Tuesday, 8 June 2010
The problem is, Mr Griffin...
Dr Andrew Emerson evaluates a decade of Nick Griffin’s leadership of the British National Party
Failures of leadership
There is no doubt that the BNP has come a long way in the last ten years. From being a tiny organization of the political fringe it has become England’s fourth political party. However, its growth has been steady rather than spectacular, and for that fact Mr Nicholas John Griffin is largely responsible.
Mr Griffin has had his share of luck, as he himself acknowledges in a recent BNPtv interview with Mr Arthur Kemp, the party’s web editor, and head of Excalibur, the party’s merchandising arm. The Griffin leadership began following a successful leadership challenge to the then leader of the party, John Tyndall, who had founded it as a breakaway from the National Front in 1982. Mr Tyndall was no doubt entitled to feel a little aggrieved at being challenged for the leadership of the party he had founded, and led for seventeen years, by a man, Nick Griffin, to whom he had extended a helping hand, in a time of personal difficulty, by giving a salaried job, editing the magazine Spearhead. However, unlike Mr Griffin, Mr Tyndall did not seek to dodge a contest by changing the party constitution in order to make a leadership challenge more difficult, nor did he expel or smear his junior colleague as a “Searchlight mole/ MI5 agent”, or even as a workshy malcontent – all of which he could easily have done had he wished.
No, Mr Tyndall played a straight bat, and lost the election but kept his integrity and self-respect. Mr Griffin then duly took up the reins of leadership of the party. Very quickly some of those who had been his staunchest supporters began to have cause to regret their championing of him as a candidate for the leadership. The expulsion of the Edwards’ husband and wife team, and the peremptory sacking of a scrupulous party treasurer, Mike Newland, caused much dismay and soul searching within the party, as did the harassment of Steve Smith, the architect of the BNP’s astounding electoral victories in Burnley in 2002-2004 (see the latter’s tract, How It Was Done: The rise of Burnley BNP; the inside story, 2004, Burnley: Cliviger Press).
Even John Tyndall, to whom the BNP owes its existence, was marked down as an enemy – and expelled from the party (twice) by the very man, Nick Griffin, to whom he had been a benefactor.
This erratic and idiosyncratic style of leadership - the “Off with their heads!” style of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland - established a pattern which Mr Griffin has maintained, to the party’s great and continuing cost, throughout his tenure as national chairman and leader of the BNP.
I evidence this assertion by citing: the sacking of Nick Cass and Michaela Mackenzie from their senior positions; the expulsion, and then the reinstatement, following a solicitor’s letter before action, of Mike Easter, the election agent of Chris Jackson, who challenged Griffin for the leadership of the BNP in 2007; the sacking from their senior posts within the party of Sadie Graham, Ian Dawson, Matt Single, Kenny Smith, Nicholla Ritchie, and Steve Blake; and the expulsion of all six from the party.
While, admittedly, one or more of the six “Decembrists” may have done things which warranted their expulsion from the party, a more astute and adroit leadership could have managed the personalities concerned in such a way as to have avoided matters getting out of hand in the first place. Instead of getting all those concerned around a table, and facilitating a resolution of their differences, Mr Griffin’s style of leadership precipitated a crisis within the upper echelon of the party, aggravating discord and hostility, where a more enlightened leadership could have brought reconciliation and harmony.
If further evidence is required let us look at the recent sacking of Eddy Butler, Emma Colgate, Mark Collett, and Simon Bennett from their senior positions within the party. It seems that sooner or later every close colleague of Mr Griffin is discovered to be either a Searchlight mole/MI5 agent, or a trouble-maker, who needs to be dismissed from their post in disgrace, or even expelled from the party.
Yet Mr Griffin himself selected these individuals for their jobs, promoted them, and worked closely with them, in some cases for several years. Is his judgement so poor that he cannot select suitable colleagues with whom to work? Or does he find it impossible to maintain an amicable working relationship with anyone for very long? Part of the role of a leader is to conciliate the aggrieved, and to assuage personal animosities between colleagues, holding different tendencies together, and reconciling opposing viewpoints for the sake of party unity. Mr Griffin appears particularly inept when it comes to this.
