March 29, 2008

English nationalist rival moves in on BNP territory

As the elections for London’s Mayor and the London Assembly approach all eyes are on the British National Party. Looking ahead to the 2009 European elections, the North West promises to be a particularly fraught battleground as the BNP comes up against a determined anti-fascist campaign.

Another hurdle the BNP will have to contend with in the North West is a resurgent England First Party (EFP) whose message of unabashed white supremacy continues to threaten the hegemony of the BNP in the region. With Nick Griffin arrogantly disregarding the wishes of local party members by appointing himself regional organiser instead of the preferred candidate Chris Jackson, there will be much more to play for than seats in European Parliament. Griffin will also be putting his personal reputation on the line in an area where his political opponents on the far right are strongest.

The EFP was founded in 2004 by Mark Cotterill, a former chairman of the American Friends of the British National Party (AFBNP), which channelled tens of thousands of dollars into the BNP before a change in UK electoral law made it illegal to raise money abroad. Cotterill, who had been involved with the nazi National Alliance while living in America, was subsequently deported because his fundraising also contravened US law. Upon his return to England he fell out with the BNP, Griffin seemingly unwilling to reward his endeavours with a commensurate party position. Disaffected, Cotterill moved to Blackburn, Lancashire where he formed the EFP.

The EFP makes no bones about its white supremacist ideology which marks the party out as more vocally extreme than the “modern” BNP. The EFP wants to “win back” the country from hordes of “immigrant invaders”. To do so requires the “repatriation of all immigrants to their lands of ancestral origin”, which will not be a voluntary matter.

To the EFP ethnic minorities are unassimilable and unwanted, their very presence creating friction: “… their clothes, their food, their culture, their psychology, their biology, their physiology and their history challenges ours at every point of the compass”. To reenergise the sense of national identity it believes has been corrupted by these “aliens”, the EFP advocates the teaching of “the Aryan histories of Western Europe” in schools and “the abolition of the Islamic faith and the demolition of all mosques”.

Many BNP members agree with these sentiments but they would perhaps be loath to couch them in such uncompromising terms. The EFP regularly operates in tandem with both the National Front and the openly nazi British People’s Party. Its meetings are graced by individuals such as Lady Michele Renouf, David Irving’s chief cheerleader who is particularly close to Peter Rushton, deputy editor of the EFP’s magazine, Heritage and Destiny.

Another barrier is the genuine ideological difference between the EFP and the BNP over “English” and “British” nationalism which, though it might seem of minor importance outside far-right circles, certainly contains the potential for a major ideological split. There are certainly people in the BNP who would prefer to “ditch Scotland” if not Wales, especially since the recent internal crisis in which Scottish activists were prominent opponents of Nick Griffin, the BNP leader. The BNP’s monthly magazine Identity has recently attempted to jump on the “English” nationalism bandwagon so as not to be usurped by the EFP not to mention the larger English Democrats party, which recently adopted Matt O’Connor, founder of Fathers 4 Justice, as its candidate in the London mayoral election.

By virtue of its very existence the EFP impedes the progress of the BNP in its main Blackburn base and is beginning to pose a threat elsewhere. Griffin was furious when Cotterill and his fellow EFP candidate Michael Johnson, a local publican, were elected to Blackburn council in 2006, not least because Cotterill again trounced the local BNP organiser in the process.

Cotterill’s triumph did not last. Within a year he had resigned and Johnson had left the EFP, joining the For Darwen group on the council. Cotterill cited the offer of a job in Preston as the reason for his departure not only from the council chamber but also as party leader. He remains actively involved behind the scenes, however, as the party’s nominations officer and, more importantly, as the editor of Heritage and Destiny.

The departure of Cotterill and Johnson does not seem to have diminished support for the EFP in certain areas of Blackburn and Darwen. Although the EFP has not won any more council seats in Blackburn, in May 2007 it polled strongly in Higher Croft (15.2%) and in Mill Hill (18.2%), where it beat the BNP candidate.

