- an interim analysis by Peter Rushton
The BNP has been in acute crisis since March 2010, complicated by the chronic conditions that afflict any movement, party or faction headed by Nick Griffin.
This crisis has now produced electoral disaster. Outstanding local organisers and councillors such as Michael Coleman in Stoke-on-Trent have been turfed out of office, not by the usual ebb and flow of political fortune, but by a cataclysm which leaves their party facing electoral oblivion.
This cataclysm was evident at the very start of the local election campaign, when the party failed even to field candidates in numerous wards which were not only winnable, but had in the recent past actually elected BNP councillors.
The Kirklees wards of Heckmondwike and Dewsbury East
The Bradford wards of Keighley West, Worth Valley, Wibsey and Wyke
The Burnley wards of Briercliffe, Brunshaw, Cliviger with Worsthorne, Lanehead, Rosegrove with Lowerhouse, and Whittlefield with Ightenhill
The Sandwell wards of Tividale and Great Bridge
Mill Hill ward, Blackburn with Darwen
Brinsley ward, Broxtowe
Winyates ward, Redditch
In addition, several current or former BNP councillors sought re-election as English Democrats, in wards which now had no BNP candidate:
Chris Beverley in Morley South ward, Leeds
David Owens in Fenside ward, Boston
Ray Johns in Cheshunt Central ward, Broxbourne (where his colleague Steve McCole contested ex-Cllr Johns' old ward of Rosedale)
In Oldham, where Nick Griffin made his name at the 2001 general election and where the BNP once seemed certain to win council seats, the party was unable to field a single candidate this year.
Those nationalists temperamentally inclined to see a silver lining to every cloud might have hoped that the drastic reduction in the number of BNP candidates this year might at least allow the party to concentrate its resources and achieve improved results in those wards being contested.
Moreover in one sense there was an ideal propaganda opportunity. Last year's council elections had coincided with a general election, boosting turnout and depressing the percentage poll of BNP candidates across the board. So it was logical to expect that - all other things being equal - there would in most cases be a slight improvement on the 2010 share of the vote for BNP council candidates.
In one or two cases this did indeed happen. Even the tiny national socialist British Peoples Party saw a slight increase in its poll in Todmorden ward, Calderdale, from 4.9% to 5.6%. A more substantial improvement was recorded by Mark Cotterill of the England First Party in Ribbleton ward, Preston, whose vote increased from 12.5% to 15.5%. While in Queensbury ward, Bradford (one of only two BNP successes nationwide) Cllr Mrs Lynda Cromie polled 34.8%, up from the 30.8% achieved by her husband Cllr Paul Cromie, though not quite back to the 36.6% and 38.5% polls the Cromies achieved when first elected in 2007 and 2006.
But in the vast majority of council wards contested by the BNP in contrasting wards across England, whether no hope wards, realistic targets, or even former BNP controlled wards, the party saw a significant fall in its share of the poll - not only by comparison to its best years, but even by comparison to what was then seen as a very poor year in 2010.
In the BNP's main target ward of Hapton with Park, Burnley, where between 2008 and 2010 the party held all three council seats, former Councillor Derek Dawson polled just 20.8%, down from last year's 24.2% and more significantly well down on the 38.6% achieved as recently as 2008. (Don't forget that even in 2009 the BNP also won the county council division which includes this ward.) At its peak the BNP was able to poll more than 40% in this ward.
Indicative of the collapse of the BNP's campaigning resources was the fact that away from the main target ward, Burnley BNP's results were even worse. In Gannow ward, another where the BNP won council seats in 2002, 2003 and 2006, David Shapcott polled 11.9%, less than half last year's already mediocre 24.0% and less than a third of the party's best performance in the ward, which was 38.6% in 2003.
While in Coalclough with Deerplay, a ward which Burnley BNP has never won but where BNP candidates have sometimes been a close second, Angela Vanns finished bottom of the poll with a mere 8.9%.
