Neo-Nazi former BNP members launch new far-right party

They hope the new British Democratic Party will kill off the BNP, while security for the launch meeting will be provided by EDL activists.

Andrew Brons, a former Chair of the National Front and until recently one of the British National Party’s MEPs, will launch a new far-right party this weekend – one he and his supporters hope will finally kill off the BNP.

The British Democratic Party (BDP) launches tomorrow in a village hall in Leicestershire, as the hardline alternative for disillusioned BNP members and supporters.

Security for the meeting is being provided by EDL activists, bussed into the area from as far as Newcastle, to provide protection from the possibility of attack – not from antifascists, but from the rival BNP who are meeting in nearby Leicester.

Ageing Brons, who is 66 this year, has positioned himself as the new party’s ideological mentor and president.

The interim chairman of the new party is former BNP organiser Kevin Scott from Newcastle. Scott has maintained a steady line of attack for nearly two years against what he and Brons’ supporters allege is the ongoing corruption and watering down of the BNP.

The new party comes eighteen months after Brons failed to unseat BNP leader and fellow MEP, Nick Griffin, in a bitter leadership election for control of the ailing party. Since the party’s disastrous showing in the 2010 General and Local elections, hundreds of disillusioned BNP members have made their way to smaller parties like the English Democrats. Thousands of others just quit the far-right altogether. Brons however, waited patiently, believing the perilous financial state of the party would eventually account for Nick Griffin.

Brons finally resigned from the BNP in October of last year, claiming that he had been “constructively expelled” by what he considered to be merely the “rump” of what was left of the BNP. Griffin loyalists had already launched a series of claims for unfair dismissal and religious and sexual discrimination against Brons’s European office in anticipation of his departure.

In over fifty years of far-right activity, Brons has maintained an impressive collection of hardline “admirers”. A speaking tour last year drew audiences from such groups as the National Front, British Movement and Combat 18. Many of those attendees were former BNP members who either left or were driven from the BNP during its drastic modernisation in the 2000’s. Brons did not join the BNP himself until 2005. He and Griffin had previously shared a passionate hatred of each other during their time together in the NF during the 1980’s.

Brons began his political career way back in the 1960s when he joined the openly Nazi National Socialist Movement, before going on to become Chairman of the National Front in 1980. Under Brons’s tutelage, the BDP is expected to re-focus efforts on promoting scientific racism, calling for the compulsory repatriation of non-whites and push heavily the notion that the Holocaust is a hoax – core policies that Nick Griffin tried to either disguise or extinguish entirely after taking over the BNP in 1999.

Others backing Brons include London-based Barrister Adrian Davies who registered the party and is a long-term opponent of Griffin. As well as registering the party and writing its constitution, Davies most recently defended (unsuccessfully) a businessman from Northern Ireland convicted and jailed for sending death threats to Griffin and his family.

John Bean, a former Mosleyite who previously edited the BNP’s monthly periodical and was often and openly lauded by Nick Griffin, has also now thrown his weight in with Brons, as has Dr James Lewthwaite, who split from the BNP to form his own, Bradford-based, National Democratic Party in 2010. Andrew Moffat who works for Brons in Brussels, and has previously worked closely with Holocaust Denier David Irving, will be the party’s Deputy Chairman.

Despite claiming it will be a democratic party, the new party has no plans to hold elections for posts. All positions in the party were decided weeks ago.

Nick Lowles of the antifascist campaign group Hope not Hate says the new party will be a serious challenge to Nick Griffin’s BNP. “The BDP brings together all of the hardcore Holocaust deniers and racists that have walked away from the BNP over the last two to three years, plus those previously, who could not stomach the party’s image changes.

“They and the BNP already have a mutual hatred of each other and neither party will stop until they’ve killed the other one off. The gloves will be off and it will be toxic”.

UPDATE 9 February 2013 14:30:

Shortly after nine o'clock this morning members of the British Democratic Party (BDP) arrived at  a small village hall in Leicestershire and began setting up for the party's launch meeting.

Six miles away, in the car park of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, neo-Nazis and far-right activists from across the UK were arriving to be redirected to the secret venue.

