Published on Thursday, 31 May 2012 13:24 Written by Sonia Gable
A report on the British National Party website on 27 May, which championed the dual rights of the Scottish Defence League and Unite Against Fascism to demonstrate in Edinburgh on 26 May, was interesting on more than one level.
The BNP’s claim that the police upheld democracy on the day was of little surprise: despite the high percentage of individual members who regularly put two fingers up at the law, the BNP claims to be the ‘law and order’ party – and officially supporting the police goes with that turf. Nor was it particularly odd that the BNP expressed support for the SDL, sister organisation to the English Defence League, the bunch of Islamophobic thugs with whom the BNP has been trying to curry favour over the past few months. Although there is significant overlap in support between the EDL and BNP, the EDL leadership has rejected the BNP’s overtures, opting instead for the political oblivion of the ex-BNP splinter the British Freedom Party.
The less-than-wholehearted condemnation of UAF was slightly surprising. The council’s decision to allow UAF to march through the city centre along a route denied to the SDL was described merely as “likely to prove a controversial decision”, and the report pointed out factually that it was only a small group of UAF protesters who caused “the only trouble on the day” and there were no arrests.
Of greatest interest in the report is the praise for Patrick Harrington’s involvement. Harrington, who successfully represented the SDL in a court action to overturn a city council ban on the march, has for some time worked for Nick Griffin MEP, the BNP leader, as a political researcher and manager of his parliamentary office staff and as part of the central party administration. Such dual roles are common in the BNP, enabling the cash-strapped party to fund its party officers out of the European funding for MEPs. Harrington claims no legal qualification – he has a BA in philosophy and a postgraduate certificate of education – but has represented the BNP and some individual party members at employment tribunals and in other appeals, and is now studying for an LLM.
Since January 2006 Harrington has been general secretary of the BNP’s fake trade union Solidarity. The union was set up as a joint venture between the BNP and the National Liberal Party, of which Harrington was one of the leaders. Harrington is no longer a member of the NLP, in fact he has at long last joined the BNP.
Harrington’s BNP membership neutralises one of the criticisms of the many BNP and ex-BNP dissidents who attack Griffin’s leadership, namely that he put too much power in the party in the hands of non-members. More serious criticisms of Griffin, such as his financial mismanagement of the party and dictatorial nature, remain of course. Another non-member who held so much power that he virtually owned the BNP was the extreme anti-abortion activist Jim Dowson, but Dowson and Griffin parted company acrimoniously at the end of 2010. Dowson now raises money for Britain First, one of the many splinter organisations to which former BNP activists have scattered, though this one falls short of a political party styling itself a “campaign group” – another dead end.
Some observers have recently claimed that Griffin was trying to bring Dowson back into the BNP, but this is gainsaid by Harrington’s move. Dowson and Harrington hate each other’s guts to the extent that Britain First ‘proscribed’ Solidarity last summer, describing Harrington (unfairly) as “a malignant influence on nationalism for nearly thirty years”. Harrington and Griffin go back a long way, and notably visited Libya together as a guest of the Gaddafi regime in September 1988, though the two men have at times disagreed politically.
Harrington’s affiliation to the BNP raises an intriguing possibility. Griffin knows his leadership is unpopular and he cannot ignore the fact that his party has lost the bulk of its activists largely because of it. His main aim is to secure re-election as an MEP in 2014. At one time he said he would resign as BNP leader in 2013 to allow him to concentrate on the European election campaign, although his current term of office as party leader runs to summer 2015. His big problem has been to identify a suitable successor, someone on whose favour Griffin can rely but who is also capable of being the leader. Griffin’s daughter Jennifer has been mooted but, in contrast to Marine Le Pen who took over from her father as leader of the French National Front, any evidence of leadership ability is sadly lacking. Harrington, however, has led parties before, albeit very small ones and with little success, but the potential is there. Although Harrington suffers from some of the same embarrassing past political associations as Griffin, and some others of his own such as his reluctance to condemn the IRA, he publicly rejected antisemitism and fascism 20 years ago and has no criminal convictions.
Could Griffin be lining him up for the party leadership next year? The failure by Andrew Brons, Griffin’s fellow BNP MEP and de facto leader of the BNP dissidents, to announce a new ‘nationalist unity’ party – to the disappointment of participants at the meeting in Newcastle on 27 May called in the hope that just such a move would result – gives Griffin more time to try to reverse the exodus of activists and re-energise his party. Whether he and Harrington can get their act together quickly enough, we can only wait and see.