Full English?

The defection of the entire North West Leicestershire branch of the BNP to the English Democrats is merely the the latest instance of BNPers giving up on Nick Griffin and jumping ship. So large is the shift, that some have claimed that as many as 43% of the English Democrats’ candidates in the forthcoming local elections are one-time BNP members.

Among the former BNPers standing for the English Democrats:

  • Paul Rimmer is standing as the party’s candidate for mayor in Liverpool (alongside candidates for the BNP and National Front). Rimmer is a former member of the both the BNP and UKIP and, if Hope Not Hate can be believed, he has also been a member of “Militant Labour” (presumably the Trotskyist Militant Tendency, latterly the Socialist Party and the Tories.
  • Eddy Butler, the BNP’s former national organiser and architect of the “Rights for Whites” campaign in the 1990s is standing in Epping Forest, Hertfordshire. Butler was expelled from the BNP by Nick Griffin in 2010, but is still listed on BNP MEPS Andrew Brons’ website as a political researcher. He is also a former member of the National Front.
  • Chris Beverley, standing in Leeds, was previously a Parliamentary candidate for he BNP and, like Butler, is still listed as working for Andrew Brons as his PA.

It is interesting to note that Butler and Beverley appear to have kept a foot in both camps joining and actively campaigning for the English Democrats while maintaining their association with Brons, leader of the anti-Griffinite “BNPIdeas” faction. Is this an indication that Brons and the rest of his followers are testing the water before jumping ship themselves?

English Democrat leader Robin Tilbrook told the party’s annual conference, held in Leicester last September, that the influx of BNP members represented an opportunity for the party, claiming that “some of the people who wanted to do their honest best for our country but made the mistake of joining the BNP are now joining us and will help us become that electorally credible party.” He conceded, “We need to be sure that such people are genuine converts to a more civic or cultural nationalism and that they will be an asset to our party, but we do not need to be too defensive.”

How Tilbrook proposes to ensure they are “genuine converts” isn’t clear. With so many BNP members joining and only 60 people attending last year’s conference it is not to difficult to imagine a situation where the party is pulled ever further to the right or even taken over completely.

For the timebeing at least, the The English Democrats are not a far-right party. Instead they positioning themselves somewhere to the right of the Conservative Party, much like UKIP, but substituting constitutional questions about Europe with concerns about England’s role within the Union. They are committed to the formation of a devolved English Parliament with at least the same powers as those granted to the Scottish Parliament, but not full independence.

They like to present themselves as an English version of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), however, Scottish nationalism has historically defined itself in opposition to a Tory-dominated England. This has tended to pull it to the left. (Whether this would continue after independence is open for debate, but the SNP in power has in practice been little different to the mainstream parties.) Without similar pressures pertaining in England, the English Democrats are a very different beast and weare actually formed by an ex-Tory.

The party claims that it is neither left nor right, but are hardly the first to do so. Third Positionist neo-Nazis have been insisting that they’ve transcended the left-right dichotomy for decades, convincing nobody. This isn’t to suggest that the English Democrats are actually undercover Strasserites, but the party’s key policies incorporate the usual right wing cliches: an end to “mass immigration,” withdrawal from the EU and opposition to “political correctness”.

So far the English Democrats have had little electoral success. The sole exception being in Doncaster where Peter Davies was elected as Mayor in 2009. His period in office has been characterised by attacks on “political correctness” (although his attempt to get rid of “non jobs” at the council floundered when none could be found) and incompetence, culminating in a 2010 report by the Audit Commission which concluded that the authority was “dysfunctional”.

It is hard to believe that English nationalism is going to set the electorate alight. For most people in England, the West Lothian Question is a matter of constitutional arcana of no relevance to their daily lives. Apart from its attachment to an English Parliament, the English Democrats are essentially just another Tory party and the one we’ve got is more than enough.

There is a real danger, however, that if the party is pulled to the right it might be able to fill the space occupied by the BNP, which over the last decade has demonstrated that there is considerable potential for a radical far-right political party. Recall that in the 2010 General Election, the BNP received 564,321 votes for 338 candidates. This is more than twice as many as the Green Party who secured a seat in Brighton, and almost three times as many as the National Front’s electoral highpoint in the “bad old days” of 1979. In 2009, the BNP won 2 seats in the European Parliament (with the attendant financial bonuses) on the back of 943,598 votes, 4.9% of the vote.

The BNP achieved more than any other far-right group in the UK has ever done before, but a combination of anti-fascist organising and incessant internal squabbling has prevented them from making the kind breakthrough we’ve their counterparts make elsewhere in Europe (The Front National in France, Vlaams Belang in Belgium etc.). Could the English Democrats now make that breakthrough in their stead? It certainly isn’t inevitable, but equally it isn’t inconceivable. Anti-fascists will be watching with interest.

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