Some of Britain’s most respected military commanders have been drawn into an extraordinary public row with the British National Party after the party's leader compared them to Nazi generals hanged for war crimes.
Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, accused General Sir Richard Dannatt and General Sir Mike Jackson, two former chiefs of the general staff, of complicity in “illegal” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the MPs’ expenses scandal.
Mr Griffin’s attack came after the generals added their names to a new campaign against the BNP's attempts to “steal the valour” of the Armed Forces by using wartime images and slogans.
The party routinely uses images of Spitfires in its campaign material, and has also invoked the memory of Sir Winston Churchill.
In an ITV News interview, Mr Griffin claimed that Sir Winston would backed his party if he were alive today. "His only place would be in the British National Party," he said.
Promising to counter such propaganda, the Nothing British campaign launched on Tuesday with a report warning: “The forces of extremism and racism are hijacking the good name of Britain's military.”
The campaign, organised by Conservative activists, is backed by retired senior service personnel including the generals, who signed an open letter on the issue.
“We call on all those who seek to hijack the good name of Britain's military for their own advantage to cease and desist,” they wrote. “The values of these extremists – many of whom are essentially racist – are fundamentally at odds with the values of the modern British military, such as tolerance and fairness.”
Mr Griffin responded with a lengthy tirade on the BNP’s website, likening the generals to Nazi military chiefs.
He said: “Those Tory generals who today attacked the British National Party should remember that at the Nuremberg Trials, the politicians and generals accused of waging illegal aggressive wars were all charged — and hanged — together.
He added: “Sir Richard and Sir Mike fall squarely into this bracket, and they must not think that they will escape culpability for pursuing the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Mr Griffin singled out Sir Richard, who stepped down as CGS in August and has agreed to become an adviser on defence to the Conservatives.
Mr Griffin said: “Sir Richard said nothing about the fact that low-paid British soldiers have to buy their own kit because the Government has deliberately underfunded the army, despite sending our soldiers to foreign conflicts which have nothing to do with us.”
Sir Mike declined to respond to Mr Griffin’s comments. In an earlier BBC interview, he insisted that the military remains apolitical and his support for the Nothing British campaign was not partisan.
He said: "This is not in any sense party political. It is an issue about the reputation and good name and the tolerance of the British armed forces.”
In a separate interview, Mr Griffin said that his party has widespread support among serving service personnel.
“I'm the one who talks to the families of young squaddies and large numbers of ex-servicemen and they all say that almost everyone at the coalface, fighting in Afghanistan, vote for the British National Party," he said.
Last year, a leaked BNP membership list contained the names of 16 people who were described as servicemen including a Royal Marines Commando.
Among the 68 members listed as former servicemen were one Chelsea Pensioner, three Paras, three Guards and two Royal Marines.