Despite the secrecy surrounding the meeting, members of the Hope Not Hate research team were able to infiltrate the redirection point and photograph a number of well known far-right activists, many of them disgruntled former BNP members.

Among those providing security for the redirection point was Gary Pudsey from Bridlington, in Yorkshire. A former BNP and C18 activist, Pudsey is one of a number of "former" extremists who made their way into the English Democrats when the BNP began imploding in 2010.

The village hall had about sixty far-right activists inside listening to a serious of speeches from people like Andrew Brons MEP and Kevin Scott on why they have quit the BNP. According to Lowles, there is great anger that the details of the meeting have been leaked by Hope Not Hate researchers. "A number of EDL activists [who were there to provide security for the meeting] are currently prowling the inside of the hall to look for hidden cameras, such is their paranoia.

"They're not happy, obviously. But I think people have a right to know that these groups of people are lying and cheating their way onto public property to cultivate their message of hate. There should be no hiding place for hatred."

Matthew Collins is a researcher for Hope Not Hate and author of "Hate: My Life in the British Far Right" (Biteback Books) #

Editor's note: comments on this article are closed. If you want to discuss it, please do so on our Twitter or Facebook pages.

Hope Not Hate understand that after this article was published, Andrew Moffat refused to be confirmed as the BDP's deputy chair. Moffat also disputes the fact that he held the position of political secretary to David Irving. The article has been updated to reflect the fact that he may never have been formally employed by Irving, but has worked closely with him in the past.

Andrew Brons with Nick Griffin in 2009. Photograph: Getty Images

Matthew Collins is a researcher for Hope Not Hate and author of Hate: My Life in the British Far Right (Biteback Books).

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Owen Smith interview: “I’m pretty red”

The Labour leadership challenger is struggling to win over a left suspicious of his past. 

The south Wales valleys embody the history of the labour movement: its victories, its defeats, its heroes, its villains. It was this resonant location that Owen Smith chose for his speech on the morning of 22 August. Labour Party members had that day begun voting on whether the 46-year-old Pontypridd MP should replace Jeremy Corbyn as their leader.

“Our history, our party was literally hewed from the hillsides around where we sit today,” Smith told a small audience at the Ely Valley Miners Welfare Club in Tonyrefail, a short distance from his home. The Welshman cited the Taff Vale judgment of 1901, which ruled that trade unions could be sued for losses caused by industrial action. It was this decision that spurred on the establishment of a Labour Party in parliament to repeal the law (as it would do in 1906 in alliance with the Liberal government).

Smith spoke later of marching with miners from the Maerdy Colliery as a 14-year-old, on the day they returned to work at the end of the 1984-85 strike. “I saw that they were utterly unbowed,” he recalled. “But they were ultimately defeated.”

Such moments, he concluded, proved the need for Labour to win power and to maintain “a powerful voice in parliament” – something he believes Jeremy Corbyn is incapable of providing. On 28 June, less than a year after Corbyn’s landslide victory, 172 MPs (81 per cent of the Parliamentary Labour Party) endorsed a no-confidence motion in him. Sixty-five shadow ministers, including Smith (who was then the shadow work and pensions secretary), resigned from the front bench.

Yet though Smith enjoys the overwhelming backing of the PLP, few believe he will prevail among members. He achieved only 53 constituency nominations, against the leader’s 285. On social media, where internal party contests are increasingly decided, Smith’s reach is minuscule compared to that of Corbyn (who has 795,000 Facebook fans to his 14,000).

The day before Smith spoke in south Wales, he won the endorsement of Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London and Labour’s most senior elected politician. He was subsequently also backed by the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale. Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband have trumpeted his cause. Yet Smith-supporting MPs fear that such declarations count for little. “It’s like the Remain campaign and the Archbishop of Canterbury,” one told me, suggesting that Labour members, like Leave voters, ”weren’t listening” to such grandees.

Corbyn’s allies and foes alike are already preparing for the aftermath of the leader’s anticipated victory. The former warn that rebel MPs put themselves at risk of deselection by members. In response, some have threatened privately to form a parliamentary breakaway group and bid for the status of the official opposition.

