“A test of leadership. Weighed, measured and found wanting
The law they intended to enforce was not a new law, but clearly our political success motivated the Equalities Commission to find a means by which to chastise us. There was an added complication in that a new Equalities Bill was going through Parliament which would certainly (whatever Party was in Government) render our existing constitution illegal.
The parts of the constitution that the Equalities Commission found objectionable were as follows:
Section 1: Political Objectives 2) (b) which in summary said the BNP “is wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples” and was committed to restoring “the overwhelmingly white make up of the British population that existed in Britain prior to 1948.”
Section 2: Membership 1), 2) and 3) which effectively said in an over elaborate way that only white people from closely related indigenous European ethnic groups could join the Party.
They would argue that Section 1 would be illegal as it would deter ethnic people from joining even if Section 2 were amended.
The Equalities Commission wrote to the BNP demanding that unless undertakings were made to comply with what they regarded as the law by 20th July, then they would take legal action against us. Very little response to this came from the Party and a hearing took place on 2nd September at the Central London County Court. The case was adjourned on the excuse that the Party had just switched barristers and there had been no time to prepare a defence. The judge, Mr. Justice Collins, good naturedly refused a bid by the Equalities Commission for immediate action as the Race Relations Act had been in place since 1976 and so a few months or weeks would make no difference and he also noted the “absence of a long queue of black people who want to join the BNP”.
However, as no BNP officer appeared in an official capacity, we were liable for the costs of the hearing. It was now obvious that the Equalities Commission was in earnest, so a constitutional working party meeting held was on 25th September at which a sensible suggestion was made that only minor amendments need be made to the relevant clauses in order to comply, but that at the same time the rights of Voting Members would be increased so that they held the political power in the Party – to vote on policy (as was the case already), to be the electoral college for future changes to the constitution, and to be the electorate in the event of a leadership challenge (or perhaps the sole group from whom nominations for leadership could be obtained). This was because the Voting Members are the supposed elite of the Party – those activists with over two years continuous membership and who had attended training events. This would ensure the Party was protected by its activist base from take over and infiltration. It would also encourage more people to become Voting Members. These simple changes were pretty much unanimously agreed and confirmed at an Advisory Council meeting held on 27th September.
It was important for the Party to formulate a plan of action because we were due back in court on 15th October. Unfortunately Nick was on holiday on that date and, as before, there was no proper representation. The case was again adjourned but this time the voluntary conditional undertaking was given that we would not recruit any more members until we had amended our constitution so that it did not discriminate directly or indirectly on the grounds of race. We would return to court in three months to report back that this had been done. Clearly it was in our interests to resolve the matter speedily so that we could begin recruitment again. This was vital in the run up to the General Election for fundraising reasons. As it turned out we received a flood of enquiries following Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time on 22nd October. Enquiries that are not speedily processed and converted into new members soon go cold and processed enquiries are much more likely to donate. So we were being hit with a double whammy.
Needless to say, this second appearance led to further costs.
The pressure was now on to solve the matter before the 28th January 2010 when we were due to be back in court with an agreed new constitution. This meant we had to re-write it, print drafts, send all members a copy and invite them, with two weeks notice, to vote on it at an EGM.
I arranged the part conference over the weekend of 13th to 15th November in Lancashire. This was an important preliminary since, in order to change Political Objectives, the agreement of the Voting Members at the Annual Conference had to be obtained. The conference was the first indication that all was not well. Nick Griffin made a rambling and clearly ill-prepared opening speech in which he introduced for the first time a whole range of outlandish and cranky solutions to the constitutional problem.
The simple and sensible proposals discussed by the AC and the constitutional working party were forgotten and an over elaborate scheme put forward with various extra bodies proposed, one of which was ludicrously entitled the ‘Indigenous Preservation Society’, with options to incorporate the Party into a Limited Company (with guess who as the Director and virtual sole shareholder). Nick Griffin grandly declared his intention to write a piece of literature to resonate down the ages and rival the United States Declaration of Independence, rather than a sensible working document for the running of a modern political party.
As an aside, this makes it even more ironic that in the strange paranoid world at the top of the Party, the Constitution has been issued with the print option disabled to try to prevent anyone from studying it, and with ‘legal’ indemnities stating that permission must be obtained from N. Griffin MEP if anyone wishes to print off or otherwise obtain a copy.
