leader, claiming his party was “cash strapped” after the European election campaign.
However it was not donations that had brought about the claimed change in the party’s fortunes but “a few short hard months of financial stringency”, said Butler. And “Chairman Nick Griffin has given up his party salary as he is now paid as an MEP”.
It is unclear why Butler is making announcements about the BNP’s finances as he is not the party’s treasurer. Perhaps that explains why he goes on to contradict himself. “It should be clear from what I have said that the party is urgently in need of extra funding in the aftermath of the European election,” his statement continued. Referring to the legal action by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) over the BNP’s “whites only” membership criterion, he added: “In these difficult times the party needs the understanding and loyal support of its army of members and donors”.
The EHRC court case means Griffin has to tread very carefully. He does not want to fight the case because he is not confident the party can win and losing in court is very expensive. “For us to take this case to the next hearing would mean raising and risking at least £80,000,” Griffin wrote in an appeal headed “Emergency update. Adapt or die!” And “to take it all the way to the House of Lords would swallow up well over a million pounds”.
But Griffin is clearly having trouble taking his members with him. That the BNP should not admit non-whites is at the core of their ideology. In their minds to let black people and Asians join would be a betrayal of everything their party stands for.
Cleverly Griffin throws the decision back to his members, while ensuring he will have the outcome he needs. By letting the case go to a first hearing in court, at which the party obtained an adjournment but was ordered to pay the EHRC’s costs, which Griffin puts at “thousands of pounds”, he can argue that the party does not have a choice but to change its membership policy.
Griffin also contends that the hearing shows that “traditional British justice … is dead [his emphasis], murdered as part of New Labour’s creeping coup d’état”. In other words the BNP doesn’t have a chance against the EHRC (which Griffin persistently calls the CEHR) with its “70 top lawyers and £70 million to burn”, because the system is unfair and everyone is ganged up against the BNP.
Having fed to bursting his members’ vision of themselves as martyrs, Griffin concedes that “we could still fight it all the way on a point of stubborn principle”. But it is up to the members to decide. “If the party collectively wants to fight, then we have to raise £80,000 extra in the next four weeks.”
But in a sleight of hand, that money would not even go towards fighting the court case but to “buy in more top lawyers’ time to triple check and hone to perfection the changes we would have to make to our constitution and organisation”.
So if the party doesn’t raise the money Griffin won’t fight the case and if it does raise the money, he won’t fight it either.
A cynic might even suggest that Griffin deliberately delayed instructing lawyers to represent the party until the day before the court hearing, not only as a means of buying time by making it impossible for the court to refuse an adjournment, but also to ensure an award of costs against the BNP so proving to his members how expensive fighting the case would be.
Griffin’s chosen means of raising the money – the life membership offer – will guarantee failure in any case. Members are being asked to stump up a full £395 to become a BNP member for life. This is supposedly a discount from the full £500 that life membership will cost in future.
Few BNP members have £395 to spare, especially after the BNP’s numerous calls on their generosity over the past two years. And with the high membership turnover in the party, even those who could afford it are unlikely be sufficiently committed. Of the BNP’s claimed 10,000 or so members, only around 250 are dedicated activists and many of those are unemployed or in low-paid jobs. The BNP’s membership is greatly slanted towards socio-economic groups C, D and E.
It would take 200 life memberships to raise the necessary funds, provided all the money goes towards hiring the top lawyers. That may not happen. Simon Darby, the BNP treasurer and press officer, told a journalist last month that one of the aims of the life membership drive was to raise funds for the 2010 election campaign. He also stated that the party was short of funds – one day after Butler’s more optimistic assessment.
Darby also revealed that the continued absence of the BNP’s 2008 accounts was the result of extenuating circumstances and blamed an unnamed third party. In last month’s Searchlight we recalled that when the 2006 accounts were greatly delayed, Griffin blamed Kenny Smith, one of the leaders of the internal rebellion that broke out in December 2007. We believed that this year he had no such excuse.
We underestimated Griffin’s ability to wriggle out of any difficulty by finding a scapegoat. We do not yet know who will have to carry the can for the 2008 accounts but two candidates spring to mind.
One is Michaela Mackenzie, who earlier this year was quietly dropped as the BNP’s administration officer and national nominating officer, in charge of ensuring all election paperwork is in order. In January the BNP Advisory Council tasked her with investigating the implications of data protection legislation for the BNP. Perhaps she did not like what she found.
The other is Jennie Noble, appointed the BNP’s treasurer in summer 2008, only to be replaced a year later. When Griffin announced the formation of a “full Treasury Department” headed by a “chartered accountant” last April, he thanked Noble for using her “extensive financial experience in pension fund management” to get the BNP accounts into shape and said the party owed her “a big debt of gratitude”.
It would not be the first time Griffin has lavished praise on someone before putting the boot in.
Noble would “switch duties to take on running the Trafalgar Club”, said Griffin. The club, whose members have to pay at least £15 a month, would be “undergoing a major revamp and expansion later this year in order to raise its profile as the flagship of the Party”.
That was in April. In August Trafalgar Club members received their first newsletter for some time, apologising for the “poor service over the last year” and claiming that the ten-year-old club was “working hard to sort out the administrative weaknesses … since Jean stepped down as Secretary”.
“Jean” is Jean Griffin, the BNP leader’s mother. The newsletter was signed by his wife, Jackie, “Acting Trafalgar Club Secretary”. Noble appeared to have disappeared without trace.
The administrative weaknesses encompassed postal subscription records, outstanding gifts, standing orders and cheques – just about everything really. The club’s spring lunch had not taken place this year because Adam Champneys, one of the BNP’s few large donors, who hosted the event in 2008 on his Kent farm, had been ill. However Jackie Griffin did have “a lovely hotel booked in Herefordshire” for the club’s main annual event, the Trafalgar Day black tie dinner on 24 October. They were also still working on plans to “re-launch the Club later this year, including an advertising campaign to raise its profile and prestige”.
The club’s sole purpose is to raise money for the BNP. Whatever Butler says, the BNP desperately needs money after spending up to £600,000 on the European election campaign and with a general election at most nine months away. Butler’s claim that the BNP has nearly pulled itself out of the financial trough may be motivated more by a need to stem the disillusionment among party members. They dug deep into their pockets for the European campaign in the hope that the election of MEPs would secure millions of euros, only to be told that none of the European Parliament funding can be used for the party so they would have to carry on giving. And now the party wants £395 for life membership. Members could be forgiven for saying “you’ve got to be joking”.
Sonia Gable writing in Searchlight