It's often said that the “Characters” - the “One-Offs” - are disappearing from British politics to make way for the bland and the corporate. In fact, only last weekend, the Labour Party have bravely attempted to redress the balance by rejecting the leadership bid of presentable, clone-like “Mr Spock” Miliband in favour of the altogether more visually exciting “Aardman Animation” Miliband.
Over on a rather smaller stage, meanwhile, we have lost a true, erm... “Character”. Richard Barnbrook – the BNP's Man At The London Assembly, has (ironically for one so obsessed with knife crime) finally been stabbed in the back by Nick Griffin.
His political “career” (and I use the term advisedly: Not so much as a series of interlinked terms of employment but rather as something that's out of control and hurtling downhill), has done so much to brighten the humdrum days of Anti-Fascists that it'll be hard not to miss the fool, come May 2012.
The ex-teacher first aroused (if that's the right word) attention when his 1989 student film “HMS Discovery: A Love Story” came to light and was described by some who saw it as “gay porn”. While the mere fact that it contained scenes of male nudity and flagellation shouldn't be used to automatically condemn it as “porn” (after all, “The Passion Of The Christ” has that. AND Judas gets to plant a big kiss on Jesus...), the snippet I've seen is such a towering anti-masterpiece of shonky camerawork, staplegun editing and incoherent narrative that it would be fairer to take issue with its being called “a film”.
His directorial career in tatters, the famously Dyslexic Barnbrook entered the world of politics; first as a Labour Party activist before realising his mistake and joining the BNP. His Dyslexia must be REALLY bad.
Meanwhile, he was employed designing decorative planting schemes to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee. Only one such bed was completed, however, before his BNP activities were discovered and he was invited to move on. ( There Presumably being some kind of protocol issue in HRH being associated with more than one rancid old xenophobe at a time.)
So politics beckoned. Adopting his now-trademark beige suit – a particularly unwise choice - it just makes him look like he's come dressed as a sepia print – Barnbrook worked tirelessly as a BNP organiser, standing as the doomed Parliamentary Candidate for Barking in the 2005 elections and the doomed Mayoral Candidate in 2008, before finally making it to the GLA (thanks to the List System) in the same elections.
Next to his career in the Assembly, Barnbrook's early attempt at filmmaking looks like the lost works of Orson Welles. If Boris Johnson could, in terms of his eloquence and quiet dignity, make Ozzy Osbourne look urbane, then Richard Barnbrook could make Shane MacGowan resemble a veritable Cary Grant with the intellect of a Stephen Fry and the oratorical skills of Plato. It's even rumoured that, come 2012, should the Tories hold the office, Boris will keep him on the Mayor's payroll – paying him a handsome stipend just to stand next to him and make him look normal.
The tics. The eccentric turn of phrase. The funny voices. The occasional treat of his St Georges' Day parade – Dickie could never be accused of being a political giant. But, my God – if he speaks in the Assembly you sit up and watch him. Maybe not for the reason he'd want you to, but you certainly watch him...
And his personal life has become as entertaining as his political conduct: Rumoured to be something of a Player on the Party's social circuit (although one possibly doesn't have to try too hard among the available company: given the conduct of most BNP males, I suspect that if you can manage to eat with your mouth shut and close the toilet door you'd be regarded as something between Roger Moore and Nigel Havers), he has been linked to a number of like-minded partners; the highest profile being Simone Clarke, the “BNP Ballerina” (formerly of the Royal Ballet: Currently based in a Leeds village hall. Another fine example of the BNP's effect on career advancement).
On the subject of Dance: Whatever happens in his political career, Dickie will always retain a place in the public affection for his own, unique contribution to the Terpsichorean Arts (see the video below). Of course, the same display also points to his lack of political savvy – if only he'd thought it through and said it was a performance-based artwork exploring concepts of political alienation interpreted through the medium of free-form slamdancing, he probably could've picked up a tasty GLA grant for it.
Given the Candide-like shambles of his life, it's hardly surprising to note that Barnbrook has long been beset with rumours of a drink problem. Not that such a thing is unusual in politics: My own father was, long ago, on the regular campaign team for our one-time local MP, George Brown. Who was pissed from around 1945 to the mid-eighties. Didn't stop him making Foreign Secretary, though (although check out the infamous “Archbishop of Lima” story...). Indeed, Disraeli was reputed to enjoy the odd glass (or ten) and Churchill managed to win a War while completely hammered. These people didn't, however, seem to let it interfere with their work: Given Dickie's “eccentricities”, it's almost impossible to tell.
To paraphrase St John: “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his political life for his Leader.” For all his weird behaviour, the least accountable has been Barnbrook's willingness to sacrifice his credibility and career (such as they are) to come to the aid of his beloved Nick Griffin.
A shoe-in to fight Barking and Dagenham in May's General Election, he caved in to his Leader's demand that Griffin get a free run at the seat when it began to look a safer bet than Thurrock, the constituency he was already pledged to fight. The result, of course, was total annihilation: Nick's golden touch, easy charm and legendary popularity with his electorate ensured that, not only did he drop the vote by 2% but he wiped out every BNP Councillor there while he was at it.
Then came the “Leadership Election”. For whatever reason (but, of course, we suspect because his Master told him to), Barnbrook stood as a stalking horse candidate. If the B & D election was merely embarrassing, the Leadership Contest must have been the political equivalent of being forced to dance naked in a muddy puddle while tramps throw fruit at you. A staggering 23 people chose to back him. Out of more than 2000. He probably felt like a drink after that one.
And then, finally learning the lesson that doing favours for Nick Griffin is about as solid a guarantee of engendering goodwill as buying a box of chocolates for a puff-adder, Barnbrook resigned the Party Whip in the GLA.
Predictably, there was fury at Welshpool. Even more predictably, Clive Jefferson was dispatched to deliver the final blow and expel him from the Party.
It's unclear at the moment whether Barnbrook will vacate his Assembly seat in favour of the next person on the List. Personally, and just to annoy the hell out of his (former) Leader, I hope he stays put.
Or at least takes his dance show on national tour.