Published on Sunday, 08 July 2012 17:35 Written by Sonia Gable
True to his promise, Clive Jefferson, the British National Party’s treasurer, managed to get the party’s 2011 accounts to the Electoral Commission not just on time but in advance of the 6 July deadline, by how many days he did not say. Not only that: Jefferson reports that the accounts achieved “our first ever full audit pass” and “our first operating surplus since 2004”.
None of that is a surprise to Searchlight: I have been monitoring the BNP’s financial affairs for many years and analysing statements by Jefferson and Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, to determine which were believable, such as the Central Party Report Financial Overview of March 2012, which I analysed in the May Searchlight, and which were clearly untrue, such as Griffin’s claim in summer 2011 that the party owed only £52,000 (Myth Busters leaflet).
The claimed operating profit of £214,473 for 2011 (the full accounts will not be published until 2 August) is a remarkable turnaround compared to a loss of £401,962 in 2010. How this was achieved is explained in my article in the July Searchlight, written before the auditors had finished their scrutiny: mainly huge staffing cuts and a major reorganisation of the party’s administration. Finally Griffin, who we have previously pointed out is not stupid, took on board the criticisms of his financial and administrative mismanagement and let others sort it out, primarily Jefferson and Patrick Harrington, staff manager for the party and Griffin’s European constituency office. The treasurer’s report for the 2011 accounts, published on the BNP website, says the saving in staff costs and professional fees (a euphemism for staff who are treated as self-employed to avoid national insurance contributions) was £546,760. As the total of these costs in 2010 was £681,884, that is indeed a drastic cut.
Jefferson also highlights a saving of £152,179 in postage costs, the result of moving away from “huge and very expensive postal fundraiser mails [sic] shots”. The said mail shots were instituted by Jim Dowson, who raised around £2 million for the party since his arrival as BNP management consultant and fundraiser in 2008, of which only a small proportion was spent on campaigning. Much of it went on paying the staff who have now proved unnecessary, in other words supporters’ hard-earned funds were wasted on a bloated party apparatus.
In his report to the 2010 accounts Jefferson, who was only appointed treasurer in October 2010, blamed that year’s record loss on the decision “made at the end of 2009 to keep the staffing and infrastructure level through to the General Election campaign of 2010”. That rather understates the position. After the BNP won two seats in the European Parliament in June 2009, several party staff were transferred to the MEPs’ EU-funded payroll, and Griffin himself stopped drawing a party salary. Yet staff costs in 2010 were £21,890 more than in 2009. So more staff were taken on and they stayed long after the general election in May 2010. Even if the party needed extra hands to mount its general election effort, surely any half-decent party manager would have called them in and given them their notice on Friday 7 May. One wonders what they were doing the rest of the year: flying paper darts around the office perhaps. Or helping Griffin put the boot into leadership challenger Eddy Butler and his supporters.
The 2011 profit does not mean the party ended the year out of the financial doldrums. The profit will still leave the party with a “bottom line” deficit of nearly £600,000. Earlier this year Griffin wrote in a members’ bulletin that the party was on course to be debt free by the end of 2012. That is a possibility thanks to a legacy in the form of a house left to the party by Albert Edward Starmore from Chingford, north London, said to be worth £500,000. Other legacies have been mooted and one certainly received: Edward Hart’s £28,736.97 in February 2012. So Jefferson cannot be faulted for concluding: “The financial crisis is now over”.
Does all this make a difference? The party certainly has far fewer members than the 10,256 at the end of 2010. Based on the BNP’s draft figures for 2011 and estimates of how membership income accrued, I calculated that the party’s average membership in 2011 might have been as high as 5,000, but the number at the end of the year was probably lower. Either figure represents a large step backwards. Election results are highly variable. In April the party polled 30.8% in a council by-election in Barking and Dagenham; last week a BNP candidate in Kingston upon Thames obtained just 23 votes, amounting to 1.1%. Kingston is not exactly a favourable area for the BNP but the result is poor by any standards.
Some have pretty much written off the BNP, though not Andrew Brons, the BNP’s dissident second MEP who continues to hold out against forming a new “nationalist unity” party because it is impossible for a breakaway party to succeed while the parent party – the BNP – still exists. The Hope Not Hate (HNH) campaign announced a “Beyond the BNP” programme at the end of 2011, though that included an anti-BNP campaign for the 2012 local elections, albeit with far fewer of its usual tabloids (fewer editions and fewer copies) than expected.
After the BNP’s poor results in May, Matthew Collins writing in Hope Not Hate magazine issue 2 (or perhaps Collins and Ruth Smeeth according to the magazine’s contents list but not the article itself on p20) said: “The demise of the BNP … has created a vacuum on the far right of British politics”. He (they) went on to suggest it was most likely to be filled by the British Freedom Party, following that party’s appointment as deputy leader of Stephen Lennon, one of the leaders of the Islamophobic English Defence League, a decision that “is likely to massively improve the political fortunes of the BFP and could possibly reshape the British far right”. Similar views were articulated by Smeeth and Nick Lowles, chief executive of HNH, in an article on 10 May for Progress, the right-wing Labour group with which HNH has become entwined.
The BFP, officially classed as a small party, had to submit its accounts to the Electoral Commission to an earlier deadline. They show income for 2011 of £2,418.38, less than 0.4% of the BNP’s income. Nevertheless the BFP turned a healthy profit for the year: £526.68. Not exactly a solid financial basis for future growth. It reported 449 members, a figure that includes “paid and non-paying members”. Judging by the party’s income and its standard membership fee of £20, most are non-paying. Its six candidates in the council elections polled between 0.6% and 4.2%, or an average of 51 votes per candidate.
The BFP has a very long way to go before it deserves to be taken seriously even as a challenger to the BNP’s reduced electoral standing, notwithstanding the “broader appeal”, as Lowles and Smeeth describe it, of the violent EDL leader. That the street thugs of the EDL might be turned into a serious electoral force is stretching the bounds of credibility. The BNP’s improving financial position, which HNH have so far ignored, will help it keep far-right challengers at bay.