Nick Griffin has lost interest in being a Member of the European Parliament and has abandoned the people of North West England who voted for him
Speaking a few days after the British National Party leader announced he would be standing in Barking in the general election, Simon Darby, the BNP deputy leader, said: “Nick believes he should be an MP in Westminster and not in the European Parliament”.
Darby was only confirming what was already clear: that Griffin has little concern for his North West of England constituency. While the people of Cumbria were suffering the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in England and even Griffin’s own publicly funded staff were worried that the roof of their new constituency office might blow off, Griffin went on a walkabout in his east London target seat, followed by a trip to Spain.
His actions have exposed him as the same type of power-hungry politician that he always accuses MPs from the three main parties of being.
Griffin claimed he had chosen Barking because it was the party’s best chance of winning a parliamentary seat. Yet only a few days before he announced his candidacy, at the party’s annual conference in Wigan, Greater Manchester, on 15 November, he had appealed for donations to launch the party’s “run-up campaign to the general election” with the promise: “In this next General Election I will be standing in Thurrock where the split vote between the old parties means we could win a Parliamentary seat with just 27% of the vote”.
Griffin had launched his campaign on a lie, as Searchlight quickly pointed out. Perhaps he thought donors were more likely to fund a campaign where the party’s target was 27% – and would overlook the improbability that such a low percentage could win them the seat – than an attempt to oust a government minister in a safe Labour seat.
Excuses followed in an attempt to cover up the blunder. Both Griffin and Darby claimed Griffin had been lured to Barking at the request of the party’s local councillors and members. Griffin also linked his decision with the party’s attempt to take over Barking and Dagenham in the May 2010 council election, which is likely to coincide with the general election, claiming his parliamentary campaign would enhance the council campaign.
And the party quickly issued a second fundraising letter from which all references to Thurrock had been expunged.
The BNP has 12 councillors in Barking and Dagenham, the largest BNP council group in the country. They have largely been ineffective against the huge Labour majority and many of them rarely attend meetings.
According to Griffin, the council campaign will be spearheaded by Richard Barnbrook, the BNP’s London Assembly member, who is currently appealing against his suspension from Barking and Dagenham council for bringing his office into disrepute by inventing a series of murders in the borough. Robert Bailey, the BNP’s leader on Barking and Dagenham council and the party’s London organiser, appears to have been sidelined.
Barnbrook’s wider ambitions have also been swept aside. At the end of September he rented a huge billboard by the side of the A406 in Barking, at great expense, to announce that it was “Barnbrook for Barking”. On his blog he proclaimed: “I, Richard Barnbrook am going to be Barking’s next MP! I’m the candidate for the British National Party …”. Lying that he had lived in the constituency for six years, he pleaded: “Back me, Richard Barnbrook, Barking’s next MP”.
Announcing his takeover of the Barking candidacy, Griffin paid tribute to Barnbrook. Acknowledging that Barnbrook had been the BNP’s prospective candidate – in an attempt to quash a widespread rumour that Barnbrook had claimed the role unilaterally – Griffin said: “You have made a most noble gesture Richard, and on behalf of the membership of our Party I would like to thank you”.
Barnbrook has not gone away without a consolation prize: he will be leader of Barking and Dagenham council if the BNP takes control of the borough. The fact that it would be up to the BNP councillors to choose the leader is presumably no barrier. If the new councillors are anything like the present lot, they will play little part in any council business.
Bailey too will not go away empty-handed. Griffin said that Barnbrook would give up his post as a London Assembly member if the party seized control of the borough. It would pass to Bailey, who was second on the BNP’s list of candidates in the 2008 election.
Before turning up in Barking on 19 November, Griffin had spent the morning in Grays, Essex, where he announced that he was handing the candidacy for Thurrock to Emma Colgate, the BNP’s local councillor. Colgate holds the balance of power on Thurrock council, which is split between Labour and the Conservatives, and used it to keep what another councillor described as a “dysfunctional Tory group” in power.
Colgate has been the BNP’s national administration officer since June. Before that she was Barnbrook’s researcher, employed at London taxpayers’ expense. She remains on the public payroll, however, as she is one of several BNP senior officers on the EU gravy train as staff for the two MEPs.
Despite Griffin’s optimism about the party’s prospects in Thurrock, she faces a difficult job. In the 2005 general election, the BNP candidate, Nick Geri, came fourth with 5.8% of the vote. Colgate herself stood in Basildon in 2005, where she came fourth with 4.8%.
Barking too will be a hard nut for the BNP to crack, which is why Griffin has said the party will spend the maximum legally allowed – several times more than it has ever spent in a single constituency.
Griffin will not have helped his campaign with his disparaging remarks about London after his disastrous performance on the BBC’s Question Time on 22 October, when he claimed the programme should not have been filmed in London because the city was “no longer British”.
Nor will his abandonment of his MEP’s role endear him to voters, who will think Griffin will only stick around until something better comes along.
Griffin’s Spanish jaunt on 21 November was also hardly how an aspiring MP should behave. Griffin was in Madrid as a special guest speaker at a rally of the far-right National Democracy party held to commemorate the death on 20 November 1975 of the Spanish fascist dictator General Franco. Also there was Griffin’s old friend and political mentor Roberto Fiore, the convicted former leader of the terrorist Armed Revolutionary Nuclei, the Italian group involved in the 1980 Bologna bombing.
The event resulted in 28 arrests of members of a rival far-right group, the Patriotic Socialist Movement, after they attacked doormen who were trying to stop them entering the hotel where the rally was taking place.
Not only did Griffin attend the fascist rally, “he may also have made a private visit to Franco’s tomb on his trip to Spain,” according to a BNP spokesman though Griffin later denied it.
Griffin has not, however, totally ignored the flooding in Cumbria. Between his trips to Barking and Madrid he asked Martin Wingfield, his constituency communications and campaigns officer, for a briefing. Griffin wants to help, said Wingfield, who would be offered Griffin’s seat as an MEP were Griffin to get elected in Barking. Griffin would consider offering his “English Fair Fund to support any local projects helping the stricken community,” Wingfield added.
Residents, at least the “indigenous ones”, will be relieved. Griffin’s so-called English Fair Fund is the 10% of his MEP’s salary that he promised during his European election campaign to give for “local community use”. That’s around £700 a month starting from 14 July, Griffin’s first day of work as an MEP, plus the income from selling Nick Griffin MEP commemorative cards printed for the BNP’s Red, White and Blue summer festival for £4.50 each.
That will go a long way. At the same time the BNP has poured scorn on the government’s announcement of £1 million in flood aid to Cumbria and cynically exploited people’s suffering as a means of attacking the government’s foreign aid budget.
Griffin’s candidacy in Barking and the BNP’s previous success in Barking and Dagenham have put the borough in the front line in HOPE not hate’s campaign against the BNP in the coming elections. The campaign will concentrate on getting voters to know exactly who Griffin is and persuading them to come out and vote against him.