To prevent the debate on the constitution from becoming a farce, I was forced to make a statement clarifying and simplifying things. The motion that the constitution should in principal be changed in order to allow people from an ethnic minority background to join the Party was overwhelmingly passed. In conversations immediately after, Nick rowed back from the crankier suggestions, but claimed that the constitution was being worked on by a legal expert who had great experience in such matters. Thereafter, attempts to gain an insight into what would be in the final constitution proved fruitless.
November turned to December. Still no draft, still no news, despite repeated reminders that in order to meet the 28th January deadline, time was tight. Working back from that date, in order to comply we would have had to hold the EGM on the weekend of 23rd – 24th January, which necessitated sending the draft constitution to members by 8th January at the latest, which, in turn, meant it had to be typeset by 4th January and go straight to the printers. As National Organiser, I also had to book a suitable venue for the EGM and make all the other arrangements to make sure things went smoothly.
It might be asked why I was doing this if I was unhappy with the proposed constitution. The simple answer is that if you accept a position then you are bound by collective responsibility, even if, as is the case with the way the BNP is run, you actually have very little input. I was paid to do a job and in my view, unless things became so intolerable that I could not in good conscience stay, then it was my duty to ensure things went as smoothly as possible. In fairness to myself, I was one of the very few people in the leadership who ever took Nick to task on things and prevented, or at least moderated, some of his more ridiculous decisions from being implemented.
So my justification is that, had I not been there, things would have been much worse. Also, it must be borne in mind that we were under pressure due to the membership ban and no one wanted to rock the boat in such a way that would delay the ban being lifted. Further, we were approaching the General and local elections, in which we had convinced ourselves that we had a real chance of victory in Barking and Dagenham. Any delay in settling the Equalities Commission case would deprive us of funds in the run up to the election and if the case was not resolved it would effectively end our election campaign. With the stakes seemingly so high, it did not seem justifiable to raise constitutional objections. This should be borne in mind when outlandish and nutty claims are made that there has been a longstanding ‘conspiracy’ to topple Nick Griffin.
The reason we were told the constitution was not ready was that the solicitor who was working on it, an English Nationalist called Jane, who no one else was allowed to meet, had not completed it in time. As December turned to January, the constitution had still not materialised. I was told to arrange the EGM for 14th February. Nick would tell the court we had missed the deadline, but given that the Equalities Commission had delayed since 1976 in taking action, Nick believed the judge would be lenient. I had in fact originally been told to arrange the EGM for Sunday 31st January and an earlier e-bulletin went out advertising this on 13th January but the constitution wasn’t ready in time.
So came 28th January, a day of embarrassment and high farce.
I decided that I would also go to court to observe the proceedings. I was told it was to start at 10.30 am at the High Court in the Strand. I made my own way there and found Nick and various people from his security team waiting in the main entrance hall of this impressive building. It was 10.10 am so I asked what court number we would be in. Nick replied that he was not sure as the case wasn’t listed. I asked whether he was certain we were in the right court as all cases are listed. He said yes, of course we were. I checked the listings and we weren’t there. I asked if he had checked with the information desk, he said that wasn’t necessary as our barrister would be there at any minute as he was just parking up. Soon after the barrister rang to ask where we were. We were in the wrong court. The court we should have attended was the Central London County Court, about four miles away across the busiest streets in the country and we were already five minutes late. We piled into various vehicles and eventually got to the right court over 45 minutes late. Our embarrassment was compounded by the fact that Croydon activist Bob Gertner had privately made his own way to the correct building on his own initiative.
Justice Collins was immediately annoyed that we were late. He was further irritated that our barrister was floundering and hadn’t been briefed properly since he had only received instruction from Nick on the line of defence a very short time before appearing. Collins was also annoyed that the draft extract from the constitution that was presented had not been provided to the court or to the Equalities Commission’s lawyers prior to the appearance, despite the BNP having over three months in which to prepare it.
Collins was exasperated that the extract from the draft constitution which he was shown had obviously not yet been completed (i.e. sections were literally marked ‘to be inserted by the Chairman’), again despite the fact that we had months in which to do it. He was annoyed that our pathetic justification for being late and submitting incomplete information was that it had been snowing, which was reminiscent of a naughty schoolboy telling teacher that a dog had eaten his homework. He was annoyed because in October we promised to use our best endeavours to comply by 28th January, when clearly we had done no such thing, even though we were punishing ourselves with a ban on new members. The judge was annoyed that we didn’t have proof (e.g. a copy of the e-bulletin) that showed that we had originally intended to hold the EGM on 31st January.
