On 1 April Mark Collett, former British National Party publicity chief and one-time loyal follower of party leader Nick Griffin, was arrested and charged with making threats to kill Griffin and James Dowson, a shadowy figure with links to Loyalist terror groups who juggles fundraising for British fascism with running a virulent anti-abortion campaign in Northern Ireland.
Why would Collett, whose political skin — metaphorical and literal — has been saved by Griffin on more than one occasion, make such threats? Why, in the midst of a full-tilt bid for parliamentary seats and the control of councils in Stoke and Barking, would the BNP make public such allegations? What does this mean for the BNP’s prospects in the polls and the likely future shape of fascist organisation in this country?
According to press releases from the BNP at the time of Collett’s arrest, the police were not only informed of the personal threats but also that the police are investigating “financial irregularities” and the “leaking on to the internet of sensitive party information”.
Threats and dodgy finances are nothing new to those who follow Griffin. Those who’ve stood up to Griffin in the past have been threatened, smeared and attacked. Sadie Graham, a former “star” of British fascism, is just one example.
The party is habitually late in returning financial statements to the Electoral Commission and when they do, glaring mistakes and omissions abound.
Over the past eighteen months the full BNP membership list has leaked onto the internet twice. The first time by associates of Graham seeking revenge for her expulsion from the party. Nobody has thus far been blamed or taken the glory for the second leak.
So how do the allegations against Collett fit together — as far as we can tell?
Despite the media coverage, gratuitous personal chutzpah and votes at the ballot box, the BNP is a relatively small political outfit. This is not to diminish the threat they pose or to discount the possibilities for exponential growth in the short-term. The 2009 European elections over-stretched and exhausted party personnel and finances. The 2010 General Election looks set to repeat this process.
BNP branches up and down the country have been instructed to find and stand candidates not only in parliamentary constituencies (up to 400) but also in council elections. Whilst many of these campaigns will exist on paper only, thousands of pounds and thousands of hours will be expended up and down the country delivering the fascists’ message.
At the same time the BNP will be primarily focussed on the Barking and Stoke constituencies where Griffin and his deputy Simon Darby respectively, hope to boost council votes to ensure control over local councils by standing as parliamentary candidates. The possibility of a BNP Member of Parliament is not out of the question but the fascists themselves are under no illusions of the real prize: control or partial control over council infrastructures, schools, social services and millions of pounds of funding.
So the BNP have a plan: take it a step at a time, build the party locally, knock on doors, get some councillors elected, make a good showing in the notoriously unpredictable Euro elections, take control of one or two councils and continue to build from there. Much of this plan — the community campaigning, determined “localism” etc.- has its origins ironically enough with Sadie Graham, former BNP “group development officer” and arch-critic of Mark Collett.
Graham’s complaint against Collett at the time of her expulsion in late 2007 was that he presented a major threat to the BNP’s bid for “legitimacy”.
Collett, the star of Channel 4 documentary Young, Nazi and Proud was a liability not just because of his questionable financial machinations and personal life but because of his outspoken affinity to more traditional, outspoken fascism. None of this fitted well with Graham’s “easy with the Nazism” approach.
For whatever reason — be it the political threat posed by Graham’s ascendancy or some mysterious personal loyalty to Collett — Griffin dispensed with the critic. Graham has taken to the internet once again to remind Griffin of her previous warnings.
So why choose to act against Collett now? According to reports in Searchlight and discussions on the fascist website Stormfront Collett is relatively isolated within the BNP itself and in the wider “white nationalist” community more generally.
More than anything, the public move against Collett and the message it’s sent to both the party and more widely signals a “stick to it” attitude from the leadership. Stick to the “slowly does it” tactic, stick to the “now is not the time for violence” attitude, maintain the “quiet revolution” perspective.
The British National Party in its present manifestation is still a viable prospect for British fascists. The BNP is still able to relate nationalistic and racist ideas to the current political, social and economic malaise in society. In the absence of organised working class political campaigning, the BNP’s message has some traction. It’s entirely likely that they will massively increase their representation on local councils, will boost their showing in the polls come 6 May and even take control of an entire council. Griffin and his loyal supporters still have everything to play for.
But despite these prospects, the BNP is not the only game in town for those on the far-right with nationalist and racist ideas. The emergence of the English Defence League and the partial resuscitation of the National Front present potential outside pressures on the Griffin gang.
For those old-time fascists and the newer ones who look back to the “glory days” of violent street politics, the EDL is an attractive political alternative. Its media visibility and apparent support is a function of a sharp political differentiation that in some ways surpasses the social ground most often contested by the BNP: the consolidation of a deep specifically anti-Muslim racism.
Whereas BNP propaganda is infused with sometimes subtle, other times less so subtle, Muslim-baiting and anti-immigration propaganda, the EDL rallies supporters behind unmitigated racial hostility towards Muslims.
Where the BNP suggests that the woes in the economy and social provision are the fault of immigrant groups, the EDL presents Muslims as an existential threat to “English civilisation”. The “sharper” message, the more outright racism, enables EDL leaders to muster hundreds on the streets for violent confrontations. The BNP reportedly struggles to organise substantial canvassing teams.
None of this will have been missed by the BNP leadership. The pressures on them to deliver are manifold. The consequences of failing to deliver could be disastrous.
In such a situation, characters like Collett are perfect distractions and potential scapegoats come result time. Among the allegations made against Collett are that he misused campaign funds, delayed the printing of vital election material and deliberately sabotaged the leaflets that were printed. What better excuse for poor results?
Disaster in May could precipitate the desertion of many long-time fascists from the BNP ranks and will give a fillip to those on the extreme right of the party. A bad showing could see the creation of new political formations that attempt to relate to the milieu around the EDL. Such a jettisoning of cadre could see the BNP’s public face lurch further to the “legitimate ground”.
Right now the only thing that is clear, is that the election is make or break time for the BNP.
At the same time, the same questions and organisational imperatives posed by Solidarity to the labour movement and anti-fascists will remain after the election. Supporters of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, working with other working-class anti-fascists, have made moves towards establishing an effective national campaign against the BNP and EDL. We have just a few weeks to make this new network responsive to the realities of post-election Britain and the developments that will follow.
• More information about that network: http://nottmstopbnp.wordpress.com/