Steve Smith took over the reins from Cotterill. Smith had previously been the chairman of Burnley BNP and is widely credited with orchestrating the party’s breakthrough in the town between 2001 and 2003. John Tyndall, the BNP’s founder and veteran nazi leader, was certainly impressed, writing: “Steven Smith is the most successful branch organiser in the history of the British National Party”. Smith alas was unable to enjoy the fruits of his labours. He was arrested and jailed for forging signatures on BNP nomination papers.

The BNP rapidly moved to dissociate itself from its erstwhile hero. Smith claims that Griffin was motivated by vanity, fearing paradoxically that the rise of the BNP in Burnley threatened his own position as chairman. Similar sentiments have been voiced in connection with the expulsion last December of Sadie Graham, another capable organiser now outside the BNP.

With Smith at the helm the EFP expanded its base of operations into Burnley with the intention of taking it back from the BNP. His first move was to stand in a by-election in Daneshouse with Stoneyholme in February 2007. He came third with 141 votes (7%), beating the Conservative candidate into third place. In this predominantly Asian ward Smith never had a hope in hell of being elected and knew it. His candidacy was meant to deliver a simple message: Smith was back in town.

In May 2007 Smith stood in Cliviger with Worsthorne. He came second with 372 votes (17%), though a long way behind the victorious Conservative candidate. More importantly, however, Smith utterly thrashed the BNP candidate Dave Shapcott, who had taken over from Smith as Burnely BNP organiser, beating him into third place. Between them the far-right vote was 29% and Smith appears bent on capturing it all. In Queensgate ward, Simon Bennett polled a creditable 26% for the EFP, coming third.

Smith also has his eye on Brunshaw ward, which once yielded a strong vote for the BNP and returned one BNP councillor. BNP support has dissipated since those heady days and Smith believes he can displace the BNP as a “nationalist” alternative to the Liberal Democrats. Smith fired the opening salvo in October 2007 with “Operation Blanket Burnley” – his plan to saturate the town with 25,000 “wonderfully controversial” leaflets, which stated, “England is being deliberately destroyed by cowards, liars, anarchists and traitors” and alleged that white Britons were “becoming an ethnic minority in their own land”. The Burnley Police hate crime unit is currently investigating the leaflets’ content for incitement of racial hatred. Not that this has stopped Smith handing them out: he claims he only has 8,000 left to deliver.

Shapcott is not amused by the support the EFP is gaining and even less amused by his own members fraternising with the EFP despite its proscription, something surely of concern to the BNP leadership.

The EFP has also begun picking at the bones of other areas in which the BNP has begun stagnating. Since May 2007 it has moved into Wigan where it has won the support of Ian Hague, the former Wigan BNP organiser, and Oldham, where the former BNP organiser Martin Brierley has joined up, another sign that the EFP is gaining in areas where the BNP has failed to capitalise on what was once fertile ground.

The party has also begun to move southwards, establishing a presence in Hastings, Sussex, through the good offices of Alan Winder, another BNP renegade. The EFP fielded a candidate in Whaddon ward, Milton Keynes in June 2007, which caused some strife for the BNP. Anna Seymour, the EFP candidate, came third of six beating the Liberal Democrats, UK Independence Party and an independent candidate. Her campaign drew support from local BNP members including Barry Taylor who has since been expelled.

It is important not to exaggerate the threat posed by the EFP to the BNP. It remains a minute outfit in comparison to its rival. It is, however, the only far-right party capable of mounting a serious challenge to BNP hegemony in the North West. Smith appears to have reenergised the organisation following Cotterill’s “departure”. Shapcott and Griffin have been left bristling with annoyance as the EFP encroaches on its former power base in Burnley. And although there is no indication at present that the EFP are on the cusp of displacing the BNP in Burnley, Smith’s zeal and organisational ability must be a cause for concern within the BNP and indeed for anti-fascists too.


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