20 May 2011
BNP leader Nick Griffin isolated after election disasters
Key figures threaten to form breakaway group as party chairman faces second leadership challenge in less than 12 months
The British National party's dominance of far-right politics in the UK is under threat for the first time in a decade after a string of poor election results and a growing rebellion against its leader, Nick Griffin.
The BNP chairman, who has led the party since 1999, is facing a second leadership challenge in less than 12 months, a mass defection of key organisers and the prospect of a new "popular front" made up of other far-right groups and former BNP activists.
Nick Lowles from the antifacist organisation Searchlight, said: "There is a serious split within the leadership of the BNP. After another humiliation at the polls and massive debts, Griffin is isolated and his position is weak. We are likely to see a rival party formed, a BNP mark two, and Griffin will be left with little more than a rump of a party."
This week Richard Barnbrook, who was the BNP's sole representative on the London assembly until he was expelled from the party last year, said it was time for a realignment in "nationalist politics" in the UK.
"The chairman, Nick Griffin, who has been a long-standing friend in the past, has to go," Barnbrook said. "There is no question about it. He is creating more harm than anything else."
Barnbrook, who now sits as an independent on the London assembly, has written to leaders of four other far-right or nationalist organisations – including the English Defence League and the English Democrats – calling for the creation of "one strong, united, cohesive force".
Griffin is also facing an increasingly emboldened rebellion inside the party. Richard Edmonds, seen as a "BNP hardliner", has launched a formal leadership challenge and although it is unlikely he will win, his defeat is expected to trigger another wave of defections.
Andrew Brons, the BNP's second MEP and an increasingly significant figure, has distanced himself from Griffin and this week appeared to back the leadership challenge, prompting speculation that he is preparing to lead a breakaway group.
Griffin has been under growing pressure since the BNP's poor showing in last year's general and council elections, when it lost all but two of the 28 councillors up for re-election and was wiped out in its east London stronghold of Barking and Dagenham. And the rebellion has gathered pace since this month's local elections, when it again performed poorly, losing all but two of the seats it was contesting.
The growing rebellion has seen a growing number of BNP organisers either leave the party or defect to join other rightwing groups. Searchlight says dozens of BNP members – including several key figures – have left and joined the English Democrats recently. Lowles said there appeared to be a "concerted and orchestrated attempt by many of the BNP's most effective and competent former organisers" to establish a foothold in the English Democrats.
Matthew Goodwin, from Nottingham University, who has written a book on the BNP, said: "There are two key questions here. First, can the rebels depose Griffin, which in my view is unlikely given the BNP constitution.
Second, can they then form a credible alliance with other groups which appeals to the large number of voters who are anxious over immigration, insecure about their economic position and dissatisfied with the main parties. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that Griffin's leadership is under sustained fire."