Burnley could be seen as a former BNP stronghold which has fallen on hard times, and therefore atypical. Yet a pattern of decline - even from the already poor though explicable 2010 results - is also evident elsewhere.
In addition to long term target wards, there are numerous wards where BNP candidates (often the same candidate) have been doggedly campaigning for several elections, achieving solid though unspectacular results. Even in these wards, which are a long way off the radar of "anti-fascist" campaigners, the pattern of BNP decline is evident.
In Manor ward, Stockport, for example, Duncan Warner has contested every election since 2004, when he polled 14.8%. In the three succeeding elections Mr Warner went on to retain a fairly consistent vote of between 12.6% and 13.9%. Last year this fell to 7.3%, which might have been considered an anomaly because of the general election boosting major party turnout - but this year it fell again to 5.6%.
Nearby in Reddish North ward, Stockport, Paul Bennett was fighting his fourth successive election as a BNP candidate. In 2007 he polled 13.0%, rising to 14.6% in 2008 but falling to 9.0% last year. Once again Mr Bennett's vote fell this year, even more substantially than Mr Warner's, to just 4.4%.
The neighbouring borough of Tameside again saw a collapse of the BNP vote. At five successive elections in the Hyde Newton ward before last year, the BNP had never polled below 24%. Last year their vote fell to 13.4%, and this year to a record low of 10.1%.
Nor was their any comfort to be found in Manchester, which in recent years has been one of the country's most Griffinite BNP branches. All five Manchester BNP candidates saw a lower percentage vote than last year. Most notably arch-Griffinite Derek Adams polled just 10.4% in the party's main target ward Higher Blackley, where he achieved 27.0% in 2008.
The region's other Griffinite stronghold in Cumbria fared no better. In Ewanrigg ward, Allerdale, where Tina Wingfield polled 23.4% in 2007, the BNP chairman's daughter Jenny Matthys managed only 8.5% this year.
Across the Pennines the pattern of BNP decline continued. In Middleton Park ward, Leeds, where BNP candidate Kevin Meeson had consistently presented a serious challenge to Labour hegemony, reaching 37.4% in 2008, he could only manage 17.4% this year.
Less dramatically, each of this year's BNP candidates in Kirklees polled a record low vote. In Golcar ward Skye Turner managed only 5.5%, a quarter of the BNP poll in 2006 and 2007.
In Illingworth & Mixenden ward, Calderdale, considered one of the strongest BNP wards in the country and which still has a sitting BNP councillor elected in 2008, Jane Shooter finished third with 18.3%, less than half the BNP vote that elected Cllr Tom Bates in 2008.
One of the handful of BNP candidates who polled a higher vote than last year was Marlene Guest in Wingfield ward, Rotherham, but her 17.0% was still well down on the BNP votes here in 2007 (30.8%) and 2008 (29.2%).
Elsewhere in Rotherham BNP candidate Michael Burke could only manage 12.2% in Maltby, the ward where Cllr Will Blair has the unenviable task of seeking re-election next year, while Terry Fieldhouse finished bottom of the poll with 17.1% in the Brinsworth & Catcliffe ward which elected a BNP councillor in 2008 with 40.7%.
One of the most notable BNP growth areas which contributed substantially to the election of Andrew Brons to the European Parliament in 2009 was Barnsley, but even here there was a notable decline this year. Colin Porter in the town's Central ward polled 11.3%, less than half the BNP's vote in 2007 or 2008. In Darton West the local organiser Ian Sutton polled 13.4%, again less than half his 2008 vote of 28.7%, while in Monk Bretton where Jane Hubbard had polled 24.4% in 2008 and 21.3% as recently as last May, the same candidate could manage only 9.4%.
This interim report has concentrated on the two regions with BNP Members of the European Parliament. A fuller report will appear in the next issue of Heritage and Destiny. In the meantime a second interim report will follow within the next 24 hours, looking at the options for embattled nationalists inside and outside the BNP.
11th May 2011