Posted on August 3, 2004

BNP Faces Internal Revolt And Financial Turmoil

Matthew Taylor, The Guardian, Aug. 2

The British National party, which fielded a record number of candidates in this year’s local and European elections, is in disarray, with senior figures leading a revolt against the chairman, Nick Griffin, and growing concern about the organisation’s financial situation.

The BNP got more than 800,000 votes in the European elections in June and has 21 councillors. But it failed to create the “political earthquake” Mr Griffin predicted and he has come under renewed pressure from activists who are uneasy with his attempts to portray the BNP as a respectable political party.

In the past few months one branch and several organisers have been suspended for openly supporting Mr Griffin’s opponents and many activists in the north-west and London are now opposed to his leadership.

The Guardian has also learned that there is growing speculation about the party’s finances. This month Barclays closed all of the BNP’s accounts and on Friday the party failed to meet a second deadline to hand its accounts to the Electoral Commission, leaving it open to prosecution and a £5,000 fine.

Last night a spokeswoman for the commission said the original extension had been granted in “exceptional circumstances”.

“But as of Friday [the second deadline] we had not received the BNP’s statement of accounts.”

A BNP spokesman, Phil Edwards, said the delay was “administrative” and had been caused by the large number of people who had made donations since the elections. He said: “There is nothing wrong with our finances: these rules have been put in place by the Electoral Commission to catch us out.”

Tensions within the BNP have been heightened by the arrest of six members after a BBC documentary which revealed an organisation riven by racism and violence.

It is thought the programme, in which a BNP council candidate revealed how he had conducted a series of attacks on an Asian business, has put off comparatively moderate supporters, who back Mr Griffin’s leadership and provide the BNP with crucial financial help.

The internal revolt is being led by a BNP founder and hardliner, John Tyndall, and his deputy, Richard Edmunds. Although banned from speaking at BNP meetings by Mr Griffin, they have been welcomed by several branches.

This month Mr Edmunds spoke at a Rochdale BNP meeting, which resulted in the whole branch being suspended by Mr Griffin. Earlier in the year Mr Tyndall spoke at a meeting in Clitheroe, which resulted in further suspensions.

Since the elections Mr Tyndall has also been a guest at a far-right meeting in Leeds and other branches in south and north-west London are openly supporting him, leading to claims that Mr Griffin is losing his grip on the party.

Nick Lowles, from the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight, said: “Griffin is under pressure. There are now large sections of the party in the north-west, London and the south-east which are openly opposed to his leadership.

“There is a lot of demoralisation among activists who be lieved that by following Griffin’s moderate line they would have MEPs and London assembly members, and the fact that has not happened is leading to widespread anger.”

A split over whether to allow non-whites to become members — a move backed by Mr Griffin but bitterly opposed by most of the rank and file — has been the focus for anti-Griffin sentiment. Last week Mr Griffin, who had insisted that allowing non-white members was essential to avoid a potential legal challenge, was forced to climb down in the face of fierce opposition.

Writing on the National Vanguard website Mr Tyndall said: “I have ventured the opinion that the agenda is one aimed at splitting the BNP, and that all these various liberal postures — of which this [allowing non-white members] latest one is clearly the last straw — have been aimed at driving genuine racial nationalists out of the party so that it can be reshaped and reinvented in a way that bears not the slightest resemblance to the intentions of its founders.”

It is thought that Mr Tyndall intends to stand against Mr Griffin as soon as the party’s constitution allows. Mr Edwards said the Tyndall faction was “insignificant” and its aim was to destabilise the party. Mr Griffin’s position may be safe for now because of a lack of suitable candidates. But Mr Lowles said the disenchantment with him could prove fatal in the long run.

“His internal opponents scent blood and seem determined to expose any wrongdoing, whether political, financial or personal,” he said.