The judge was annoyed that we had called the EGM for 14th February, when in order to comply with the rules for calling an EGM we had to provide 14 days notice – upon receipt of the notice by the members – and the bulletin had yet to be sent out and it was already 28th January. In other words we had to convince the judge that we could dispatch the bulletins to get in the post by Friday morning (29th) to be received 1st class by 30th (Saturday) to enable 14 days notice. I believe in fact the bulletins had to be dispatched on the afternoon of 28th to get the last post to be able to guarantee delivery by the Saturday.
Justice Collins was also annoyed that we had not yet held our EGM. In justification of this Nick Griffin had the unflinching cheek to blame his National Organiser, who was sitting next to him, in misunderstanding the date on which the EGM was supposed to be held. The Equalities Commission’s barrister turned and gave me a contemptuous stare at that moment – for me, one of the few moments of light relief to be experienced that day. There had of course been no misunderstanding. Needless to say Nick Griffin did not have the grace to apologise for this lie, not that I was unduly bothered, it was the sort thing one comes to expect.
Such is the nature of a court appearance with Nick Griffin. A farce and a disgrace. It would be comical if the stakes were not so high and the matters under consideration so weighty.
Nevertheless the case was again adjourned (and again at great cost to the Party) until after we had passed the amended sections of the constitution on 14th February. It was clear that the Equalities Commission were shifting the emphasis of their case onto the parts of the new constitution which related to indirect discrimination. It was painfully obvious that any attempts by our under-briefed barrister to justify the passages, which were clearly indirectly discriminatory, were going to be brushed aside under examination. It was embarrassing sitting in court and I made sure I did not catch the eye of any of the journalists who were scribbling away, sneering at our ineptly self inflicted discomfort.
Our barrister recommended putting forward a simple constitution that safely complied to avoid extra needless costs. I had to sit in on discussions with our legal team as Nick, despite whatever legal education he has had, demonstrated that he was way out of his depth. Nick is used to saying, ‘This is how it is’ and have people accept his will without question. When he is up against people who are not impressed by his status, then he crumbles and is out-thought every time. This is what happened on Question Time. This is what happens every time he is in court and Nick is often in court.
On the way back Nick had to suffer the indignity of being harangued at length on the phone by Jane, the solicitor. He could not get a word in edgeways and ended up at a lower ebb than before but at least agreed to have me check through the entire constitution before we proceeded further. Amazingly, up until this moment, all Nick had allowed anyone to see was the few pages of the ‘write protected’ part of the new constitution – i.e. the part which would be voted on at the EGM. The old constitution fitted on 14 pages of A4. The replacement write-protected parts occupied 7 pages and the first I saw of this was just before the court appearance on 28th. In order to get this out to the membership in time for the EGM on 14th February, it had to go straight out – in other words there was no discussion, no input from a single other member before this document was despatched. Furthermore at the EGM it had to be voted on ‘en bloc’. Nick insisted that separate sections, paragraphs and clauses could not be struck out. It was a take it or leave it document.
A special meeting was arranged at Nick’s house near Welshpool for Sunday 31st January to check the content of the full constitution in case there were errors. I attended with Simon Darby, despite heavy snow. I was shown a 52 page document, great chunks of which were again marked ‘to be inserted by the Chairman’. The document managed to combine weird nonsense (e.g. ‘The Law of the English means the body and system of law introduced by the English king known as King Alfred the Great, the Law Giver and the Father of the English Nation…’ and ‘The English gave their name to England, the land of the English, and not the other way round’) with extremely dictatorial sections. Indeed the Chairman’s powers were dramatically increased but given the timetable for change there was nothing that could constructively be done. The final version published on line comprises 92 pages.
The bulletins had, by now, gone out and as National Organiser I had to make arrangements for the actual EGM. As I was very uncomfortable with the contents of the constitution, I made sure I chaired the event so I would not be expected to speak in favour of it.