Then there is the timing of the purge. Only weeks before the most crucial general election for a generation, Mr Griffin scores, not one own goal but four – sacking four key senior officers of the party just when they are most needed. Let’s remind ourselves shall we? Mark Collett: the party’s talented publicity director and editor of Voice of Freedom, was handling the crucial task of editing the election leaflets, prior to their printing and dispatch; Emma Colgate was dealing with the party’s national administration, in addition to her work as a councillor in Essex; Eddy Butler was in charge of overall election strategy and organization, as well as the party’s Eastern region; and Simon Bennett was the party’s webmaster, in charge of the most visited political party web site in the country. Three of the four were also parliamentary candidates, and one a municipal candidate for Barking and Dagenham as well.
Why were these individuals sacked; and why were they sacked just weeks, or, in the case of Simon Bennett, just days before polling day? Perhaps Mr Griffin, in his wisdom, believed that such a “night of the long knives” would improve the quality of party morale, efficiency, and media coverage, on the eve of the party’s greatest-ever electoral test – on the principle of “pour encourager les autres”.
But enough irony, tempting though it is to continue in an ironic vein.
Financial management: outsourced, incompetent, and obscurantist
Perhaps this is not so much a case of “cherchez la femme” as “cherchez l’argent”. It appears that three out of the four latest sackings were prompted by Mr Griffin’s discovery that three out of the four officers concerned were intending to raise certain shared concerns with him, after the general election was out of the way.
Quite why senior officers of the party should be sacked for having been concerned about the financial management (or rather mismanagement) of the party is unclear. There obviously is a problem here, else why would the Electoral Commission be investigating the party’s 2008 accounts, which were submitted six months late, and without the independent auditors’ seal of approval – for the reason that adequate records were not made available to them, as they themselves state (see the auditors’ report attached to the 2008 accounts on the Electoral Commission’s web site http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/).
If there is nothing to hide then surely Mr Griffin, and Mr Dowson (for he too appears to have some involvement with the party’s financial affairs, despite being neither a BNP member nor even a nationalist, as he himself admits) would have been only too happy to have answered any and every question these senior officers cared to put to them. After all, as senior officers of the party it was not only their right, but more importantly their duty, to raise with the party’s chief executive officer, Mr Griffin, any concern they may have felt regarding either the state, or the conduct, of the party’s financial affairs.
If there is nothing to hide then why were those senior officers sacked for preparing to voice their legitimate concerns to Mr Griffin? For being in a position to pose questions which Mr Griffin would be unable or unwilling to answer, perhaps. Mr Griffin’s over-reaction does not exactly encourage other members of the party, whether employees, other officers, or rank and file members, to enquire about the party’s finances does it? Yet surely we have every right to do so, since it is our money, and our party which is at stake.
Mr Griffin seems to have a cavalier attitude towards money. To quote his words at the party’s EGM in February “What is money? It comes, it goes”. Now there speaks a man who little knows the value of a pound. Mr Griffin, a former bankrupt, seems to have far too casual an attitude towards other people’s money – for that is what the party’s funds are, as he should never forget. To waste that hard-earned money which the party’s members, most of whom are not well off, have donated in good faith, on hare-brained litigation that could have been avoided (think “Marmite-gate”), or on fines levied for the frequently late submission of annual accounts to the Electoral Commission, is unforgivable.
The party’s relationship with Mr Dowson, if it is to continue at all, needs to be put on a far more business-like, and arm’s length basis, as is only proper in the case of an outside consultant. Instead it seems that, for more than two years now, it has been a sort of incestuous union, with Mr Dowson controlling the party’s entire financial operation, and the party’s nominal treasurer being little more, or nothing more, than a rubber stamp. Mr Griffin, in defence of the indefensible, will no doubt point to the party’s admittedly vastly increased income, and claim that it could not have been achieved without Mr Dowson’s long term involvement.
Well, I refute that argument. Not only does it show a profound contempt for the abilities and talent within the party, but if our aim as a political party is to form the government of the country, it shows that Mr Griffin does not believe that the BNP is up to the task, if he has so little faith in our members’ ability to fundraise, or to keep a straight set of books. Furthermore, a consultant should, as in the business world, be consulted – he should not take control operationally.
There must be impeccable record-keeping of both the party’s income and expenditure, and proper financial control of the party, all delivered by the party’s own national treasurer, in person, assisted by the regional and local fund holders, and not off-shored to the accountant of an external consultant.
There must also be transparency and openness in the party’s finances at all costs. Only then will our members, as well as the wider public, who could, under new leadership, be potential new members and donors, have confidence that all is above board, and that there is no skulduggery.
