The principal strategy of Nick Griffin, its Cambridge-educated leader, has been to escape the jackbooted, knuckle-dragging image of street-fighting neo-Nazis and to become a popular anti-immigration party. The East End of London has become a stronghold, with the BNP installed as the official opposition on Barking & Dagenham council under the leadership of the artist Richard Barnbrook. Mr Barnbrook made a breakthrough by winning the BNP’s first seat in the London Assembly.
The party’s electoral success came after it began concentrating its attacks on Muslims. Since 9/11 and the Asian riots in the North of England in 2001 it has gained representation on local authorities from Burnley, Kirklees and Rotherham in the North to Stoke-on-Trent, Sandwell and Nuneaton in the Midlands and Epping in Essex.
The first sign of the success of Mr Griffin’s strategy came when he stood as a candidate at Oldham West in the 2001 general election and came a close third with 16 per cent of the vote. By the European elections of 2004, he was focusing on what he described as the problem of attacks by Muslims After a BBC documentary recorded him calling Islam a “wicked and vicious faith”, he was charged with stirring up racial hated. At the end of two trials, he was cleared and depicted himself as a champion of free speech.
He has a previous conviction from 1998 for incitement to racial hatred.
Recent BNP literature has expressed some sympathies with blacks and Hindus, portraying them as fellow victims of Muslims.
On the steps of Stafford Crown Court, Michael Coleman, a BNP councillor and organiser of the party’s Stoke-on-Trent branch, said: “We advise anybody who gets angry: get involved with the BNP.” He was speaking at the end of the trial into the killing of Keith Brown, 52, a former boxer and friend of the BNP leader Nick Griffin, who collapsed and died after being knifed in the back by his next-door neighbour Habib Khan. Mr Griffin attended his funeral.
Khan, 50, was unanimously cleared of murder but convicted of manslaughter after a jury heard that he had endured racism, threats and violence from Mr Brown and his son, Ashley Barker, also a BNP activist. Khan was also convicted of wounding Mr Barker, 20. His son, Azir Habib Saddique, 24, was cleared of the same charge. Khan’s sentencing was adjourned.
Simon Darby, Stoke BNP’s deputy leader, has been blogging daily from the courtroom. The funeral is posted on YouTube. A DVD will be distributed, playing on voters’ worries about violent attacks blamed on Asian men. Other BNP units are being urged to adopt the strategy of highlighting local Muslim-on-white attacks.
Behind the rhetoric lies a tale of two middle-aged, Middle England fathers whose rivalry descended into loathing. Khan dreamt of knocking down two semis and creating a single grand villa next to a pair of ageing end-terrace houses where Mr Brown, his girlfriend and their seven children lived in the Normacot district.
Mr Brown tried everything to stop the building work but Khan erected a miniature palace with carved stone pillars and huge decorative amphorae in the garden. Like most neighbourhood feuds, it boiled down to a row over boundaries. Mr Brown accused Khan of putting a fence on his land and said that the conservatory blocked his light. Mr Brown was a dangerous man with convictions for what Judge Simon Tonking called “extreme violence” in his twenties. In 2000 he was convicted for punching a man in the face