Published on Thursday, 01 November 2012 00:23 Written by Sonia Gable
Brons was left in a strong position after nearly ousting Nick Griffin as leader of the British National Party in July 2011, losing the election by just nine votes in a party from which many of Griffin’s critics had already walked out.
But at a conference of 170 people on 22 October 2011, held by his BNP Ideas group, Brons insisted that he would not be pressured into leading a split against his better judgement. He argued that he would need a new membership base of at least 1,500 people to create a serious political force rather than yet another splinter group that crashes and burns. He also believed that a new party could not succeed while its parent still existed.
Brons’s hope then was that the BNP would collapse under the weight of its huge debts and shrinking income. Instead the party turned around its financial position, the result of a few convenient deaths of well heeled supporters and drastic cuts in expenditure, especially on staffing, forced through by its treasurer Clive Jefferson.
That left Brons with a dilemma and he seems simply to have been persuaded to change his mind. The BNP limps on, and is even contesting three, possibly four, parliamentary by-elections this month. Although it has lost a large portion of its activists, it retains the hugely important name recognition without which any far-right party can only achieve a derisory vote. Unless a new party has a lot of money or can capture the mood on an issue of the day, public awareness can take years to build.
It also seems unlikely that Brons has the 1,500 supporters he covets. It is unclear how many of those who moved from the BNP into parties such as the National Front and English Democrats can be persuaded to start afresh with him. Even the veteran fascist Richard Edmonds, who has been closely involved in discussions about a new party, prefers to stay in the NF, at least for the moment, and is expected to fight the forthcoming Croydon North parliamentary by-election for that party.
The impetus to go ahead now has come mainly from Kevin Scott and Ken Booth, two former BNP organisers in the North East. It was Scott, secretary of the new party’s steering group, who distributed a leaflet calling for a new party under the True Brits name at the Traditional Britain Group meeting on 20 October, and posted an announcement on Brons’s Nationalist Unity Forum website on 2 November, significantly without naming the party.
Most of the criticism of Griffin’s leadership of the BNP, which has grown over the past five years, has focussed on his administrative and financial incompetence and his dictatorial style. Few political differences have emerged, though the various splinter groups that former BNP members have formed have emphasised varying aspects of the far-right racist agenda.
But there may be some political differences. On 30 October Michael Woodbridge posted an article on Scott’s Civil Liberty website entitled: “A new party needs a revolutionary ideology”. Revolutionary it wasn’t. He argued that authoritarian leadership, as exercised by the BNP’s founder John Tyndall, was preferable to democracy and that the new party should “avoid the weasel word ‘democratic’” in its name.
Whether to include the word democratic in any new party’s name had already been the topic of hot debate at Brons’s BNP Ideas conference a year earlier, a question that had become inextricably linked with the issue of whether those present objected to Griffin’s leadership of the BNP because he was not democratic but because of who he was. One person present said that any party that needed to have “democratic” in its name probably wasn’t.
Woodbridge also rejected any attempt to appear moderate, claiming: “Every compromise we make is seen by the enemy as a small victory and an opportunity to push us back further”. In particular he rejected the BNP’s Racism Cuts Both Ways campaign of 2008, which claimed, mostly falsely, to highlight black or Asian racism against whites. As well as the campaign being “expensive”, Woodbridge’s objection was that “this sort of tactic plays right into the hands of the opposition because it suggests that “racism” is a crime in itself, an idea our enemies have wanted to instil all along.”
Of particular interest was that Woodbridge quoted Alex Kurtagic, an American right-wing intellectual who regularly attends meetings of Troy Southgate’s New Right group in London. Searchlight has tracked this intellectual powerhouse of the far right for a long time, as well as Jeremy Bedford-Turner’s Iona London Forum, which separated from the New Right group in 2011. Some observers write off these groups as elements of the lunatic fringe, but it is in their meetings that far-right ideology is developed and policy formulated.
An important meeting on the road to the new party was, however, called not by the New Right but by Chris Roberts, a former BNP London organiser, on 17 May 2012, two weeks after the BNP’s worst council elections performance for several years. It brought together influential activists from several parties to consider the way forward for “nationalism”. Nearly all those present wanted a new party with Brons as the figurehead.
