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Thursday, 23 March 2017

Hunting Griffins: The BNP and Freedom of Speech

For the past few weeks I've encountered the thorny issue of free speech(tm) pretty much everywhere I look on the web. A lot of the back and forth is very old but one in particular has worn out its welcome. It concerns the British National Party (BNP) and their leaders one and only appearence on current affairs/political debate show Question Time on the BBC. 

In Liberal mythology this event has become something of an exorcism when Nick Griffin BNP leader and Britains main far right bogeyman was exposed for what he was and firmly defeated by the power of rational debate on a national platform watched by millions (eight million, the show has an average of 2.7 million per episode). And his party quickly crumbled into obscurity.  Its a good story, there's just one problem, its not remotely true. Its not even coincidental, and yet for some reason this myth has grown over time in proportion to the amount of evidence against it.

Now aside from annoying me this myth is potentially very dangerous which is why I decided to outline what really happened

First just a quick primer, the BNP came out of the collapse of the National Front, a fascist group that tried to be both an electoral party and a street fighting organisation. After its collapse the BNP launched itself as legal political party though individual members kept getting exposed for links to violent crime and terror. they became known as the fascists in suits, they tried to make far right policies and ideologies more respectable and mainstream. A big part of their propaganda that wasn't aimed at demonising migrants was that they were being unfairly targeted and singled out by the liberal establishment and attacked by communists. In what most believe was a shameless quest for higher ratings the BNP leader Nick Griffin was invited to the mainstream political debate show Question Time. 


The appearance occurred on the 22nd of October 2009. At the time it was very controversial multiple organisations and politicians criticised the decision to invite the leader of the BNP and there were large protests outside the BBC Television Centre. About 20 or so protesters managed to break into the studio reception area and six were arrested. The episode was broadcast in full despite these incidents, what happened next was a major case of mutual confirmation bias. Liberals who supported the invitation and looked forward to an opportunity to humiliate the stupid bigot rejoiced they got what they wanted. Meanwhile the Brit Nats were also gloating as their main champion got to call out the liberal establishment to its face. Griffin himself tried to play the bullied martyr calling the audience a lynch mob and lodging a complaint about his treatment.

That was the event, now according to the liberal narrative this was the start of the end for the BNP, one thing you'll notice when you encounter someone saying this is that don't have any evidence to back it up. There's a good reason for this, what evidence we do have shows the opposite. In the 2010 General election, the first elections after Nick Griffins appearance the BNP won 564,331 votes. That is the best results they've ever had and put them in fifth place in terms of votes cast.

Yes that's right the BNP in 2010 were the fifth largest party in the UK. In 2005 the general election before Nick Griffins humiliating defeat on QT, they polled 192,745 votes, and coming eighth in vote share. That's not a collapse or a drubbing, if the evidence says anything its that the QT appearance gave Griffin and the BNP a shot in the arm.

The BNP did collapse mind, but that was several years after the big debate at the BBC. Most place 2014 the year Nick Griffin finally lost the leadership as the period when the collapse of the BNP became irreversible. But the collapse was the result of other things, like infighting, competition, financial problems, increased opposition etc. Indeed if we to thank anything one thing for breaking the back of the BNP it would have to be Marmite.

No that last part wasn't a joke, Marmite really did do a lot of damage to the BNP. In 2010 Marmite had released a new series of ads based on their long time slogan "you either love it or you hate it" and the upcoming general elections. There were two ads styled like party political broadcasts one from the "Love" party who love Marmite, the other from the "Hate" party which, well hates it.

Now the Hate party was a parody of Nick Griffin and his policies. The BNP were not amused and decided to hit back in their own party political broadcast

Yes really, they super imposed an image of a Marmite Jar into the corner so it looks like its hovering. No I don't get it either. Though they did do a bit better by ending the broadcast with another picture of the jar with "Love Britain vote BNP" at least that one makes sense. It also violated copyright law. Unilever the company that owns Marmite were not pleased, shortly after the BNP ad aired they sewed the party and in July 2010 just after the elections they won £170,000 in damages.

But bosses at Marmite makers ­Unilever were furious at the BNP broadcast and began High Court proceedings for breach of copyright.
BNP caved in and the amount claimed is put by insiders at between £70,000 and £170,000.
Former National Organiser Eddy Butler has said the BNP is “on the brink of bankruptcy”.
And last night a ­spokesman for anti-racism group Searchlight said: “The Marmite fiasco has been a ­disaster from start to finish for ­Griffin.”
Unilever confirmed a settlement had been reached but said the terms were confidential.
This was a serious problem as it took a massive chunk of money from the party just after a General election, when a party has spent most of its assets on candidate registry and propaganda. It also dominate the news in regards to the BNP just after the elections overshadowing the BNPs historic performance at the ballot box. Both these issues exacerbated the other problems, infighting and competition.

At this time both the English Defence League (EDL) and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) were squeezing the BNP. The party was formed to make racism more respeactable and mainstream but UKIP was doing a better job of that, it beat the BNP in both 2005 and 2010 elections.
And the EDL was attracting the right wing extremists that were never happy with the focus on elections instead of street action.

“In broader terms, the party is struggling anyway because of the rise of Ukip and the internal factionalism.
“It is fair to link the rise of Ukip and the fall of the BNP because there is a degree of overlap. Ukip’s success has restricted the space but, after 2010, the BNP was arguably finished anyway.”
If your curious the link is dead but Nick did repeatedly call the EDL a Zionist front
Nick wasn't a fan of the EDL, though after being kicked out of the BNP in 2014 he warmed up to UKIP.

That was outside the party, inside the party it was even worse. See most Fascist subscribe to the Fuhrerprinzip, it means that the leader can do what he wants, its extreme hierarchy. However this has a drawback, if the party faithful aren't happy with the way things are going, then the only way to change course is to topple the Fuhrer.

“I will not allow anyone to undermine me in my new role”, he said in one exchange after taking the reins. And he added: “gone are days when anyone with a gripe could use special pleading with the Chairman to undermine officials. That includes you, by the way, Nick!”
So if the demise of Nick Griffin means the victory of Liberal Democracy then I guess it means its champions are Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage and Unilever. Hurrah?

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