“The man in the beige suit, dyslexic and partial to the occasional drink” is Richard Barnbrook’s idiosyncratic way of inviting support for his bid to become chairman of the British National Party. In any other party a leader “partial to the occasional drink” has to resign, but as in so many things the BNP is different.
Barnbrook is one of three candidates who have declared their intention to try to replace Nick Griffin as leader of the racist party. He and Derek Adams are latecomers to the contest, although Eddy Butler, who has been actively gathering support since May, has predicted for some time that Griffin would put up a “stooge” candidate.
Candidates for the leadership have to obtain nominations from 20% of the 4,200 members of at least two years’ standing, something that Butler describes as “incredibly difficult” as most of those 4,200 are “armchair members, unknown to most organisers and activists”. The more candidates, the more difficult it is for any one of them to obtain the 840 signatures needed.
On Sunday Butler claimed that the mastermind of the “stalking horse” campaign was Patrick Harrington, Griffin’s old friend from his National Front days, who is now a member of the executive committee of Third Way, a rival to the BNP. Harrington was recently taken onto the BNP’s payroll in a human resources role, a bizarre position for the general secretary of a trade union, except that “Solidarity” is not a real union but a BNP front. It is unlikely there will be any action soon from Solidarity to represent those BNP employees who were not paid in June because the party has run out of money.
Barnbrook, the BNP’s London Assembly member, is prominent in the BNP in London and the south of the country. It had been thought that he was supporting Butler and had been sacked as the party’s Barking and Dagenham organiser because of it. However Butler says enigmatically that Chris Roberts, the BNP’s London organiser, replaced Barnbrook by an unnamed “hard working and well respected local activist who is, I believe, a supporter of Nick Griffin”, so that Barnbrook could concentrate on his London Assembly role.
Adams, who used to run a pub in Manchester that was used for a BNP victory rally after Griffin’s election to the European Parliament last year, is more likely to attract support among BNP members in the north. His electoral pitch amounts to very little: he loves the BNP, it is doing very well, but if you think a change is needed then nominate me, a “clean-hands candidate who will be a fresh face but who, unlike Mr Butler, has not sought to advance my candidacy by working with supporters who spread lies and black propaganda”. Despite his claim not to be “a stalking horse for undeclared and shadowy third parties”, his parroting of Griffin’s line shows that is exactly what he is.
Although Griffin does not need to collect signatures as his name goes forward automatically, he has also set out his stall in the hope that members will tick the box on the “official” nomination form in support of him continuing rather than nominating Butler. Hypocritically he, who has so often sacked party employees on the spot in contravention of employment legislation, and has most recently incurred a huge liability to settle with Michaela Mackenzie who took her unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal, argues against Butler’s plan to close the party’s Belfast call centre as it would mean breaking contracts and sacking “our young team”.
Arrogant as always, Griffin does not appeal for support but for no election at all. “In ten years, our activists and I have turned this party from a bad political joke into a major factor in British politics. There is still much to be done, and it is best done under proven, principled and visionary leadership, without futile, time-wasting elections.”
Many supporters and opponents of the BNP believe that the party remains a “bad political joke”, judging by Griffin’s recent actions, such as making the party liable for up to £170,000 because of his stupid and infantile act of including the image of a jar of Marmite on the BNP’s general election broadcast.
The announcement of the candidates on the BNP website, posted on the BNP website in the early hours of Monday 19 July, makes a point of listing the candidates’ 150-word statements in alphabetical order. Is it coincidence that both the new candidates appear higher in the alphabet than Butler, in a petty ploy to exploit the ultra short attention span of many BNP members?
The official scrutineer, whose job it will be to collect nomination forms from the PO Box set up for the purpose and to open them, is Andrew Brons MEP. Brons works closely with Griffin in the European Parliament and shares constituency office staff with him. It is unclear whether Butler agrees that Brons’s appointment is the “fairest way” to ensure that the “process is seen to be fair and totally impartial”.
Butler has rejected the election rules, drawn up by Clive Jefferson as head of the BNP’s “elections department”, under which nominations for the leadership can only be made by members personally posting their “official” nomination form, with witnessed signature, to Brons. He continues to urge his supporters to download forms from his blog (the existence of which is itself a contravention of Jefferson’s rules) and to return them to him.
Nominations close on 10 August, after which a new outbreak of accusations and recriminations about whether Butler has been validly nominated is expected, a row that is likely to end up in court.
Sonia Gable at HOPE not hate