Presentational flaws and faulty judgement
Mr Griffin is not good with the media. On both TV and radio, which are vitally important to politicians, he performs dismally – as was so embarrassingly evident on BBC’s Question Time last autumn.
He lacks the confidence and the smooth communication skills which are necessary to the leader of a political party that hopes to achieve office. Furthermore, when faced with a hostile media presenter, or hostile Establishment politicians, he allows himself to be bullied, and to remain on the defensive, instead of counter-attacking with élan and conviction.
Admittedly his holocaust-denying baggage makes him a soft target for our enemies, and always will, but his lack of forcefulness and charm, let alone charisma, makes the situation even worse than it would otherwise have been.
Mr Griffin is very much less popular than the party he leads. As the public face of the party, rather than an asset he is a liability - an albatross around the party’s neck. Many people on the doorstep, and at hustings, have said “I agree with everything you say – but I don’t like your leader”. Mr Griffin’s holocaust denial was specifically mentioned, with a typical comment being “How can I vote BNP when your leader used to believe that the holocaust never happened?”
To be fair, Mr Griffin has several notable achievements to his credit. It was under his leadership that the party began to take off electorally, and this was crowned last year with the winning of the party’s first two seats in the European ‘parliament’.
However, his political judgement is on the whole second-rate, as the decision to contest 336 seats at the general election, thereby over-extending the party’s resources, and resulting in a severe set-back, with the loss of too many councillors, demonstrates only too clearly.
Mr Griffin’s tenure as leader of the BNP has exactly coincided with the largest influx of ethnically alien immigration our people have ever endured, with the bulk of it coming from the third world. Mr Griffin has been a lucky leader in that the political and societal circumstances within which he has worked have been uniquely favourable for increasing the receptiveness of the indigenous British, and particularly the English, to ethno-nationalism's message of hope. Mr Griffin has consequently been an unintended beneficiary of New Labour’s three administrations of the new millennium, and its betrayal of the British people, and has rightly sought to exploit a politically favourable environment in order to advance the cause of ethno-nationalism.
That political environment is now beginning to change, with a hung parliament its most emphatic expression, and it may be that the era of Griffinism is also drawing to an end. The recent election results are the greatest set-back the party has ever experienced. Contrary to Mr Griffin’s claim in the BNPtv interview to which reference has already been made, the party’s average percentage share of the parliamentary vote did not increase across the seats it contested. In fact, unsurprisingly, it declined: from 4.3% in 2005 to 3.1% in 2010.
Mr Griffin’s role as an MEP in Brussels and Strasbourg, a role in which he should continue, means that, unavoidably, he is out of the country for much of the time, and this fact too indubitably hampers his ability to keep his eye on the ball as national chairman and party leader.
Conclusions and recommendations
Mr Griffin should create an honorary presidency of the party, and appoint himself to the post, before resigning as leader, in the interests of the party, and the cause it champions.
If he so wishes he could then compete in the leadership election which would then take place, on a more equal footing with the other candidate, or candidates, for the office of leader, and experience for himself, at first hand, how difficult he has made it, under the party’s ever-changing constitution, to collect the requisite number of nominations for his candidature to be accepted. He would need to collect rather more than the ten he needed to challenge Mr Tyndall in 1999!
The current Con-Lib Dem coalition government is unlikely to survive the next two years, and will disintegrate under the hammer blow of events, and the increasing tensions both between each of the two parties, and between each party’s leadership and their own activists in the constituencies. Meanwhile Labour will be using the time to prepare for a 'come back' as a more humble party that has, it will falsely claim, learnt its lesson. We are entering a new period of political volatility in which there are great opportunities for our party. We owe it to ourselves and to our people to put our party into the best possible shape for the titanic struggle ahead. Part of that process, and the most important part, is to select the best possible leader for the party that we can find.
In the memorable words of John Tyndall, “Not for us the cosy tranquillity of the political soft option; for us only the long march through the cold night – which must precede the glorious dawn”. We fight on, and we dare all, so that a great land and a great nation may live again in splendour. (The Eleventh Hour: A call for British rebirth, Third Edition, 1998, Welling: Albion Press, pp 536-7).
Let every member abide by the BNP’s constitution, and work both for the salvation of the party, and the redintegration of our indigenous British nation.
It must be.