Published on Thursday, 05 April 2012 13:17 Written by Sonia Gable
In a smart move aimed at damage limitation, party leader Nick Griffin had warned in the latest BNP members’ bulletin that the accounts would make “grim reading”, adding that “the controlled media will use them to say we’re ‘finished’”. But, he continued, “The figures show what the situation was two years ago. They are a dated snapshot from when we were at our most overstretched.
“The 2011 accounts, which are on schedule to be submitted on time later this year, show a remarkable turn around and recovery. Best of all, on present trends we are on course to announce that the British National Party is debt free again before the end of this year,” he concluded.
The “turn around and recovery” would indeed have to be remarkable and this is by no means the first time the BNP has made such promises. At 31 December 2010 the party owed £582,961 to suppliers of goods and services, HM Revenue and Customs and its own branches, groups and units. In the bank just £15,846, an estimated £1,000 in petty cash and amounts owed to the party of £15,846 (p20 of the accounts). Not a healthy financial position.
The amount owed to suppliers might have been greater. In October 2010 Jim Dowson, the BNP’s fundraising and management consultant at the time, wrote to the party’s creditors giving them a week to accept an offer of 20p in the pound “in full and final payment” of their outstanding invoices. He made it clear that if creditors did not accept the offer they would “inevitably … end up with nothing at all”. The accounts do not reveal how much, if anything, of the party’s debt was written off as a result.
Curiously, on 4 February 2012, after the accounts had already been finalised – the auditors signed them off on 23 December 2011 – Griffin told a BNP organisers’ conference that the party was £850,000 in debt on 31 December 2010, adding the now familiar refrain that this was only a “snapshot of the appalling situation of two years ago”. It is unlikely he didn’t know the true figure, so was he deliberately exaggerating to make the reality, when revealed, look better?
Even the bottom line figure – the net liabilities on the balance sheet – was, at £755,249, nearly £100,000 less than Griffin’s jaw-dropping revelation. That figure was boosted by the inclusion of a life membership provision of £195,249 and advance subscriptions of £81,701. The life membership provision is an accounting adjustment to allow for the fact that life members, of whom there were 905 at the end of 2010 (p8), will not pay annual membership fees in coming years. The provision, which was incorrectly not made in 2009, subtracts a proportion (in this case 91%) of life members’ fees, from income in the year in which the fees are received, and releases it gradually over the following ten years as if they were paying each year (p21). The deduction of advance subscriptions is a similar adjustment to allow for members who join other than on 1 January: the proportion of their membership fee that covers a period in 2011 is treated as income of 2011.
Although these provisions are (correctly) liabilities in the accounts, they are not sums that the party will actually have to pay anyone, but they ensure that the BNP’s financial health (or lack of) at the end of 2010 is not overstated.
Where the accounts really are “grim reading” is in the income and expenditure account (p16). Never before has the party’s loss for the year come anywhere close to the £401,962 of 2010. This compares with a loss in 2009 of £57,202, and in 2008 of £82,642. Even bearing in mind the distortion caused by the failure to adjust for life membership in 2009, this is a dreadful result.
Clive Jefferson, who was appointed party treasurer in October 2010, blames the decision “made at the end of 2009 to keep the staffing and infrastructure level through to the General Election campaign of 2010” (p11). Much of this was for the office in Belfast set up by Dowson, who controlled a large part of the BNP’s operations at the time. Dowson is not named in the accounts but is a looming presence over them.
Jefferson, who Griffin claims brought “extensive real world business experience” to the BNP’s treasury organisation (p4) – the mind boggles as to what kind of business this was – states that on his appointment he “started a controlled logical downsizing of our central operation” and “cut staffing and general running costs by over 80%” (p11). He does not explain that the closure of the Belfast office was more the result of Dowson falling out with Griffin than any decision by him.
Rather obviously – but perhaps a remark directed at the BNP’s members whose understanding of accounts matches their political sophistication – Jefferson points out that the cuts he made at the end of 2010 do not show in the 2010 accounts but will be visible in the accounts for 2011. His measures to deal with the deficit must have been pretty amazing if Griffin is to believed when in summer 2011 he stated that the party owed only £52,000. That claim appeared in a leaflet entitled Myth Busters which Griffin sent to party members during his campaign for re-election as chairman, but we will examine it nonetheless as we would not accuse Griffin of lying to secure the defeat of his challenger and fellow MEP Andrew Brons, by the narrowest of margins, without justifying such a claim.
In 2010 the BNP’s income was £1,264,677, of which donations were £818,433. Donations included a legacy of £175,000, according to the accounts (p17), although only £174,000 was reported on returns made to the Electoral Commission for the last two quarters of 2010. It is likely that most of the donations were made before the general election in May 2010. Jefferson refers to a “drop in donations after the election” as a result of the party’s failure to elect an MP (p11). Griffin comes up with three reasons for the fall in income.
