The British National Party had hoped for a surge in support in May’s general and local elections. But the party’s sole Kirklees representative on Kirklees lost his seat, leader Nick Griffin finished a distant third in the BNP’s target Parliamentary seat of Barking while in Dewsbury the party’s vote fell from 5,000 to 3,200. Local government reporter BARRY GIBSON asks if the party has a future.
David Exley used to be the face of the BNP in Kirklees. He sent shockwaves through the district when he was elected to represent Heckmondwike on the council in 2003. But the Birstall man revealed to the Examiner that he left the party in June – just a month after standing as BNP candidate in Cleckheaton in the Kirklees poll and for Batley and Spen in the general election.
He said: “I resigned from the BNP. I shouldn’t really have stood at the elections. The party is not putting the emphasis on policies that appeal to the general public. At this time of year we should be asking about what’s going on with the winter provisions, we ought to have been talking about the economy and what we can do to alleviate those problems.”
Mr Exley blames the party leader for many of the BNP’s problems.
“I think it’s down to the leadership,’’ he said. “I totally lost faith in Nick Griffin’s ability to lead and prioritise. The worst thing that happened to Nick was to be elected to the European Parliament because he’s not able to do that job properly and run the party properly. I know there are a lot of people who are disillusioned.”
Mr Exley is the second former BNP Kirklees councillor to leave the party. Colin Auty, who once represented Dewsbury East, quit the party in 2008 after clashing with Mr Griffin. That leaves just Roger Roberts, the one-time Conservative who represented the BNP on Kirklees until he was defeated at May’s council election. The former Heckmondwike councillor admits the party has problems – but he believes the BNP can rebuild in Kirklees.
“There has been a lot of internal feuding and splits within the party,” he said. “The big problem is Nick Griffin and it has been for a long time. When he was elected to the European Parliament he should have stood down as leader. He has brought the party as far as he can and he should stand down now.”
But the Dewsbury man, who chairs the Kirklees branch of the party, insists the BNP is not finished.
“Within Kirklees there are some members who have withdrawn their support but only two activists have left the party,” he said. “The main nucleus is still there and we have to look to rebuild. We should be moving forward in leaps and bounds because the people have been let down by the two main parties.”
The party ran candidates in every Kirklees ward except Greenhead at May’s council elections. But Mr Roberts revealed that most voters in Huddersfield and the Valleys will not have the chance to vote for the party in next year’s council elections. He said: “I’ve always said it was silly contesting every ward and I think we should concentrate on half a dozen wards – most of them in north Kirklees – where we have a chance.”
The party’s opponents agree with Mr Roberts on one thing – the BNP is not finished in Kirklees. Council leader Clr Mehboob Khan said: “I don’t think we’ve seen the last of them. They are still around, still active and still exploiting issues in the local community.”
Clr Khan believes the party’s three Kirklees councillors were unseated because they failed to deliver for their voters. The Greenhead Labour man said: “The party’s honeymoon was over very quickly because people saw they weren’t offering an alternative. Their wicked lies and myths designed to divide communities weren’t appealing to local people. Therefore, they suffered at the ballot box.”
Clr Andrew Cooper, who leads the Green Party on Kirklees Council, agrees. The Newsome man said: “The BNP had a high watermark of three councillors which fell away very quickly. We’ve always got to be vigilant about these sort of far-right organisations. The views they put forward do not reflect the values we have as a country.”
Huddersfield Labour MP Barry Sheerman believes his party can take credit for the BNP’s downturn. He said: “We did get it wrong in areas where we are strong because we weren’t listening to people. But we’ve learned the lesson that if you don’t talk to people about issues which concern them – like immigration – you leave space for the BNP. That doesn’t mean we must take on the BNP’s policies, but we mustn’t exclude people who have concerns.”
University of Huddersfield politics lecturer Dr Andrew Mycock believes the party risks losing out to the English Defence League (EDL) which has held marches in cities across the country against the so-called Islamification of Britain. He said: “Internally the party has started to collapse into huge schisms and there are a lot of questions about Nick Griffin’s style of leadership. But the thing that’s really undermined them is the EDL which has outflanked them.
“The BNP became more mainstream and had to change its constitution to let non-white members join. Many of those on the extremes don’t see it as a party they adhere to any more. The EDL is a far more radical challenge. The BNP has tried to change things through democracy while the EDL is a return to the streets which is deliberately trying to promote conflict.”
Huddersfield Daily Examiner