A record number of general election candidates masks a British National Party suffering from internal tensions, a series of embarrassments and continuing questions over its finances
As British National Party members were still taking in the implications of the extensive constitutional changes forced on them by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, they were hit by news of the suspension of the party’s national publicity officer.
A bulletin to party organisers on 31 March accused Mark Collett of “conspiring with a small clique of other party officials to launch a ‘palace coup’” against Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, and spreading “lies and unfounded rumours”. He had therefore been “relieved of all positions within the party with immediate effect”.
Collett, 29, was also accused of “financial irregularities and scamming” over printing BNP election material and its Identity magazine, leaking sensitive party information on the internet and feeding “lies” to anti-BNP blog sites. And there had been a “catalogue of recurring and seemingly inexplicable ‘gaffes’ being made at various stages in our preparations for the general election by certain individuals within the party”.
The same bulletin stated that the police had been “made aware of very serious allegations potentially affecting the personal safety” of Griffin and Jim Dowson, the BNP’s fundraising and management consultant.
The “other party officials” said to ‘have conspired with Collett were not named. However two days after the announcement Emma Colgate resigned as the party’s staff manager saying she wanted to devote herself full-time to the election campaign in Thurrock, where she is standing for parliament and also hoping to get more BNP councillors elected.
“We’re in with a real chance in Thurrock and I want to give it my best shot,” she said. “I cannot properly work fill-time [sic] on the campaign while being paid by EU taxpayers to manage our European staff.”
As it was a party position from which she had resigned, this was a clear admission that the BNP had been ‘using EU taxpayers’ money to fund its party apparatus.
There was also a rapid exit by ‘Eddy Butler from his position as the BNP’s national organiser and national elections officer. His replacement, Clive Jefferson, is a rising star in the party. Appointed as North West regional organiser and national nominating officer last year, he too is on the BNP’s European Parliament payroll.
However Butler was “still very much with the BNP and is set to play a leading role in the party’s attempt to take control of the Barking and Dagenham council,” a special meeting of party officers and organisers was told.
The meeting, rapidly convened ‘on Easter Monday, “unanimously” appointed a “four man strong subcommittee” to listen to an alleged tape recording of a conversation between Collett and the party treasurer David Hannam, which the party claims would enable the police to “investigate a number of potential crimes including threats to murder, assault, fraud and falsification of accounts”, according to a BNP statement issued afterwards.
The committee declared the tape genuine, although the statement did not explain how they arrived at that verdict. However it is understood that the police are unlikely to bring any charges because the tape has been “edited”.
Perhaps the BNP did not really want a prosecution as a court case might reveal a lot more than it wishes to be made public.
Butler’s precise role in the BNP’s Barking and Dagenham campaign is unclear. Last November Griffin anno-unced that Richard Barnbrook, the BNP’s London Assembly member, would spearhead the campaign. ‘Perhaps he has not been producing ‘the canvassing returns Griffin expects.
Barnbrook and Butler are both standing for election in Goresbrook ward, where the BNP currently has two councillors. Butler recently put himself on the electoral register in Dagenham, despite remaining on the register at his real home in Loughton, Essex. Barnbrook and Bob Bailey, the BNP’s council group leader, pulled a similar trick at the time of their election in 2006. They got away with it then, but Butler and some other BNP candidates who have suddenly “moved” to Barking and Dagenham are likely to face investigation if elected.
Even so, the BNP has only managed to find 34 candidates for the 51 council seats in the borough, making it near impossible for it to win the 26 councillors needed to gain control.
This is not the BNP’s only problem. Delays have beset the party’s general election manifesto. As we went to press, the BNP said it would be launched in Stoke-on-Trent on 23 April, less than two weeks before polling day. The party has previously announced that its main election themes would be withdrawal from Afghanistan, immigration and “the global warming conspiracy”. ‘On the issue that is near the top in most voters’ minds, the economy, the fascist party has little to say.
Whether the manifesto delay is one of the “gaffes” being blamed on Collett is not known, but Collett would most likely have been responsible for its design and printing.
