March 21, 2011
Posted by Antifascist
The years of ideological neglect which saw the once mighty NF falter into little more than a spent Hitler-admiring political sect, were swept away with the ascent of the Cambridge graduate. He used long words and waved strange flags, he excited and enthused as much as he shocked and confused his followers. In his own words, you were viewed as old if you were in your thirties. He then lost control of the NF, dumped it and walked away, not long afterwards being declared a bankrupt. An incident with a shotgun robbed him of his eye.
Nearly twenty years on from the death of his “Political Soldier” NF, Griffin must be experiencing déjà vu. For the second time in his unillustrious career, Griffin is watching another party he led turn in on itself and more disturbingly for Griffin, against him again.
The British National Party and Griffin in particular are now in serious trouble. The party has gone from extreme and bullish to bellicose, lazy and confused in just over a year. The rot had set in well before last year’s electoral humiliations.
The problems had been evident since the moment Griffin took over the leadership in 1999. Each time there was discourse or a popular uprising, political conditions were such for Griffin and the BNP that he could simply paper over the cracks as the party’s members clung onto their wild political dreams.
The party under Griffin has had no fewer than four serious splits – splits that each time dented the party. Even Eddy Butler, Griffin’s most formidable and experienced opponent to date, admits that despite his fears and doubts about Griffin’s behaviour it “seemed stupid” for him to take a stand on principle “when the BNP seemed politically to be taking the correct course”. Even if, as Butler claims further, when the BNP made its first electoral gains in 2002 “Nick Griffin copied word for word my discourse”.
Of course, Griffin has never been alone when it has come to driving his political ambitions into the wilderness. His trip up the revolutionary and religious garden path in the 1980s was inspired and facilitated by Italian fascists wanted for questioning over terrorist acts, who turned his Conservative head towards dead Eastern European demigods, Colonel Gaddafi, stupidity and a temporary political suicide.
It’s either a lack of confidence in spite of his arrogance or perhaps extremely poor judgement in others that has ensured Griffin has never sunk alone. The younger and impressionable Patrick Harrington acted as Griffin’s “wingman” during their NF days, even obligingly photographing Griffin standing in front of a portrait of their political hero Colonel Gaddafi while on a begging mission to Tripoli. Harrington then took the picture to the London magazine Time Out, exposing the NF’s leadership to an uncomfortable scrutiny that has followed them everywhere since then. Since the pair ran the NF into the ground, Harrington has borne the brunt of the venom directed at the two by former members and observers, while Griffin has made a thousand public apologies and self-criticisms for his few years of revolutionary weakness, even backing a violent street approach when joining the BNP in the mid nineties, to stave off the party’s modernisers at the time.
Harrington appears to have developed no such weakness for popularity contests, and since joining Griffin on the BNP’s European payroll and as leader of the BNP’s trade union front Solidarity, has seemingly continued a destructive and controversial course that Griffin so warmed to. Others have fallen by the wayside; Dr Mark Deavin, formerly of the UK Independence Party and a close friend of David Irving, jumped ship when exposed as Griffin’s right-hand man by the Cook Report in an exposé screened in 1997 exposing Griffin’s plan to take over the party. The NF’s Wayne Ashcroft also deserted Griffin after he too was exposed. His job was supposed to be the delivery of the rump of what was left of the NF, a party that remained ferociously anti-Griffin.
While the old guard put up a formidable fight to stop Griffin sweeping to power in the BNP’s first ever leadership contest in 1999, they were crushed by a campaign orchestrated to humiliate them and destroy their own political careers and aspirations by ridicule, populism and modernisation.
Griffin’s eventual running mate for wresting control of the BNP was the convicted bomber Tony Lecomber, a man who had also reinvented himself after a period of terrorism, street thuggery and imprisonment. Lecomber had used the second chance given to him by the party to get himself close enough to John Tyndall, who was then the BNP leader, to be in a prime position when the time came to deliver the fatal and personal blows to Tyndall’s leadership.
A steady growth and the capture of several council seats around the country from 2002 onwards allowed Griffin the sort of leeway Butler speaks of. Scandals involving extensions to his family home and the sale of second hand cars in the party’s publications caused large rifts, large enough even to see off some deputy leaders, but Griffin’s real weakness has been to surround himself during his 12-year tenure with people of either dubious morals or personality defects.
Lecomber later fell by the wayside after Griffin’s former bodyguard exposed what is alleged to have been a plot orchestrated by Lecomber to hire him for politically motivated murders. The bodyguard, an alleged gangland hitman, fell by the wayside himself and suffered too from the party’s desire to purge not people of questionable values and lifestyle, but those expressing dissent in what they felt was the defence of the party over Griffin’s personal interests.
The closer people get to Griffin, the more obvious it seems that it is their own judgement call over whether they protect the interests of the party or adhere to the cult of Griffin’s personality. By keeping and promoting people with behavioural, political or lifestyle skeletons in their cupboards, Griffin is able to keep a lid on dissenters and the competition firmly at bay. But the past 12 months has seen this all collapse like a house of cards.
