Same old boot-boys under the suits

30 January 2009

This year is crucial for anti-racists to stem the growth of the neo-Nazi BNP, reports journalist and trades unionist Peter Lazenby.

Elections to the European parliament take place this year, and the British National Party hopes to make its long-awaited breakthrough into Europe.

If it wins just one seat the BNP will tap into £250,000 of official financial support to further its campaign to create hatred and division in Britain.

The BNP is also likely to field 200 candidates if a general election is called this year. There are also annual local council elections.

To win votes the BNP presents itself to the public as a ‘normal’ party, within mainstream electoral politics in Britain.

But scratch beneath the surface and today's ‘modern’ BNP contains the same rag-bag of violent racists and criminals as it did in the 1990s.

Despite leader Nick Griffin's efforts to change the BNP's image of boot-boy, street-fighting skinheads, into one of suits, collars, ties and respectability, its members at both grassroots and senior level cannot prevent themselves from reverting to type.

A bunch of criminals

Take Martin Glasgow, the BNP's ‘fundholder’ for Chesterfield. In October last year he was jailed for 12 months after being convicted of a racist assault on an Asian man.

There was the BNP's Philip Owen. In August last year he knocked a man unconscious in a club in Swindon. His conviction for violence was just his latest in a series.

More serious convictions have involved sinister plans for violence. In February 2007 Robert Cottage, a BNP member and election candidate from Colne in Lancashire, pleaded guilty to possessing explosive chemicals in readiness for “civil war”. He was jailed for two-and-a-half years.

David Copeland, the notorious London nail bomber, had been an active BNP member. His bombing campaign in London in 1999 killed three people and injured 139 others.

Bomb-making led to the conviction of Tony Lecomber under the Explosives Act in 1985. Police discovered petrol bombs, grenades and detonators at his home.

In 1991 he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for attacking a Jewish teacher.

Neither conviction prevented his being appointed to national office with the BNP, including the position of group development officer.

In 2006 BNP councillor Richard Mulhall from Calderdale in West Yorkshire was convicted of benefit fraud including illegally claiming housing benefit – stealing from the people he had been elected to represent.

Local evening newspaper the Halifax Courier reported the court proceedings. BNP members attacked a newsagent's shop which was selling the paper.

The list goes on, and this from a party which says it is committed to law and order.

Not fit for office

Added to all this is the effectiveness – or lack of it – of the BNP when it does manage to win council seats.

The BNP has a track record of non-attendance at council meetings, and an inability to grasp the simplest mechanisms of council work.

For example, the BNP's attendance on Barking and Dagenham council, where it held its highest ever number of 12 seats on one council, was just 51%.

That includes BNP group leader Richard Barnbrook, who won a seat on the London Assembly last year.

Opponents of the BNP are organising campaigns to challenge them in this year's European and local elections, and in any general election.

The main organisations nationwide are the Hope Not Hate campaign, based around the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, Unite Against Fascism and Love Music Hate Racism.

All these organisations have trades union support, and are organising particularly in areas where the BNP has most chance of electoral success. They need the support of grassroots union activists.

The biggest weapon against the BNP is the truth, both about the criminality of so many of its members and officials, and also the uselessness of its councillors.

Anti-racist campaigners at least have the help of the BNP themselves, who provide an unmatched track record on both counts.

For anti-fascist activity in your area visit our Make Your Vote Count pages, the Unite Against Fascsim website and the Love Music Hate Racism site.

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