Hearing the BNP’s side
Derek Turner interviews Nick Griffin, chairman of the British National Party
This interview will undoubtedly be controversial among a segment of our readership, and will doubtless be wilfully misunderstood by the magazine’s opponents. But the BNP is too newsworthy to ignore, and the way in which the party and its members are routinely treated by the media is, in my view, a disgrace in an allegedly liberal society.
It is in that combined spirit of inquiry and outraged natural justice that I hope you will read the following. DT
The BBC’s Secret Agent programme seems to have done you a great deal of damage. We have heard a lot about halted BNP banking facilities, trouble with the party accounts and the Electoral Commission, attacks on the website and of course your arrest, with nine others, on a variety of charges. Can you bring us up to date on these four subjects? We have been denied banking facilities by every single bank in Britain, although we still have a number of accounts with some of them that they haven’t spotted. Ultimately, we are looking at having some holding accounts abroad, and using personal accounts in this country – for instance, John Walker, the treasurer, will have an account in his name, but it will be purely political, with someone else holding the cheque book. The letter of the law doesn’t specify that a party has to have an account here – although that is clearly its spirit. Obviously, it does make things harder having to tell people to make cheques payable to J. Walker rather than British National Party – but we’re able to function. Our accounts were submitted woefully late, but within the extended time allowed by the Electoral Commission.
The key reason was that in previous years we were classed as a small party, whereas in 2003 we crossed the financial threshold into large party status [Editor’s Note: The BNP now has more than 8,000 paid up members, and a decentralized Head Office staff including around 20 paid full- or part-time employees]. We didn’t realize how much extra work this would entail. Late in the day, we were accordingly presented with a mountain of accountancy work, for which we were simply not cut out. Now we’ve got three full-time treasury staff, we’ll be able to keep up in future.
The website is back to normal. Paranoia being an occupational hazard, we originally felt this was part of a big-picture attack, but the police have now arrested a man who is, it seems a loose cannon, as he had also been attacking companies’ websites. The most serious attacks on internet free speech are likely to come from a far higher political level. We had been told by a mole in the Crown Prosecution Service that there would be arrests, and that this was designed to do us political damage – although I think it’s really to do the Labour Party good in the eyes of Muslims. I’m due back to answer bail at Halifax police station on April 6th. It’s a winwin for Labour. If they do decide to bring an action, and secure a guilty verdict, that’s presumably what they want – whereas if I get off they will then argue that this is why they need a new law to prevent incitement to religious hatred. The reference to Secret Agent brings me to a major problem facing the BNP – the perception that the party contains an unreconstructed, hooligan element.
Even allowing for misrepresentation from political opponents, there is a discomfiting grain of truth in some of these stories. What procedures have you put in place to ensure that people like those featured on the documentary are no longer attracted to the party – or are quickly expelled once they break the rules? We know it’s a problem, but it’s very difficult to do anything about it. Often, when the media show someone like that, it’s someone who has got nothing to do with us. And every time they publish a smear like that, like attracts like, and we get a wave of new recruits who think that’s what we’re all about. We then have to either convert them, or get rid of them. But I’m quite often sympathetic to the kind of sentiments expressed by Kipling in his famous poem, Tommy Atkins. There are kids whose educational system has been destroyed by liberalism, so they turn out semi-articulate. It is not their fault that they have no goal in life. If we can take youngsters like that and mould them into something better, that’s tremendous. And if someone who is now 40 committed a few typical working-class crimes when they were 19 or 20, but hasn’t done such things since then, I don’t think that should debar them from being involved in politics. Certainly the Labour Party can’t point the finger, with Gerry Adams having tea in Number Ten!
As regards people who are bigoted lumpen morons, when we identify these at local level they are either frozen out, or the errors of their ways are pointed out to them and they are asked to change – on pain of expulsion if they don’t improve. It is a continual battle. The more success we have – the more we are perceived, and see ourselves as, part of the mainstream – then the less attractive we will become to these people. The BNP is widely thought to be a fascistic party masquerading as a populist, Rightwing party. In my view, some of the party’s – and your own – past preoccupations and rhetoric have reinforced that perception. While there has been much presentational improvement in recent years, do you feel there is still room for improvement and, if so, where and how? I’m happy to admit to past mistakes – and happier to say that I always try to learn from them. There is certainly still room for further improvement – not in terms of what we are doing and saying, but in how we get it across to people.
