2011 Election Preview – a watershed for nationalists

The May 2011 English local elections have already shocked the nationalist movement, before a single vote has been cast.  Even battle-hardened political veterans have been astonished by the collapse of Nick Griffin’s British National Party, which is failing even to field candidates in many former target areas.

Many of the BNP’s leading activists have finally lost faith in Nick Griffin, following years of financial malpractice and dictatorial suppression of all internal dissent. The best informed party members have taken fright at the BNP’s impending bankruptcy, aware that the party’s uncontrollable debt mountain will have dire consequences.

Whatever the reason, the BNP’s collapse is self-evident.  In Bradford, where the BNP had ten candidates last year, it now has just one – defending councillor Lynda Cromie, who faces a battle to hold on to her seat in Queensbury ward.

Other Yorkshire BNP heartlands have seen similarly steep decline.  In Kirklees where the BNP once achieved some of its best election results, the party will now have just four candidates and is not contesting wards such as Hecknmondwike which once elected BNP councillors.  In Leeds there will only be two BNP candidates this year compared to a full slate in previous years, while three former BNP candidates – including former councillor and Yorkshire regional organiser Chris Beverley – will be standing for the English Democrats, having switched parties on the eve of the elections.

In the North West even hitherto loyal branches such as Blackpool (which had seven candidates at the borough’s last election in 2007, but none this year) have collapsed.  Bury had ten candidates last year; this year there are none.  Wigan had a slate of nineteen candidates last year; this year they are reduced to three.  Pendle BNP was one of only two branches last year to re-elect a BNP councillor, fielding nine candidates in total; this year there are just three.

Even in Liverpool where some of the North West’s few remaining fanatical Griffinites are based, the BNP slate has been halved from eight to four.  Significantly three of the city’s former leading BNP activists are standing this year for other parties: Steve Greenhalgh and Steve McEllenborough for the English Democrats and Dr Paul Rimmer for UKIP, having also been an English Democrat candidate a few months ago!

The picture is further complicated by another anti-Griffinite splinter that has recruited a few Merseyside activists, the British Freedom Party – not fielding any candidates this year due to its own further internal splits which have yet to be resolved.

It is clear enough that nationalism is in a state of transition.  Griffinism is dying and even more senior BNP members will quit within the next few weeks.  It may take many more months to rebuild a post-Griffin movement, and the precise shape of that movement is still uncertain.

So for the purpose of this election preview – which wards should interested nationalists look out for as the election results come in?

The England First Party’s best prospects might be in Stoke-on-Trent, where the EFP is fielding six candidates including former councillor Mark Leat in Sandford Hill ward, and Preston, where party chairman and former councillor Mark Cotterill is contesting the usually safe Labour ward of Ribbleton.

As for what remains of the BNP, Stoke is again the centre of attention, since the entire council faces re-election due to boundary changes.  The BNP’s five Stoke councillors are standing for re-election in new wards, as are ex-BNP councillors Alby and Ellie Walker (as Community Voice candidates) and Tony Simmonds (as an Independent).  Strangely one of the BNP’s Stoke councillors John Burgess also sits as a councillor for Forsbrook ward on the neighbouring Staffordshire Moorlands council, but while Cllr Burgess will be fighting again in one of the new Stoke wards he is standing down in Forsbrook.

Forsbrook therefore counts in the minus column for the BNP, as a ward which the party won in 2007 but will not contest this year. In the same category are Hugglescote ward, NW Leicestershire, where ex-BNP Councillor Graham Partner will defend his seat as an independent; Fenside ward, Boston, where BNP Cllr David Owens has defected to the English Democrats and will be defending the ward under his new colours without BNP opposition; Swanley ward, Sevenoaks, where Cllr Paul Golding has quit the BNP and will not seek re-election; and Brinsley ward, Broxtowe, where former BNP official Sadie Graham won the party’s best result in 2007 but quit in one of the BNP’s most acrimonious splits a year later. Even if we set aside the complicated situation in Stoke, the BNP therefore has a net loss of five seats even before what will be a traumatic polling day for the diminishing Griffinite band.

Burnley was once alongside Stoke as one of the jewels in the BNP crown.  This year there is just one BNP seat up for re-election – in the Hapton with Park ward which the party once dominated.  Having completed two full terms as a ward councillor, former Burnley BNP leader Len Starr is standing down (perhaps anticipating defeat).  He will be replaced by former Gannow ward councillor Derek Dawson.  The branch remains bitterly divided between arch-Griffinite Chris Vanns and more widely respected characters such as County Councillor Sharon Wilkinson, who is likely to defect to a post-Griffin party soon after the elections.

Staying in East Lancashire, the borough of Blackburn with Darwen has seen the BNP continually under-achieve for several years.  2011 is no exception, with just three BNP candidates and no nationalist presence in the most promising target wards of Meadowhead, Ewood and Mill Hill.

Some of the greatest BNP successes four years ago were in the East Midlands.  Ian Meller will defend Whitwick ward, NW Leicestershire, and Cathy Duffy will seek re-election in East Goscote ward, Charnwood.  Both are facing likely defeat.

Aside from unpredictable contests under the PR system for the Welsh Assembly and the new boundaries in Stoke, it is difficult to see where the BNP can hope even to retain seats this year, let alone gain new ones.  Yet election defeats may turn out to be the least of Nick Griffin’s problems.

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