BNP leader Nick Griffin was declared bankrupt this month.
The fact that the Cambridge-educated Griffin (who can bring home up to £182,826 a year as an MEP) can manage his finances so badly should tell us something about why the party he leads is in such dire straits.
Dogged by internal battles, court cases, falling membership, poor electoral performance and dismal opinion poll ratings, the BNP is going bust as a political force.
Not long ago, its stock was so much higher. The rapid progress the party made between 2000 and 2006 was remarkable for a small party. Having fielded just 17 candidates in local elections in 2000 and winning 3,022 votes, six years later it put up 363 candidates, raked in 229,389 votes and hit the jackpot by more than doubling its number of councillors to 48. The focus point was Barking & Dagenham council where it won 12 seats. With an 18% average vote share, the party felt its trajectory was such that it was “one crisis away from power”.
A year later it finished second in 103 local contests. 2008 and Richard Barnbrook was elected to the London Assembly. 2009’s European Parliament elections saw Griffin riding high after being elected to represent the North West of England as an MEP, while Andrew Brons struck gold by winning a seat in Yorkshire and the Humber.
The BNP had hit its peak.
Later in 2009 saw Nick Griffin’s disastrous performance on the BBC’s Question Time. As the Independent put it, “given the oxygen of publicity, he choked”.
2010 was supposed to be a safe bet for further wins in the general and local elections. But Nick Griffin failed to beat Margaret Hodge in the stronghold of Barking, a defeat which was compounded by the gutting of the local base as all 12 BNP councillors lost their seats. Fielding a record 338 Parliamentary candidates, it secured just 1.9% of the vote and squandered £132,500 in lost deposits. Their number of councillors across the country halved overnight from 54 to 28. Richard Barnbrook resigned the party whip in August, having failed in his attempts to organise a coup against Griffin.
2011 saw them lose a further 11 council seats, plus pay out damages to a party worker for wrongful dismissal. By October 2012 Brons had also resigned the BNP whip after falling out with Griffin.
Elections this year could see Griffin lose his seat in the European Parliament and its remaining local councillors struggle. The BNP’s dreams of seeing England (and the rest of the UK) become an increasing illiberal country have died a death. Why?
Fraser Nelson makes an excellent point when he says “the BNP lost because it tried to hawk a racist agenda in a country that has proved to be among the most tolerant on Earth.” But as the BNP proved by getting two MEPs elected and gaining 12 seats in Barking, it is possible for small parties to gain a foothold and build out.
What really did for the BNP was its poor party management which resulted in bitter internal disputes and costly court cases. These sorts of things are far more likely to happen to a party that isn’t winning. And the reason it wasn’t winning was because it’s lack of basic ground campaign work that would have turned temporary popularity into solid support. This was all covered in the superb documentary by Laura Fairrie for Channel 4, “The Battle for Barking”.
The BNP’s campaign was built on street stalls, mobile poster vans, blanket leaflet delivery and impromptu conversations with electors as-and-when they met them. Margaret Hodge fought a data-driven campaign, having doorstep conversations with targeted electors and running a smart GOTV campaign. Postal and proxy votes were well organised. All the BNP could say to supporters on polling day who hadn’t registered was, “get yourself an emergency vote next time” (whatever one of those is).
Hodge was also clever in framing a clear choice for potential supporters: Labour or BNP. The BNP, caught by the problem of having too many issues to aim at, fired off in all sorts of directions.
If this was the BNP’s best effort (given it was their stronghold and their only target seat) then you can imagine their operations elsewhere. Nearly 28,000 people in Barking did not vote on 6 May 2010. The opportunity was there.
Losing the battle for Barking dealt a fatal blow to the BNP. Political success is based on winning elections and failing to invest in professional campaigning can end up costing you everything.
The title of this post doesn’t mean that I think prejudice in this country will die with the BNP, it’s simply a shameless rip-off of the title of the 1935 book by George Dangerfield, “The Strange Death of Liberal England”.
This morning the Electoral Commission has announced it has launched a study into whether we should require electors to show ID at polling stations.
They have named 16 areas where elections are at a greater risk of fraud. These at-risk areas include places such as Birmingham, Woking and Slough which have been the subject of high profile electoral fraud cases, as well as Coventry, Derby, Pendle and Peterborough. Tower Hamlets is also rightly on the list.
The man passing judgement in court on those high-profile cases mentioned above was Richard Mawrey QC. I’ve blogged before about how, after ruling on the Woking case, he outlined the various ways in which to spot electoral fraud. I also said there were two things that had to change if we wanted to ensure our democratic process was not open to fraud: ID at polling stations and the end to on-demand postal voting.
Last year I met with the Chair of the Electoral Commission, Jenny Watson, and passed on anecdotal evidence of how not having ID at polling stations has led to fraud. As highlighted by the Commission itself, proven cases of electoral fraud are rare but this is because it is so difficult to prove. If someone wishes to commit the act of “personation” – voting as someone else – then unless the elector whose vote is being stolen is in the queue behind the fraudster at the polling station, it’s difficult to see how someone could be caught. In my view, where personation really occurs is with the votes of people who have no intention of using them. A party activist can knock on someone’s door at 9.30pm on polling day, ascertain whether or not that person has voted or intends to at all, and if the answer to both questions is “no” then the door is wide open for them to steal that person’s vote by turning up to the polling station and doing so.
So I fully support the Electoral Commission’s efforts to persuade the Government to bring ID at polling stations to England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland already enjoys the advantages of ID at polling stations, so this is not something new to the UK: the sooner the Government acts, the better.