Simon Darby, the deputy BNP leader, once promised that he would never desert the people of Dudley North, where he had stood in previous elections. In January he did just that.
He had set his sights on the more winnable constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central. Over the past few years Alby Walker, the Stoke BNP council group leader, had given the BNP a measure of respectability, gradually gaining nine council seats and ‘setting the party on the road to ‘taking control. This steady progress has now been derailed. Darby and Nick Griffin, the party leader, in their rush for glory pushed Walker aside and declared Darby the candidate. Walker stood down as branch organiser shortly before Christmas causing the local party to fracture.
Wary of Walker’s popularity in the local BNP and the local community, the BNP cautioned its followers not to attack him. Darby damned him with faint praise on his blog, claiming that Walker had endorsed his campaign and would act as his election agent. However, on the day Darby launched his campaign Walker threw a spanner in the works with an announcement that he had left the BNP and would stand against Darby as an independent. The gloves came off. Darby began impugning Walker’s reputation, insinuating that the local Labour party had bought him off.
On a regional BBC programme Walker stated, “there’s a vein of Holocaust denying within the BNP that I cannot identify myself with. They’ve still got senior members of the BNP who will be candidates in the general election that have nazi, naziesque sympathies.”
He also accused Griffin of using the BNP “as some kind of vehicle to make himself rich and famous”. He added later that the BNP insisted its candidates undergo training on how to answer questions about the Holocaust, aware that its antisemitism was its Achilles heel.
The BNP responded viciously, stating that Walker had jumped ‘before he was pushed because of his “pressing mental health issues”, an accusation that is a hallmark of totalitarian regimes the world over. ‘It also insinuated that Walker was a former football hooligan. The statement was quickly removed from the party website but the damage was done. Ellie Walker, Alby’s wife who was also a BNP councillor, declared herself independent. It was to be expected, stated Simon Darby though gritted teeth.
Walker’s resignation has seriously affected Stoke BNP. In 2008 the party fielded a record 11 council candidates; this year it has only six, two of whom are councillors seeking re-election. Michael Coleman, who took over ‘from Walker, conceded that he had approached 25 people to contest the 20 available city council seats for the BNP but most declined.
“I have had a bit of a falling-out with people over this and it has caused a rift within the group,” Coleman admitted. “We thought we would be able to ‘put up about 14 candidates this year. The Alby Walker situation has also damaged us to a degree, as some of the people who would have stood for us have left because they feel he has been treated badly.”
Only a few months ago the BNP looked likely to emerge as the dominant force on a fractured city council. Instead, having found only four new candidates, Coleman is squandering one in an act of petty spite by putting him up against ‘Alby Walker in Abbey Green in an attempt to damage Walker’s chances of re-election. The remaining BNP councillor in Abbey Green, Melanie Baddley, enters the general election, in which she is contesting Stoke North, with her reputation tarnished following the arrest of her husband over an alleged drugs offence. He is currently on police bail.
Stoke BNP also has to contend with the emergence of the England First Party (EFP) in the city, which is giving disgruntled former BNP activists a vehicle for their discontent. Coleman dismissed it as “just vengeful hatred” from former members “directed against myself and possibly a few others in the BNP”. No doubt he is incensed that Spencer Cartlidge, once a regular BNP candidate who left before the 2008 elections, is challenging BNP councillor Anthony Simmonds in Weston and Meir North.
Another EFP candidate, Mark Leat, is a former BNP councillor for Longton North who was sacked from the BNP and subsequently defeated, but is contesting the ward again. The BNP could not find anyone to stand ‘against him. The EFP is also contesting Fenton, where the BNP polled 36.1% ‘in 2006 but is not standing this time. This, perhaps more than anything else, is indicative of the turmoil within the BNP in Stoke.