On the campaign trial in Barking and Dagenham: Eddy Butler (left) with Richard Barnbrook now an independent member of the London Assembly (centre) and BNP leader Nick GriffinOn the campaign trial in Barking and Dagenham: Eddy Butler (left) with Richard Barnbrook now an independent member of the London Assembly (centre) and BNP leader Nick GriffinAs part of our series looking at the wider British right, Searchlight assesses the prospects for Eddy Butler.
After Eddy Butler failed last summer to surmount the impossibly high hurdles that Nick Griffin placed in the way of anyone hoping to challenge his leadership of the British National Party, the big question among Butler’s supporters was whether to keep on fighting within the BNP or form a new party.
Butler was against a new party. He had been there before and in surprisingly similar circumstances. Shortly after Griffin replaced John Tyndall as BNP leader in 1999, the party’s treasurer and deputy chairman accused Griffin of financial wrongdoing. Griffin responded as he always does, by expelling his accusers. Butler and several others left the BNP in disgust and in December 2000 formed the Freedom Party.
Apart from getting one councillor elected in South Staffordshire in 2003 the Freedom Party made little impact and by 2006 was dead. Butler had already returned to Griffin’s side in 2003 after realising that the BNP, which had won three councillors in Burnley in May 2002, had the better prospects.
Butler’s opposition to forming a new party proved prescient. In October 2010 some of his former supporters, together with others who had fallen foul of Griffin, set up the British Freedom Party. They soon fell out with each other publicly and nastily, its leadership went through a number of changes and although it may field a few candidates in this year’s local elections, it has zero public profile and no attractive personalities.
Butler and many of his supporters believed that the future for the far right remained in the BNP. Whereas many disillusioned members were leaving the party, Butler urged supporters to renew their membership so they could vote in a future leadership election. He went to great trouble to contribute to a “consultation” on changes to the party’s constitution, only to have his effort rejected.
However, if Butler thought he could carry on agitating against Griffin inside the BNP, he must have been very naïve, surprisingly so for someone who has been active on the far right for 30 years and has an honours degree in history and politics. Butler was first suspended from the BNP, then expelled, though he retains his employment on the European Parliament payroll with Andrew Brons MEP, who has maintained a somewhat uncomfortable fence-sitting position between Butler and Griffin.
On 24 December Butler changed his view on whether party members should renew. Reminding his readers of Griffin’s financial mismanagement, which had left the party with debts of over £500,000, Butler declared that members get: “No chance to vote on anything, no chance to decide anything. He [Griffin] will never allow anyone any chance to vote on anything.” Griffin had to be “starved out” said Butler, adding: “This is harsh but it is the only way.”
Since then Butler has continued waging war on Griffin from the comfort of his blog. Many of his articles, and those of a handful of guest writers, contain insightful analysis and plenty of useful information for anti-fascists. But it is unclear quite where Butler hopes to go. Constant calls for Griffin to be removed are not accompanied by any strategy for achieving that aim.
The BNP constitution, which requires a challenger to obtain the support of 20% of all party members of at least two years’ standing, remains in place and it is unclear when changes discussed at last year’s BNP conference might be put to a vote. The first problem a challenger faces is to find out which members to canvass, as the party does not supply a list.
Nevertheless a group of party members grouped under the banner of BNP Reform 2011 has said a leadership challenge will be mounted this summer, although: “To protect the candidate and ensure he/she is not expelled or suspended before the period for leadership nominations we shall not be revealing his/her identity at this time.”
BNP Reform 2011 is independent of Butler, though many of its members supported him last year and Butler has condemned Griffin’s moves against the group. Several prominent party activists have been suspended recently by Griffin’s henchman Adam Walker, the BNP’s national organiser, simply for attending reform meetings.
However whether Griffin will still be party leader in summer and whether the party itself will survive or be salvageable is uncertain. The BNP continues to be saddled with huge debts which it has no prospect or intention of repaying, members are leaving amid sinking morale and fundraising has nearly dried up. Griffin spends most of his time at the European Parliament, adding his daily attendance allowance to his substantial MEP’s salary, and has left the party in the charge of the power-crazed Walker, the moronic Clive Jefferson, laughably acting as the party’s treasurer and national elections officer, and the highly unpopular Patrick Harrington, who is not even a BNP member.
The BNP is an unincorporated association and Griffin is personally responsible for most of its debts. There have been claims for several months that enforcement proceedings are being taken against him, though little seems to have happened. The problem for creditors is that Griffin has made sure he has no property in his name, meaning that it may not be worthwhile to incur the costs of taking action.
The party is in disarray in many parts of the country and Paul Golding, the party’s former communications officer, recently described the BNP brand as “completely toxic”.
Even if Griffin were to be ousted, any new leader would still have to deal with the debts. Prospective challengers might hope that with Griffin gone and the party in more competent hands, supporters’ donations will come flooding in, and it is true that BNP supporters may be stupid enough to throw more money at the dead horse.
At the start of this year Butler raised a third prospect, that of unity between the UK Independence Party, BNP and the various smaller groups “on the patriotic, nationalistic, ‘right-wing’, populist, non-politically correct, identity-related side of the spectrum”. Such a party would “have over 30,000 members” and “instantly be a major force in British politics”.
Butler believed such a union would benefit the BNP as “it would provide respectability and distance from a more violent and hard-line past”. For the UKIP it “would give them relevance” between European elections. The UKIP immediately rejected the idea totally and went on to poll considerably better than the BNP in two parliamentary by-elections.
Butler recognised that “jealous personalities”, the biggest of whom is Griffin, would not let unity happen and that it was just a dream.
On 20 March he came up with a new variation on the unity theme. Claiming that “Griffin’s grasp is faltering” and he saw “unmistakable signs of a sinking tyrant”, Butler called for reconciliation between all those opposed to Griffin, including those who left years ago or never joined the BNP because they were alienated by Griffin. “Nothing must stand in the way of common action to rid the movement of the curse that is Nick Griffin and his regime as quickly as possible,” declared Butler.
To this end he has been speaking at meetings around the country. However it is difficult to see how he might bring reconciliation about. The far right has always been characterised by splits and inadequate individuals all wanting to be big fishes in their own small ponds. Butler’s strength lies in running election campaigns. It was his work in the East End that got the BNP’s first elected councillor in Tower Hamlets in 1993, although the party lost the seat seven months later. However leading a successful political party takes much more than organisational skills and an understanding of campaigning techniques.
And although Butler is an educated man, who held down a finance job with the Corporation of the City of London for many years, he is also a violent one. When Butler was running the BNP’s “rights for whites” campaign in the East End in the early 1990s he and a team of thugs laid into a group of anti-fascists with hammers and other weapons, although he was never charged with any offence. That incident, which he has never denied, would keep coming back to haunt him as a leader. He also does not suffer fools gladly, and there are certainly a lot of fools around on the far right. All in all, it does not look like Butler is going anywhere anytime soon.