Smith, unsurprisingly, insists that he can win. “I think the CLP [Constituency Labour Party] nominations don’t truly reflect the views in CLPs,” he told me when we spoke after his 20-minute address. The challenger, dressed in his favoured combination of dark suit and open-necked white shirt, welcomed the black coffee proffered by his aide. “They reflect the fact that some of the people who are new members and are supportive of Jeremy were very organised . . .

“Anybody who knows the Labour Party knows that selections are very often won by the sleepers: the people who don’t go to CLP meetings and don’t necessarily shout from the rooftops.” Smith’s hopes rest on those who share Oscar Wilde’s view: “The problem with socialism is that it takes up too many spare evenings.”

Cartoon: George Leigh

Smith first publicly revealed his leadership ambitions in an interview with me back in January. “It would be an incredible honour and privilege,” he said. I wrote then of a widespread view among Labour MPs that the next leader “will at least need to be from the party’s soft left to be acceptable to the party membership”. When the rebellion against Corbyn came, it was this consideration that proved decisive. Smith was embraced as a Miliband-esque socialist and a parliamentary “clean skin”, untainted by the New Labour years, having been elected in 2010. By contrast, his initial rival, Angela Eagle, had been an MP since 1992 and voted for the Iraq War.

However, Smith proved to have a more ambiguous past than some of his backers anticipated. Corbyn’s supporters swiftly unearthed a series of interviews from 2006 in which their opponent made a notably centrist pitch. Smith, then a by-election candidate in Blaenau Gwent, south Wales, defended Tony Blair (suggesting that they differed only over the Iraq War), supported private-sector involvement in the National Health Service and praised city academies. “I’m not someone, frankly, who gets terribly wound up about some of the ideological nuances,” he told Wales Online.

Since then, he has struggled to reconcile these positions with his increasingly left-wing programme: opposing private provision in the NHS, returning academy schools to local authority control, banning zero-hours contracts and imposing a wealth tax of 1 per cent.

“To be honest, my opponents have extrapolated rather a lot in an attempt to brand me as a ‘Blairite wolf in sheep’s clothing’,” Smith told me. “Well, I’m nothing of the sort, I’ve always been a democratic socialist and I always will be. My views haven’t really changed at all, I’m someone who has been on the left of the party.

“My dad [the Welsh historian Dai Smith] is someone who’s been on the left of the Labour movement all his life. I’m someone who’s been surrounded by people who’ve been on the left of the Labour movement all their lives. It should come as no surprise that I’ve come out of that background and I’m pretty red. Because I am.”

Yet a former shadow cabinet colleague told me that Smith did not stand out as “a radical” in meetings: “The only time that I remember him becoming really animated was over further tax-raising powers for Scotland and the implications for Wales.”

What Smith believes in most, some say, is himself. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, described him as “one of the most ambitious career politicians I’ve met”. Others have dismissed him as a “Big Pharma lobbyist” because of his past as head of policy and government relations for Pfizer.

“I’m not ashamed that I had a life outside politics before I became an MP,” Smith told me. “Yes, I worked for Pfizer and I also worked as a BBC journalist and as an adviser to the last Labour government on the peace process in Northern Ireland.

“People don’t want career politicians – they want men and women who have had experience of working in business and in the different sectors that make up our economy. Critics may use it against me, but my time in business has helped me understand what’s wrong with it and how we can make it work better.”

Corbyn’s supporters, however, allege that Smith’s left-wing pledges would not withstand contact with centrist colleagues. The degree to which the challenger has rebutted this charge shows that he recognises its potency.

He has offered to make Corbyn party president or chair if he wins, to allow Corbyn to act as “a guardian of Labour’s values”. In his speech, Smith vowed to increase member influence by making conference votes binding on the leadership.

Throughout the 1980s, another soft-left Welshman, Neil Kinnock, struggled to assert authority as the hard left retained control of vital bodies. Smith’s proposals risk replicating this conflict. But he told me that he would respect Labour’s conference even if it endorsed stances such as Trident abolition (Smith joined CND as a teenager but later renounced unilateralism). “I do think in order to reassure members that, under my leadership, we would listen hard to them and act in accordance with their views, conference does need to become sovereign once more,” he said.