Firstly, there was the fact that the “massive fund-raising operation of the previous two years was always going to hit its three year effectiveness limit unless there was a huge new influx of new inquiries and members during the General Election” (p1). In other words members and supporters were fed up with being asked to turn out their pockets again and again.
Secondly, though much the same thing really, the “dashing of unrealistically high expectations” for the general election, “gerrymandering by importing and targeting thousand of African voters in Barking and Dagenham” (the myth recycled) and “far-left manipulation of the facts and artificial presentation of failure … cost us the large infusion of ‘new blood’ we needed to maintain our income stream at the level of the previous years” (p1).
Secret state black ops?
The third is the most interesting. In 2010 an undercover Metropolitan Police officer was revealed to have infiltrated an array of antiracist, anarchist and environmental protest groups for seven years, acting as an agent provocateur and police informer. One of the activities in which Mark Kennedy took part was an antifascist protest against the BNP’s 2009 Red, White and Blue summer festival in Derbyshire, where he was seen on TV news coverage egging on a crowd to charge a police line.
Based on this incident, Griffin alleges disruption of the party by undercover police officers, saying: “While there is as yet no concrete proof of the identities of those involved, the extensive black propaganda campaign in which they clearly played a part contributed to a near total lack of income in the three months after the election” (p2). In other words, he has no evidence whatsoever but as the state infiltrated antifascist groups, it must also have infiltrated the BNP and must be the cause of whatever problems Griffin cannot or doesn’t want to explain any other way. It’s quite a leap … except that the state undoubtedly does infiltrate the BNP. It’s only that Griffin hasn’t discovered who the state agents in his party are and what they are up to. For the record, we consider any state interference in the democratic political process to be unacceptable. The BNP should be fought by antifascists showing that the fascist party has no solutions for the problems faced by the working class, not by reliance on unaccountable state agencies working to their own agenda.
So it is fair to assume that donations in 2011, with no major elections, were a fraction of the 2010 figure. What of membership income, which in 2010 stood at £305,070 (p17)? Brons recently revealed that the BNP had only 3-4,000 members of whom around 1,000 were life members. The BNP has several different categories of membership at varying cost, making it impossible to calculate income but about one third of the 2010 figure might be a fair estimate.
The third highest income source in the 2010 accounts is £96,079 from “commercial activities” of which £93,079 is described as from “publications” (p17). What this could be is unclear. The party hardly sells many copies of its Voice of Freedom newspaper and has not published anything else that would generate that sort of income other than the campaign leaflets that party branches have to pay for. Again this is a figure unlikely to be repeated in 2011.
Add to this the absence of any large donations reported to the Electoral Commission in 2011, except for £10,000 given by Adam Champneys, one of the party’s regular donors, in November 2011, and it is not looking good for the 2011 accounts. Total income of more than £600,000 would be pushing it.
Remember that the party owed £582,961 on 31 December 2010 and assume that despite an evidently preposterous claim to have “cut staffing and general running costs by over 80% without the permanent loss of any core functions of the party” (p11) Jefferson could not have cut total expenditure, which came to £1,666,639 in 2010, to much less than £500,000, and that doesn’t leave much surplus in 2011 to pay off the old debts, certainly not by the middle of the year as claimed. Some expenditure was not under his control, in particular legal fees to pay for all Griffin’s reckless court cases, which amounted to £85,562 in 2010. We’ll see when the 2011 accounts appear: at the end of July if Jefferson is to be believed. Griffin’s target of a “debt free” party by the end of 2012 is also something we will only believe when we see it, noting that this is slightly different to his claim to have already turned the party’s finances around at the organisers’ conference this February.
The not-so-secret Trafalgar Club
The drop in support for the party will also have affected donations to the Trafalgar Club, the members of which pay at least £20 a month in return for an invitation to an annual dinner on the weekend nearest to 21 October graced by the party chairman himself, and occasional other events. The club sells itself primarily to people who cannot join the party because they might lose their job or reputation.
The Trafalgar Club has been described as secretive, but a note about the party’s administration department (p5) hardly backs up that allegation: “The party also has a fund-raising body, the Trafalgar Club, which is administered by this Department under the party constitution”. The secrecy also does not extend to the cost of running the club, which in the 2010 accounts is stated as £6,952 (p17). The club’s income is not separately identified in the accounts. That’s because it doesn’t need to be. Accounts generally categorise expenditure under a variety of headings but donations are just donations.