Brons, who has indicated that he will not defend his seat in the next elections for the European Parliament in 2014, took some persuading. But on 30 September at a private meeting in rural Leicestershire, a game plan for a new party was finally drawn up. Brons, reluctant at his age to take on the day-to-day leadership, and too busy being an MEP in Brussels and Strasbourg, would be its president. The management team would consist of experienced officers from a range of far-right groups including sacked and dissident members of the BNP.
There were two linked contentious issues. One was the name. Taking on board the objections to democracy, the steering group opted for True Brits, already registered as a minor party on 24 November 2011 by Peter Phillips. That dealt with the second issue: the chairman would be Phillips, a former BNP member who was exposed by Searchlight when he stood unsuccessfully for election as President of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2006.
But Phillips is openly gay, a problem for a far-right party. While many took the view that he had never allowed his sexuality to impinge on his political life, there were still enough knuckle scrapers around potentially to cause problems. One supporter of Phillips was Dr Jim Lewthwaite, a member of the steering group and former BNP activist who commands wide respect on the far right.
Whether it was sniping over Phillips’s sexuality or political differences, at the last moment Phillips said no, and took the True Brits name with him.
Impatient to get off the ground, they decided not to register a new party but fell back on the British Democratic Party, which Davies and Raymond Heath had registered on 23 May 2011 in preparation for a split from the BNP. Those for whom democracy was anathema would just have to bite their lips.
However, the name is tainted. A party of that name had existed in the late 1970s run by Anthony Reed-Herbert, a Leicester solicitor, but had collapsed after television and press exposés as a result of the work of Searchlight’s mole Ray Hill.
Scott will now be the new party’s chairman with Booth as one of two deputies. The other will be Andrew Moffat, a former political secretary to the Holocaust revisionist writer David Irving. Moffat was a BNP general election candidate in Bognor Regis in 2010, after standing for the UK Independence Party in 2005. He has placed himself close to Brons ever since differences emerged between Brons and Griffin.
Other prominent far-right activists whose support the BDP is canvassing include Sharon Wilkinson, a BNP councillor in Burnley; Kenny Smith, the former BNP administration officer who now runs an operation by the name of Scotland First; Michael Newlands and Jenny Noble, both former BNP treasurers; Michaela Mackenzie, a BNP administrator who brought an unfair dismissal action against the BNP; John Savage, briefly treasurer of the British Freedom Party; and Steve Blake, who will run its website.
The two activists whose support would make all the difference are Edmonds and Chris Beverley. If Edmonds moved over, many NF members would follow, much to the annoyance of Ian Edwards, the lacklustre NF leader. Beverley is a former BNP councillor who joined the English Democrats and is influential with the large number of other ex-BNP activists in Robin Tilbrook’s party.
Strangely, Roberts was not at the Leicestershire meeting on 30 September nor at the private planning meeting on 14 October at which Brons made the decision to resign from the BNP.
Even without the last-minute problems over the name and chairmanship, the BDP was never going to contest the Corby and Manchester Central parliamentary by-elections on 15 November or the Croydon North and Middlesbrough by-elections on 29 November. At the time Searchlight went to press, it was unclear whether the BDP would fight the Rotherham by-election caused by the resignation of Denis MacShane after he was suspended for fraudulent expenses claims. Griffin tweeted on 3 November that Marlene Guest, a prominent Rotherham BNP activist, had agreed to stand for the BNP. If true, the BDP will not be in a position to make much headway in Rotherham.
Kevin Scott, the British Democratic Party’s first chairman, has a first-class politics and history degree from Newcastle University. He joined the British National Party in 1983 and has been its North East organiser, a region where the party had strong support but never got councillors elected.
He also runs Civil Liberty, set up in 2006 as a nationalist civil rights group, in his words “to help individuals who have fallen victim to the tyranny of this twisted concept of government”. Initially at least it only helped BNP members.
Although Scott has no history of Nazism, he once contributed an article to The Final Conflict, magazine of the International Third Position, a fascist organisation led by the convicted Italian terrorist Roberto Fiore.
Scott has two old convictions: assault in 1987 and using threatening words and behaviour in 1993.