The Armed Forces are in danger of being hijacked by far-right extremists “for their own dubious ends”, a group of former generals warn today.
The British National Party is tarnishing the Forces’ reputation by associating itself with the sacrifices of servicemen, they write. They highlight fears within military circles that the party is exploiting their public standing.
The letter, seen by The Times, is signed by General Sir Mike Jackson and General Sir Richard Dannatt, the former heads of the Army, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, former Chief of the Defence Staff, and Major-General Patrick Cordingley, commander of the Desert Rats in the Gulf War.
“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 write. “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.”
They point out that 10 per cent of servicemen and women are from the Commonwealth. “The reputation of our Armed Forces was won over centuries of service in some of the most difficult areas of the world,” they say. “Political extremists should claim no right to share in this proud heritage.”
The letter is part of a campaign launched today that attempts to highlight the BNP’s strategy of cloaking itself in the military.
It comes amid anger at the BBC’s invitation to the BNP leader Nick Griffin to appear on Question Time this week. The Times revealed this month that the party had been targeting veterans’ charities to widen its appeal.
General Jackson told The Times: “The BNP is claiming that it has a better relationship with the Armed Forces than other political parties. How dare they use the image of the Army, in particular, to promote their policies. These people are beyond the pale.”
The BNP has repeatedly used insignia, images of Winston Churchill and pictures of soldiers. It named its campaign for the European elections, in which it won two seats and nearly a million votes, the “Battle for Britain”. Its campaign logo was the Spitfire and it regularly evokes the “spirit of the Blitz” on its website.
Mr Griffin repeatedly wears a poppy badge despite objections by the Royal British Legion, which has accused him of exploiting an emotive issue.
The generals’ letter forms part of a campaign, titled Stolen Valour, by leading military figures and Nothing British, an organisation that monitors the BNP. It calls on the Charity Commission to clamp down on BNP organisations masquerading as veterans charities and calls for legal action to be taken against unauthorised use of photographs. The campaign includes YouTube videos recorded by Andy McNab, the former SAS soldier, and Simon Weston, the Falklands veteran.