Griffin’s daughter Jenny Matthys took over administration of the Trafalgar Club in autumn 2010, but there is no evidence that the club’s income is channelled into Griffin’s own pocket. Though guilty of multiple failings as chairman, Griffin is not stupid. When in February 2009 he was sent a cheque for £5,000 payable to him personally, in what was probably an attempt to entrap him into committing an offence under electoral law, he immediately passed the money to the nominally independent but in reality BNP-linked trade union Solidarity, thus circumventing the problem, even though the BNP would have needed the money. So he would hardly do something so obvious as to conspire with his daughter to pocket Trafalgar Club donations month on month. And the auditors, Silver & Co, would have asked questions.
Before leaving the figures and turning again to the equally interesting “chairman’s introduction”, a word about their accuracy. Like in 2009 the auditors state that the accounts “give a true and fair view” (that’s a “pass” in audit-speak) but “they cannot be classed as ‘true and fair’, under the usual definition of that term” (so only a qualified “pass”) (p15). Further doubt is cast by the declaration that they “cannot form an opinion as to the completeness of the financial statements”. That assessment follows a list of failings including absence of bank reconciliations, inadequate recording of receipts and sources of income, payments that could not be verified or vouched to records, cash drawn for no known reason, and “insufficient records available to fully justify staff costs, wages or professional costs of £207,898” (p14). This last figure, we are told (p18), is costs “provided through a third party without documentation being retained” – Dowson again, through his company AdLorries.com.
Enter the Government bank
One element of the failings is not the BNP’s fault. A note on page 19 explains that the party was unable to get statements from the Royal Bank of Scotland to enable the account to be checked. Claiming the party had twice written to RBS and not received even an acknowledgement, the note states: “It is unlikely that other political parties encounter such problems, something which provides an insight into the unusual difficulties encountered in the preparation of these accounts”.
If true then this is unacceptable behaviour by RBS, which alongside NatWest is part of the RBS Group in which the Government holds a stake of over 80%. The bank was prepared to take the BNP’s money, so should provide the same service as to any customer.
Griffin’s introduction examines the BNP’s fortunes in 2010, “perhaps the most difficult” year in the party’s history (p1). His problem is to explain why the party first failed to secure Griffin’s election to Parliament in Barking, east London, and then after the general election failed to capitalise on the 563,743 votes it gained, more than double its previous general election total.
The usual suspects are listed: media manipulation, censorship by the BBC, a “postal vote system customised to maximise the Labour vote”, not forgetting the “legal assault by the Commission for Equality and Human Rights” (p3) – though consistently misnaming the Equality and Human Rights Commission cannot help.
While attacking the BBC, Griffin has a kinder word for Channel 4, which aired “an unusually objective documentary, The Battle for Barking”, which “revealed the full extent of what we had been up against in terms of the Labour party’s £100,000 campaign in Barking” (p2).
The film, shown on More 4 on 30 November 2010, was indeed one of the more interesting programmes on the BNP, though it had its failings too. Its producer, Laura Fairrie, followed both the Labour and the BNP campaigns for a year up to election day and succeeded in getting an insight into why some sections of the white working class are attracted to the BNP despite the extensive antifascist campaigning that went on in Barking. The BNP lost all its councillors in Barking and Dagenham – so the antifascist campaign succeeded – but still turned in a worryingly large vote.
Storm successfully weathered
One thing almost entirely missing from these accounts is any reference to the internal strife that beset the party during 2010 and grew over the following year. Only on page 4 does Griffin recognise that “an Unholy Alliance of ‘internal’ opposition and openly far-left assaults went into overdrive in a clear attempt to finish us off”. He claims the party “weathered the storm”.
The accounts record paid-up membership at 31 December 2010 as 10,256 compared to 12,632 in 2009 (p8). In May 2010 the BNP’s Advisory Council meeting was told the party had 14,000 members. Whether any of these figures are true is impossible to say. The figure is not one that the auditors needed to verify.
The list of Advisory Council members (p9) makes interesting reading. People such as Emma Colgate, Paul Golding, Eddy Butler, Mike Howson, Chris Beverley, Andy McBride are long gone, as are many of the branches, groups and contact units listed on page 2 to 4 of the separate regional accounting unit accounts. The regional accounts, which bring together the finances of the local groups, purport to show a profit of £75,015 for the year, but their most interesting feature is that the balance sheet (p16) doesn’t balance. The discrepancy is £14,529. One wonders whether the Electoral Commission, which held these accounts back for some weeks for checking, noticed this. Strangely, a note on page 15 points out the difficulty of reconciling transactions between the central party and the region, not all of which were recorded, and states “the accounts have been balanced by way of a contribution from the Party in these accounts”. Who’s having whom on is anyone’s guess.