Published on Wednesday, 19 December 2012 15:53 Written by Sonia Gable
The Islamophobic British Freedom Party can no longer fight elections after the Electoral Commission statutorily deregistered it last week. The BFP, which is closely aligned with the English Defence League, took 10.3% of the vote in last month’s police commissioner election in Bedfordshire, a result it described as “historic”. But it will not be able to try to build on this success, at least for now, after the party’s officers failed to send the Electoral Commission an annual registration form, accompanied by a cheque for £25, by the due date of 31 October 2012.
The form, prescribed under section 32 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, is not exactly complicated, principally asking the party to confirm the details of its officers, address and symbols. It should not have been beyond the intellectual capabilities of Paul Weston, its chairman, Dr George Whale, its nominating officer, and Richard Bateman, its treasurer. Dr Whale is, after all, “industrial liaison research officer” at Queen Mary, University of London, School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, as well as being the BFP’s London organiser.
One supposes they couldn’t be bothered, but if they want to contest the next round of council elections in May they will have to get themselves re-registered – if they can work out how – before they submit any nominations containing the party’s name. Perhaps they think it’s not worth the effort: in May 2012 their six candidates (five in Liverpool and one in Basildon) received 308 votes – that’s between them not each. Their candidates might do better as independents: they could hardly do much worse.
Eight days after the deregistration on 11 December, the BFP’s website still contains no announcement or explanation. No surprise there: it’s a bit embarrassing to have to tell the members they can no longer do that which political parties exist to do. Of particular interest, at least to those members who can reasonably estimate the sum of two plus two, should be how the party will spend (has spent?) Carroll’s £5,000 deposit, returned for bringing home more than 5% of the votes in the police commissioner election. The money was donated by supporters. If it can’t be put towards future election campaigns then what with it?
Of greater concern to antifascists is the misinformation spread about the deregistration. It didn’t take advanced powers of research to establish the facts. After all the Electoral Commission website describes the BFP’s status as “Statutorily Deregistered”, rather than the alternative “Voluntarily Deregistered”, and it took just one phone call to find out the reason. So why did Matthew Collins of Hope Not Hate write (before correcting the story): “The party was de-registered by its leader Paul Weston and party official Dr George Whale”, a decision “made without consulting the party membership”? And what on earth does Collins mean by “… the party fared worse than they expected in the recent PCC elections in Bedfordshire, where it claimed its 10% of the poll would translate into millions of votes across the country”? Translate when? The party only stood in the one police commissioner election, so in what election was its 10% (a better than expected result given the big anti-BFP campaign by HNH) supposed to translate?
In the rewritten version of the story, Collins implies that Weston deliberately let the party’s registration lapse to avoid it being sued by Jim Dowson, the administration officer of the rival Britain First. Dowson, as I reported in the November issue of Searchlight, initiated legal proceedings for defamation after the BFP posted a strong warning on its website about Britain First’s “false campaign to ‘free Tommy Robinson’” and accused Dowson, Britain First and its chairman Paul Golding of being “serial scammers”. Dowson has longstanding differences with Simon Bennett, the BFP’s webmaster, going back to when, according to Bennett, Dowson denied him lucrative commissions when both were in the British National Party.
Weston may be so naïve as to believe that deregistration of the BFP will protect him or his fellow party officers from legal action for defamation, but all that deregistration does is stop the BFP from standing in elections other than for parish councils. The party still exists. And in any case the individual officers concerned would be personally liable in respect of any defamation.
As I wrote in the November Searchlight hopefully this little fight will run and run.