I did not point out to anyone the glaring dictatorial nature of it (e.g. the requirement to obtain nomination signatures from 20% of those who have 24 months continuous membership in order to mount a leadership challenge -previously it was 5%) as it would have stirred up trouble. I felt that would have been irresponsible because if the new constitution was rejected we would not have been able to recruit new members, Simon Darby (one of people named in the case) might lose his house, the Party’s ability to operate at all might be compromised and we might not be able to contest the General Election and local elections at all, or at best, be severely hampered in that contest. Don’t forget, we were hoping for a major political breakthrough and if Nick was held to be in contempt of court as a result of attempting to operate in breach of any finding against us, he may have faced jail.
Despite my very serious misgivings I organized the EGM which pretty much passed off like clockwork, and the new constitution was agreed with a tiny vote against and a handful of abstentions. All focus was on the provisions about allowing ethnic minority members and the aspects which created a dictator’s charter were simply not alluded to.
The courts appearances were not yet over. We had to re-appear on 9th March for Justice Collins to rule on whether our revised constitution was now legal. The judge agreed with the Equalities Commission’s contention that it was still indirectly discriminatory, a perfect and predictable example of Nick and Jane’s untested logic falling at the first hurdle. Again, our barristers were under-briefed and by now it had become apparent that this was deliberate, to ‘save money’ by preventing them from looking at the case for too many hours (I kid you not) and also so they didn’t fret about the skittish passages in it (again I kid you not). This was another embarrassing day in court with the judge openly mocking the many risible sections in the constitution (e.g. “the English gave their name to England, the land of the English, and not the other way round”).
However Mr. Justice Collins made us all reappear on 12th March for his final findings. In order to comply, Nick Griffin had to use his Chairman’s powers to strike out certain sections of the constitution and at last we were able to recruit new members and concentrate on the elections. We had complied, but by the back door we had saddled the Party with a dictator’s charter.
Due to total incompetence and an inability to solve a relatively simple problem in a simple way, we had been unable to recruit new members for almost 5 months, two months longer than agreed in court. The question has to be asked whether there was ever a need to make that agreement.
I will return to the issue of why an undertaking was given to Mr. Justice Collins on 15th October that we would not recruit any new members until the case had been settled. We have seen that, at the first hearing, he had refused submissions from the Equalities Commission for various injunctions against us as the law had been established in 1976 and he did not anticipate a queue of black people waiting to join. Why then did the BNP make the voluntary conditional undertaking not to recruit? It is a basic rule that you do not make offers of that nature unless forced to do so. This was pretty much an unforced offer. Observers at court on 15th feel that if the offer had not been made the issue would not have arisen and would not have been insisted upon. However, the membership ban was like a gun against our head.
Nick Griffin kept the new constitution secret until the very last minute – when it was too late for anyone to do anything about it. Nick Griffin allowed no consultation about the terms of the constitution among any of his senior colleagues. When unveiled, it had dramatically increased his own powers.
I am left wondering whether all the delay, the errors and the time wasting was not a game of brinkmanship at the expense of the membership, all engineered to ram through a dictatorial constitution after he had failed to implement another dictator’s charter at the EGM at the RWB a few years ago.
Nick Griffin is no fool yet this whole episode smacks of monumental stupidity and this stupidity cost the Party tens of thousands of pounds. The final bill for the Equalities Commission’s costs has yet to be agreed but it will certainly cripple our ability to operate efficiently for the remainder of this year. The vast majority of these costs were avoidable, and they do not even include the tens of thousands of pounds given to Jane for re-writing the constitution and to the team that attempted to defend our case in court with one hand tied behind their backs.
These are the actions of either a fool or a knave. It is up to you to judge.
During this case can it be said that Nick Griffin protected the interests of Party members? An emphatic ‘NO’ is the answer. He incurred massive legal costs due to his negligence, or perhaps, his capricious strategy. He made sure we could not recruit new members for five months which lost us a massive amount of revenue and new activists.
Did Nick Griffin act as a chivalrous and ‘noble Lord’? Again a resounding ‘NO’. He cravenly and unscrupulously pushed through a massive increase in his own personal powers under cover of the Equalities Commission attack. He could not face the membership in open forum to debate it. He engineered a situation where the membership had a gun against their head. Vote ‘yes’ otherwise the Party will go bankrupt through lack of funds and will not be able to contest the General Election, which was supposed to be our big political breakthrough. As usual, the better instincts and better morality of the membership was used against them.
The Equalities Commission case was indicative of much that is wrong with the Party. It shows the problems inherent when too much power is concentrated in one man’s hands. It shows how desperately important it is for the future of nationalism that our Party elects a new leader this year.”