One huge gaffe unlikely to be Collett’s responsibility, because it occurred on 14 April well after ‘Collett’s departure, was the Normandy veteran fiasco. The previous day HOPE not hate sent an email to supporters asking them to join its big day of action on 17 April. Headed “I fought the Nazis. Will you?” it consisted of a personal message from Kenneth Riley, a Normandy veteran who fought in the Tank Division.
Amazingly the next day the BNP posted a nearly word-for-word identical message on its website, excepted that it implored people to support the party. ‘It was signed off by “Bob Head”, who claimed to have been “attached to the 51st Highland Division”. Instead of asking for volunteers, it solicited ‘£20 donations.
Riley was furious that the BNP had “stolen” his words and put his name to a new email for HOPE not hate to raise money for the anti-BNP campaign. ‘The Normandy Veterans Association said it had never heard of Head and ‘cast doubt on his claimed service record and medals.
Head’s email was one of only a small number appealing for donations for the BNP’s election campaign. Unlike in the run-up to last year’s European election, the BNP’s fundraising effort this year has been lacklustre. No begging letters have been dispatched for some time ‘and appeals on the party’s website and by email have been unambitious. Website donation links go straight to a form without any exhortation to encourage generosity.
The official launch of the BNP’s campaign fund on 10 April claimed ‘that the party had already raised £275,000, including £165,000 in election deposits, and was looking for another £180,000. The party was not being entirely straight. Most general election candidates are expected to pay their own £500 deposits or raise the money locally.
For several weeks the party has been reporting branch meetings around the country that have raised highly unlikely sums, considering that most of its supporters come from the lower socio-economic groups. Revelations that Griffin and Andrew Brons, his fellow MEP, have been misusing their European parliamentary expenses, coupled with the Collett “financial irregularities” accusation, cannot have enhanced the confidence of potential donors that their money would be well spent.
To add to the party’s financial woes, the Electoral Commission announced on 15 April that it had upgraded its review of the British National Party’s accounts to a formal investigation.
The BNP has already been fined £1,000 because its 2008 accounts ‘were submitted nearly six months late. They came with a report from the party’s auditors, Silver & Co, stating that they did not give a true and fair view and did not “comply with the requirements of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 as adequate records have not been made available”. Even Griffin admitted the accounts were “inadequate”.
The Electoral Commission emphasised that the fact that an investigation had been launched did ‘not mean that electoral rules had ‘been breached. A statement by the commission explained that “no conclusion has been reached and therefore no assumption should be made as to whether a breach of the ‘rules has occurred”.
That did not stop the BNP describing the investigation as “an obviously politically motivated attack” and claiming ludicrously that the party had been assured it would be closed the following week.
Meanwhile the embarrassing leaks of financial information that the BNP tried to blame on Collett appear to be continuing. Earlier this year it emerged that the BNP had paid over £360,000 to businesses connected with Dowson during the first 11 months of 2009, a significant proportion of the party’s budget. This fact and the central position Dowson holds in the BNP’s operations gave rise to our conclusion that Dowson in effect owns the BNP.
The latest leak suggests that Dowson’s hold over the party continues, with more than £51,000 paid to his company Adlorries.com in March alone.
It has been suggested that Dowson was responsible for Collett’s suspension and supporters of Collett have thrown the “financial irregularities” accusation back at Dowson. Many in the BNP are suspicious of the close relationship between Griffin and Dowson, who claims he is not a party member.
Whether Collett’s BNP career is truly over remains to be seen. His Wikipedia page, which was hastily updated to record his suspension, states that his membership was reinstated a week later, though he has not got his old job back.
Collett has bounced back twice before, once after he notoriously starred in the television documentary Young, Nazi and Proud, in which he said he was inspired by images of German Nazis “sieg heiling” in the streets, the second time after the internal rebellion in the BNP in winter 2007-08, when he was widely accused of incompetence. He claims to remain “completely loyal” to the party and has offered to help with local election material.