The BNP did come from a fascist past, but there is generally now a party-wide understanding that we no longer want a large central state, and that we are concerned about any state having too much power. We need now to roll that out into general policies and our critique of current affairs. For instance, we intend to become more actively involved in opposition to ID cards. It is self-evident that any party which is opposed to ID cards and says that you cannot trust any state – even our state – with such powers cannot be a fascist party. Increasingly, our policies are implicitly or explicitly opposed to the notion of an all-powerful state – but obviously it takes a long time for such things to sink in at popular level, especially when most elections are fought at soundbite level. The BNP is best known for its policies on immigration. How are you going about publicizing some of your other policies? What will be your priorities for this year’s campaigns? We haven’t got a full manifesto at present. It would be ideal to have one available by the general election but, bluntly, it’s a matter of resources. We will be fighting 110-115 seats, quite a few of them with two or three different election addresses. That will stretch our organization as it is. For a minor political party that’s not going to be in power next week, putting a lot of effort into a glorious, full-length manifesto is not the prime objective. We have a simple manifesto at the moment that we send out as a booklet to new enquirers. I’m working on a full-length political book, which will function as a generic introduction to the party’s philosophy and policies [Editor’s Note: A biography of Griffin, by Dominic Carman, is also in preparation].
If we don’t get the manifesto done on time, we’ll put a number of the major discussion documents up on line so that people can contribute to future policymaking. Our website is a very powerful tool – it is the most-visited political website in Britain. But we are going to concentrate on immigration; a combination of that and real grassroots politics is what gets us elected. Until we can actually control councils, there is a limit to what other ideas we can get across. However, once we do control councils, we will do the kinds of things we want to do. Alternatively, we can try to do things we know we won’t be allowed to do – such as put much tougher pressures on criminals. In all probability, such measures would be overruled by higher authorities, but the publicity would establish in people’s minds the idea that the BNP isn’t just about race. How has the presence of BNP councillors affected those areas where the party is strongly represented? One hears that central government has stopped sending asylumseekers to places like Burnley; is this true? Certainly for quite a while asylum-seekers were not sent to Burnley, Oldham and other parts of greater Manchester as a result of the levels of BNP support in those areas. Within a few months of our being elected in Burnley, the government threw £50m at the town. There is no reason for this, other than the government trying to bribe voters back, with their own money.
Suddenly all the other parties are evincing an interest in race, with Labour MPs calling for an end to economic migration and the CRE saying that multiculturalism is finished. When one adds into the equation UKIP and Robert Kilroy-Silk’s Veritas party, all of you targeting very similar voters, won’t the net effect be simply to diminish the BNP vote? This general election is merely a stepping stone towards the council elections in 2006, when we hope to make significant breakthroughs and become at least the official opposition party in a number of councils. Given this aim, our general election vote isn’t going to make much difference. If Veritas does well, largely on its strong immigration message, it will have the effect of helping to break up old voting patterns, and come 2006, they will not have hundreds of council candidates in our core areas. They will have broken up voter habits and got people used to voting for an anti-immigration party. They, and Howard, and Blunkett, and Clarke, and Ann Cryer have all helped to legitimize talking about immigration and race, and in 2006 our council candidates in our key areas will be the ones reaping the benefits.
What did you first get involved with politics? My parents met, as Young Conservatives, at a Communist Party meeting they had gone to heckle. So I grew up in a very political household. To my shame, although I was too young to take any real blame, I ‘campaigned’ for Reginald Maudling on my tricycle in 1964! I was involved in the Young Conservatives in my early teens. From 1972-1974, there was a general feeling on the Left that their time was coming. It was a very volatile time. Then there was the National Front, which was virtually never covered in the press and was almost uncontactable. The NF was so anti-Marxist that vast numbers of Marxists turned up to try and smash their events. My whole family went along to a Front meeting and were very impressed by a speech about immigration filled with much more depth and meaning than I had ever heard at any Conservative meeting. I thought “That’s the thing for me”.
With the impetuosity of youth, I wasn’t prepared to listen to my parents who wanted me to become a Tory MP and try and change things from the inside. Looking back over your political career, what are you most proud of – and what do you regret most? My biggest regret is the mess that I and various colleagues made of the National Front in 1986. Had my colleagues and I not fallen out with each other about how many workers’ co-operatives we could fit on a pinhead and how radical we were, I think the Front could have been winning seats about the time the BNP won its first council seat in east London in 1993. That probably cost us ten years. On the other hand, the experiences myself and others got then have made us more effective now. Perhaps it was a price that had to be paid, but it is still a matter of regret that I fell out with friends over a series of misunderstandings and unnecessary fanaticisms.
As for things I’m most proud of, I admit I do enjoy stitching up pompous media presenters like Jeremy Paxman. If I had to pinpoint one particular day, it would have been just after The Secret Agent programme came out. At the start of the day we decided that we would have to shift the focus onto what we were saying about Islam. I believe this is going to be the great issue of the age. We went from not being sure whether we should even comment to me going on Newsnight with Gavin Esler and getting huge coverage for our opposition to creeping Islamification. In the end, we got a great public response, a lot of new memberships, and a new level of public recognition. It was a tremendous day, and there was a great team working to make that happen.
Derek Turner, 37 year old journalist and editor of .....
- That is sadly no longer with us.
An independent, London-based magazine of politics, ideas and culture set up to articulate unfashionable and politically incorrect ideas of all kinds.