Tony Benn’s dream of internal democracy appeared to be within reach. I asked Smith whether he would support other reforms such as a reduced MP nomination threshold for leadership candidates (Corbyn allies have proposed a cut from 15 per cent to 5 per cent). “All of these things can be debated,” he told me. “I’m not sure it should be 5 per cent: I need to look at it when we get closer to it. But I am convinced that the left needs to be able to put up candidates in this contest, I’ve always felt that.”

Smith’s assertion is contradicted by a colleague who described him as having been “furious”, “apoplectic” when Corbyn made the ballot last year (he supported Andy Burnham’s campaign).

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Smith is less equiovcal over the mandatory reselection of MPs. “That would be a really retrograde step for the party,” he told me. “It would be an uncomradely way for us to do business.” He is critical of the Corbyn-aligned group Momentum, some of whose members are spearheading deselection efforts. “I fear an attitude within Momentum that they are a separate organisation and they shouldn’t be,” he told me. “It’s hard to argue that they’re loyal and supportive if they’re organising a bloomin’ great really in the same town at the same time in competition to the Labour Party” (the group will hold its own four-day conference alongside Labour’s in Liverpool).

Some of those close to Corbyn, such as John McDonnell, have unhesitatingly described themselves as Marxists (in 2006, the shadow chancellor named Marx, Lenin and Trotsky as his “most significant” intellectual influences). I asked Smith whether he believed Labour could encompass such views. “Yes, I think we’ve always been a broad church and there have always been people who’ve come from that tradition,” he replied. “There are two broad traditions: the extra-parliamentary tradition, that has always seen parliament as a compromise and parliamentary socialism as a compromise, from [the trade unionist and theorist] Noah Ablett here in south Wales with The Miners’ Next Step through to Ed Miliband’s dad [Ralph, a Marxist historian] ... and the mainstream social democratic tradition that I came from.”

He added: “We’ve had this battle in the Labour Party over the ages, haven’t we? Except now I think it’s more serious because there is a very real danger, with Labour at such a low ebb and politics fragmented more broadly, and so many more parties and so many options for people and such a lesser tribal attachment to the Labour Party, that we can’t afford those fractures.

"If we splinter, there’s lot of other places for people to put their vote.”

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Though they will not say so publicly, some of Smith’s supporters believe Labour would remain unelectable under his leadership. A former shadow cabinet minister told me that he was offering a “warmed-up Ed Milibandism, which was rejected by the voters”. Smith naturally contests this analysis. “I don’t think that we lost the last election because we were too left-wing,” he said. “The proof is that the Tories have engaged in all sorts of these policies ... Theresa May’s opening speech upon becoming leader was to talk about social injustice, economic insecurity, lack of security in the workplace. Labour values, Labour words in a Tory mouth, evidence that the broad story we’re telling about Britain is right.”

Smith said that, unlike Corbyn, he would resign if he became leader and lost a confidence vote by MPs. “Yes - I would [resign]. We are a party that believes in parliamentary democracy and, as such, it is only right that the leader commands the support of his or her colleagues in the Commons.”

Should Corbyn win the contest, as expected, Smith will not return to the shadow cabinet but act as “a loyal backbencher”.  He pledges to resist any breakaway: “I'm Labour, I've always been Labour and I will never stop being Labour," he said. 

Speaking of his fear that Corbyn would seek to remain leader even if the party lost the next general election, he said: “I’m deeply worried about it. I think he’s determined to hang on come hell or high water. And what does that say about him? ... I think he is more concerned with his version of the Labour Party being sustained and being victorious than he is with the Labour Party being victorious in elections. I think he is actually prepared to sacrifice unity and victory - two great words that have traditionally been emblazoned on Labour banners through the ages - in order to secure control of the party.”

The trouble for Owen Smith is that, for all his combative talk and appeal to the left, he is trapped between his past pragmatism and his present radicalism. 

Tony Benn, Corbyn’s late mentor, divided politicians into “signposts” and “weathercocks”: those who shape opinion and those who are shaped by it. He would have branded Smith a “weathercock”. Even if he wins, Smith risks being remembered not as a politician who resolved his party’s contradictions, but as one who embodied them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser