Racist BNP leader likens his party to MDC
Is Nick Griffin's interview with the Times a sneak preview of what we can expect from him on Question Time tonight? I rather suspect so.
His aim in it is not only to project a reasonable front – by glossing over awkward facts (his conviction for inciting racial hatred is described as "Orwellian"), and by making dubious comparisons (he likens the BNP to opposition movements in Zimbabwe) – but also to provoke and rile his political opponents.
In his interview, he repeatedly compared himself to dissident victims of state repression, such as Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia or opposition leaders in Zimbabwe.
The BNP leader sarcastically thanks "the political class and their allies for being so stupid" as to allow his appearance on QT.
But the problem for Griffin is whether he can maintain the charade for the show’s entire running length. Towards the end of his Times interview, there are worrying glimpses into his real mindset. For example:
"How does he feel about President Obama? ‘He is an Afrocentric racist bigot.’ He thinks American blacks should have been resettled in Africa ‘because the two peoples living side by side would cause problems forever’."
It is this kind of thing which reminds us why the BNP should be opposed. But, as Frank Field and Nicholas Soames argue in today’s Telegraph, it should also remind the major parties why they need to talk more about immigration – lest Griffin’s views fill the vacuum.
FULL TEXT OF THE INTERVIEW WITH THE TIMES:
Nick Griffin wants to be seen as the leader of a respectable modern nationalist party campaigning for organic local vegetables, the end of the war in Afghanistan and measures to combat climate change — not to mention the restoration of the “overwhelmingly white make-up of the population”.
He has, at least according to the BBC, earned the right to be seen and heard by dint of a level of electoral success unprecedented for the extreme Right in Britain. The question remains, however, whether anyone should believe that the fashionably-suited Mr Griffin is really different from the jack-booted racists of the party’s — and his — past.
His office in the Strasbourg Parliament, where he met The Times for an interview before his appearance on Question Time tonight, is scrubbed clean of that history. Unlike those who like to place photographs of political heroes along with personal memorabilia from a lifetime in politics, Mr Griffin has bare walls. The only sign of personality in the room is a pack of cheap razors in the bathroom and a few boxes strewn untidily in the corner.
He points out a view of high concrete walls from his window. “They’re trying to tell me something, aren’t they? Maybe they should have strung some barbed wire up here as well.” Accustomed to being treated as a pariah, the chairman of the British National Party is keenly aware that his Question Time invitation is a moment to relish, and potentially an enormous opportunity.
He congratulates himself for having backed the BBC — which, he says, is institutionallly biased against the party — “into a corner” over his right to appearance, before offering sarcastic gratitude to “the political class and their allies for being so stupid” as to allow it.
He concedes, however, that the opportunity also has risks. The other panellists, he suspects, will want to “make me look like an idiot”, but is confident he will “do OK”. Indeed, Mr Griffin has long since been adept at answering just about any question thrown at him in a way that often discomfits liberal sensibilities.
He likes to condemn Islam, for instance, for its “appalling treatment of women”. In his interview, he repeatedly compared himself to dissident victims of state repression, such as Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia or opposition leaders in Zimbabwe.
His conviction in 1998 for inciting racial hatred was, he says, a “thought crime” Orwellian in its nature. Other BNP leaders who have criminal records were also, in his view, victims of a “corrupt legal system or corrupt lying policeman”.
What about Tony Lecomber, one of his main lieutenants during the “modernisation” of the BNP, who was convicted of attacking a Jewish man and possessing bomb-making equipment? “He was jailed for having an overgrown firework,” says Mr Griffin, who appears to have an intimate knowledge of the cases against all his colleagues. “There was no evidence at all he was going to use it against anyone.”
He adds: “You shouldn’t be saying that we’re a party of criminals. You should say we’re a party that includes people who have gone to prison for their principles.”
Such defiance sits uneasily with his oft-stated demand for “law and order”, but Mr Griffin suggests that the criminal records of party members are a reflection of its efforts to re-engage the working class in politics. He claims that they often have convictions for football hooliganism or benefit fraud.
It is notable, however, how swiftly he seeks refuge behind his lawyer’s advice and the legal system when asked whether he is willing to stand by past statements that the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust never happened. “I simply can’t discuss it — not allowed. I can’t even say what I used to believe and why I’ve changed it — without the risk of being indicted in France.”
His effort to present the BNP as a reasonable, even mainstream, force divorced from the far Right in Europe is predicated on the claim that he, and the party, no longer have such views. The purge of neo-Nazis in recent years has made him the “most unpopular man in Britain” among such groups.
Is that because he used to be one of them? “I was not.” What were you? “That’s difficult,” says Mr Griffin after a long pause. “I was certainly a third positionist — neither capitalism nor communism — coming from the rightist tradition. But I have never been a fascist. Fascism is always about worship of the State and I have always regarded the State as a danger to people’s liberty, which is against the English tradition.”
What about when he lamented the lack of intellectual tradition of fascism in Britain in 1999? Mr Griffin says he had been using the term in “shorthand speaking” to the French National Front which, he concedes, does derive some its inspiration from the 1930s.
Does he accept that the anger of British generals this week over the BNP’s use of Winston Churchill and Spitfires in its publicity might be derived from the sense that in the fight against Hitler some of his members might have have been on the other side? “Not a lot of people,” says Mr Griffin. “There used to be some, I would admit, but not any more.”
The BNP leader himself had read “Mein Kampf by the age of 13 and Lenin at the age of 14”. You were a weird kid? “Yes.” Did you have any friends? “I did indeed. Harold Wilson decided he wanted to be Prime Minister at the age of 6.”
Do you hate Hitler? “He was a very bad thing, without a shadow of doubt.” Did Hitler give the far Right a bad name? “He gave the whole concept of separate human identities a bad name. But he is also something from the dim and distant past who has no real relevance for Britain today.”
Mr Griffin, who once called for a defence of white rights with “well-directed boots and fists”, began changing course in 1998. He told the BNP: “We must at all times present [the public] with an image of reasonableness.”
He added: “Of course, we must teach the truth to the hardcore, for, like you, I do not intend this movement to lose its way.” Asked if the past decade had merely been an exercise in rebranding, he says: “I had already decided that things the BNP were saying were futile, a menace and wrong.
“I changed my mind about some things. We used to look at problems with immigration in just a simplistic way.” That was unfair, he says, because the bigger issue was Islam.
He brushes off reports that BNP members encouraged a ten-year-old girl to set fire to a golliwog during their summer festival this year as a “small, bad-taste joke by a little group of people”.
If he had mixed-race grandchildren, he would love them but still be unhappy for “the same reason that African people, West Indian people and Asian people are proud of their traditions and identity”. Skin colour, he adds, is a marker of identity and the merging of disparate ethnic groups into “a sort of Americanised melting pot” threatens to be “catastrophic”.
How does he feel about President Obama? “He is an Afrocentric racist bigot.” He thinks American blacks should have been resettled in Africa “because the two peoples living side by side would cause problems forever”.
For the record: Griffin’s views
On the Holocaust
1998 In the witness box before being convicted of inciting racial hatred “I am well aware that the orthodox opinion is that six million Jews were gassed and cremated or turned into lampshades. Orthodox opinion also once held that the Earth is flat . . . I have reached the conclusion that the ‘extermination’ tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter day witch-hysteria”
Now “I’m the most unpopular man in Britain among neo-Nazis. Hitler was a very bad thing without a shadow of doubt, he was a mass murderer. He gave the whole concept of separate human identities a bad name. It was an absolute disaster but he is also something from the dim and distant past who has no real relevance for Britain today”
1997 To undercover reporter “Britain does not have the tradition of intellectual fascism which is such an important factor in many other countries. While I do have a number of proposals to help rectify this deficiency, the truth is that this is a handicap which we can never overcome completely”
Now “I thought I was talking to the Front Nationale. In the context I was talking of fascism in inverted commas, fascism is a simplistic term”
1999 For the magazine Patriot “This is a life-and-death struggle for white survival, not a fancy-dress party. Less banner waving and more guile wouldn’t go amiss”
Now “I turned the party from something that was thoroughly un-British and in some places dangerous, not just to itself but to other people, into something that was electable and tries to be respectable”
1999 In The Sunday Times “TV footage of dozens of gay demonstrators flaunting their perversions showed just why so many ordinary people find these creatures so repulsive”
Now “I don’t hate gay people at all. But I find the sight of grown men kissing in the street repulsive”