The British National Party (BNP), founded in 1982 by John Tyndall, a former chairman of the National Front, has consistently campaigned to reverse postwar immigration, to withdraw Britain from the European Union, to reintroduce the death penalty for serious crimes, to back Ulster’s Loyalists, to support the family, and to place greater restraints on big business.  Such policies were never exactly going to help the party secure the Nobel Peace Prize, and the BNP has never been treated kindly by the powers-that-be.  Yet under its new leader, Nick Griffin, a law graduate from Cambridge and, like his predecessor, a former senior figure in the National Front, official and semi-official harassment of the party has reached new heights (or plumbed new depths)—despite some softening of policies and improvements in presentation.

The reason is that the BNP, once widely viewed as morally outrageous but irrelevant, is now viewed as morally outrageous but increasingly relevant.  Victories in local elections since 2001 and creditable votes in the June 2004 European elections have given it important local council representation (mostly in northern England) and raised the outside possibility that it may even secure representation at Westminster for the first time in next year’s general election.  Had it not been for the sudden surge of the United Kingdom Independence Party in June—they went from 3 MEP’s to 12—the BNP would almost certainly have obtained a few European Parliament seats, a happenstance that has led to predictable BNP mutterings about “conspiracies.”

Since 2001, when the BNP won its first council seats in Burnley, the political temperature has been rising.  Stung by the constant allegations of Stokely Carmichael-ish “institutional racism,” senior figures in Britain’s armed forces, police, and prison services have overcompensated by fanatically opposing “racism.”  In 2002, the head of the Prison Service decreed that BNP members could not be prison officers.  In November 2003, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) stated that BNP members should not be allowed to join the police because they were likely to display what one ACPO representative called “attitudes incompatible with professional policing”—a point of view shared by then-Home Secretary David Blunkett, who took time out from expediting his mistress’s nanny’s visa applications to bleat, “I don’t believe it is possible for a member of the British National Party to be a police officer in this country.”  (Presumably as a ploy to ingratiate themselves with London’s overwhelmingly anti-Tory ethnic minorities, London’s Conservatives contemptibly suggested that this ban should be extended to the Fire Brigade.)

Despite protestations of objectivity and pretensions to liberalism, Britain’s media have been unremittingly hostile to the BNP, never giving them any credit and never treating BNP members as fellow human beings.  Even such self-styled “conservative” newspapers as the Daily Telegraph have blindly accepted the ultraleft view of the BNP as being unreservedly true; many of the articles that appear across the spectrum of newspapers are almost identical, as if they were cut-and-pasted from one another.  The result is that BNP members are often treated like outcasts and are omitted from discussions, denied civil liberties, sacked from jobs, and refused support by trade unions—although a newly proficient legal team has ensured that many such outrages are later quietly reversed, and erstwhile employers compelled to pay compensation.  Within Britain’s chattering classes, it is thought cleverly postmodern to say, as one agitpropping musician expressed it, that BNP members should be beaten up or even, as comedian Jeremy Hardy said on his BBC radio show, that BNP members and supporters should be shot in the back of the head.  When hackers closed down the BNP website for several weeks earlier this year, there were no expressions of concern from those who are the most assiduous in promoting freedom of expression for everybody else.

The BBC—despite being governed by a Royal Charter that commits it to strict objectivity—is one of the BNP’s most persistent enemies, perhaps with an eye to ingratiating itself with the government that will be reviewing its Royal Charter in 2006.  In July 2004, the BBC broadcast a documentary called Secret Agent, a “shock-horror” type of program that secretly filmed BNP members saying and admitting to doing discreditable things, from squirting dog excrement through the letterboxes of Asian families to fighting in the streets to saying (this from John Tyndall, who was recently expelled by Griffin) that “all that has come out of Africa is voodoo, cannibalism, and AIDS.”

This documentary had several important results for the party.  First, the BNP’s bankers—the HSBC and Barclays Bank (the latter, incidentally, a strong supporter of apartheid-era South Africa), followed by the Alliance & Leicester—withdrew their facilities from the party.  The BNP has had to move its banking operations overseas—a move that has further hindered the party’s already shambolic accounting procedures and earned it a £5,000 fine from the Electoral Commission for late filing of accounts.  In September 2004, confidential Home Office documents leaked to the press revealed that the government was drawing up plans to prevent BNP members from joining the Civil Service.  (One of the chief architects of the plan is Martin Narey, who was head of the Prison Service at the time of that ban.)  In December, nine BNP members were arrested as a result of the program, including Nick Griffin—although six, including Griffin, have been released without charge.  This is probably because the “crime” Griffin is alleged to have committed—that of calling Islam “a wicked, vicious faith”—is not yet a crime, pending the government’s proposed banning of “Islamophobia” in 2005.

It has to be said that the BNP is sometimes its own worst enemy, by being insufficiently selective about whom it admits as members, by cutting administrative corners, and by being strident, paranoid, and aggrieved.  There are also presentational wrinkles, with—to take just two of many possible examples—its website referring to Michael Howard as “Michael Hecht” (his Jewish-Romanian family’s original name) and calling political opponents “vermin.”  If BNP members want to be treated with respect, they must show a little respect in turn for their political opponents, many of whom are more mistaken than malicious.  Yet, these undeniable BNP faults aside, one uncomfortable fact remains: A worryingly large number of Britain’s politicians and opinion-formers are guilty of unchivalrous conduct, intellectual laziness, and political turpitude unworthy of a genuinely free and liberal society.