The Belfast operation, a call centre staffed by the family of both Griffin and its owner Jim Dowson, drew national and international attention to the way that Griffin’s BNP did business. Dowson, an evangelical anti-abortionist with an ego almost as big as Griffin’s, had a record for screwing money out of people by any means necessary and an arrogance that demanded he was obeyed and was always right. Initially Griffin promoted Dowson to run almost every operation in the party, from funding to staffing and even some aspects of campaigning. When Dowson spoke, party members and employees had to dance to his tune. The large sums of cash funnelled into the party were far more important than the constant noise of disquiet emanating from within the party over the business practices, which often bordered on plain harassment.
Griffin’s election to the European Parliament in 2009, his tenth year as leader, quelled an internal revolt. Dowson took a huge amount of the credit, the success of Griffin and Andrew Brons in getting elected to Europe was due to the large amount of money Dowson had raised and the professional looking operation he ran for the party. The dissent in the party immediately quietened down, but it was perhaps to be the last great political celebration of Griffin’s leadership. Dowson paid the piper and now the man described as Griffin’s consigliere, a term for a Mafia adviser, was calling the tune and being referred to as the party’s owner.
Searchlight threw a large amount of resources into investigating the call centre and Dowson in particular. Over painstaking hours investigating Dowson’s financial dealings, we uncovered a paper trail that began with the exposé of the truth behind who actually owned the BNP’s “Truth Truck”, a long wheelbase vehicle the party never actually owned, despite claiming they had bought it. We also exposed – at great pain to the BNP’s cautious membership – that call centre workers were in fact not dedicated ideological fanatics like themselves but were in fact hired help from a Belfast employment agency.
Working out of Belfast we began to turn the screw on the BNP as far away as in Brussels. We uncovered a series of plush properties that the BNP were leasing, as well as funding and property scams and, most surprising of all, that at the peak of the BNP’s activity there, no fewer than four staff members were passing or had passed information about the BNP’s internal affairs to various newspapers.
As Dowson grew increasingly unpopular with the BNP’s members, Griffin more and more relied upon him. Dowson had heated clashes with staff members who eventually sued, costing the party large sums of money. The party ran up huge debts and legal bills, as Dowson also gave disastrously damaging legal advice over the Marmite election broadcast.
As the BNP prepared for the 2010 elections, the lack of money began to kick in. Membership renewals began to tail off and there was a recruitment freeze to contend with, resulting from the legal action by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Internally, the BNP was saying that it could take not only the Barking parliamentary seat but bizarrely another two seats, as well as full control of Barking and Dagenham council. To ensure this, Griffin believed that he had to spearhead the campaign personally, choosing for himself the plum Barking seat and putting out of joint the nose of the party’s London Assembly member Richard Barnbrook.
In the absence of either dissent or reason, senior party sycophants believed that all this was actually possible. Large debts were run up in preparation for an enormous campaign and, as creditors closed on the party, new credit accounts were opened. Belfast, on Dowson’s own doorstep, appeared to have a number of businesses grateful for the BNP’s trade.
The first high profile person to break ranks was Mark Collett, the party’s director of publicity and former Griffin protégé. For a while he had been lined up as Griffin’s possible successor and had even dated Griffin’s daughter, Jennifer. Collett, another one with shadows hanging over him, became the victim of a bizarre invented story that he had attempted to have Griffin and Dowson murdered.
On 8 May 2010, Griffin was telling the media that “London is finished” and that he was only there (at the election count in Barking and Dagenham) to “pick up the bodies”. While Griffin faced the hostile and jubilant media Butler and Barnbrook found a small room in the same building as the count and began to plot. The splits began almost immediately.
2010 ended for Griffin with his daughter fleeing Belfast and the BNP shut out of their office by Dowson. Their former staff there are currently part of a class action, together with other former employees and creditors, to obtain monies owed to them. The current coterie surrounding Griffin is a collection of people with dubious personal characteristics and political baggage as is always the way. It consists of disgraced former school teachers, alleged drug dealers, pornographers and swingers. At their head is the returned Patrick Harrington, as unpopular as ever and not even a party member. Harrington is alleged by BNP rebels to be an IRA supporting sadomasochism fan.
Griffin and Harrington have responded to the resignations and turmoil with legal letters, expulsions and a further purging of members who refuse to toe the Griffin line. Dowson credits Harrington with driving him out of the party. Harrington responds to most criticisms by issuing legal letters.
Griffin is facing a further election meltdown this May. Defending 11 council seats, he finds himself with more BNP stalwarts without membership than with. The dissenters are advising people not to stand for the party and are now calling on those who left the party as far back as in the 1990s to join them in reconciliation.
The mood in the party is black. Stalinesque summonses to appear before disciplinary committees arrive randomly and unrelentingly in party organisers’ post. Members are banned even from reading anti-Griffin websites or being in the same room as rebels. Two large meetings in the past month in Yorkshire and the North East have ended with paid-up members publicly calling for Griffin to stand down. In response, those individuals receive summonses to attend further disciplinary meetings. Former high flyers such as Nick Cass and Chris Beverley are the latest to have been suspended; others follow daily.
Last week, the first manifestation of the long list of Griffin and BNP debts turned up on the Griffin family’s door. Four large men from Belfast arrived demanding monies from Griffin’s parents. Some people will not be so easily brushed away.
Hope not Hate