Richard Barnbrook, one of the British National party's most senior figures, has been expelled as part of an increasingly bitter feud threatening to engulf the far-right organisation.
The London Assembly member, who was one of a group of rebels who tried to wrest control of the BNP from party leader Nick Griffin last month, was informed via an internal memo this week that he was no longer a party member.
"Sadly we have concluded that we are left with no alternative but to expel Richard Barnbrook from membership of the British National party," it reads. "I have written to him informing him that I have taken that action today and he is no longer a member of our party."
Barnbrook, who was the party's sole representative on the London Assembly, is one of the BNP's most high-profile officials and his expulsion comes as the party faces a growing political and financial crisis.
Since its poor showing in May's general and council elections, several senior figures have come out against Griffin, at least three local councillors have resigned the party whip and many key activists have been suspended.
The prospect of a permanent split has been heightened by the party's dire financial plight and the formation of a new faction – the BNP reform group – which is openly discussing forming a new party.
"Even by its own vicious standards this has been a bloody episode for the BNP," said Nick Lowles from anti-racist organisation Searchlight. "The relentless infighting has done serious damage to Griffin and the party's organisational ability."
Griffin's opponents have rallied around another leadership challenger, Eddie Butler, who has run the BNP's election machine in recent years. Their anger is focused on Griffin's leadership style and concern about the party's debts.
"You may think I should have little reason to have sympathy for Richard Barnbrook's plight," Butler wrote on his blog this week. "But I can see that they used and abused him … watch and observe. This is the way Nick Griffin's British National party treats its members."
Concern about the BNP's finances has been exacerbated by news that the Electoral Commission is investigating the party's 2008 accounts and that its 2009 accounts are already late. The BNP faces further legal action from the Equality and Human Rights Commission over allegations that it has failed to remove potentially racist clauses from its constitution. Lawyers say the case, due to go before the courts again in November, could see Griffin landed with a fine or even imprisonment for contempt of court.
The BNP refused to comment on reports that the party is more than £500,000 in debt or to confirm how many members had been suspended or had resigned. But Griffin has sent members increasingly desperate appeals for donations to "keep the wolves at bay and to ensure our survival". In one email he admitted that the party was "cash-struck" and needed money to fight the case being brought by the EHRC. "Be clear on this, if you don't give, we can't fight … and if we don't fight we will be shut down and killed off."
Griffin's position has been under attack since the party's poor showing in May's general election when it saw a small increase in its vote but failed to make its promised breakthrough. It also performed badly in the council elections where all but two of its 28 sitting councillors standing for re-election were beaten and it was wiped out in its east London stronghold of Barking and Dagenham. However, last month he managed to see off a leadership challenge when Barnbrook and Eddie Butler both failed to secure enough support to trigger a leadership ballot.
Barnbrook, who lost his Barking and Dagenham council seat earlier this year, resigned the party whip last month calling for an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing by party officials, although he remained a member of the party.
The memo from Clive Jefferson, the BNP's national organiser, said Barnbrook had had time to understand that his actions were "disloyal and unacceptable"
Barnbrook said yesterday that he would launch an appeal against his expulsion and that he would remain an assembly member as an independent.