The CEHR is a quango led by a former journalist called Trevor Philips, for some reason known as "droop lips" in the black community. It has a budget of £70m a year and seems inclined to use most of it to beat up the BNP.
In June the CEHR wrote to the BNP claiming to have received complaints that 1) the white-only membership rule was unlawful, 2) since employees of the party must be members, its recruitment policy was also unlawful, and 3) that BNP elected members were only serving white constituents. (CEHR's Letter)
In August the CEHR applied for an injunction against the BNP in the London County Court and on the 2nd September the first hearing took place. The BNP's lawyer asked for more time because he had only just been briefed and the court granted a seven week adjournment but awarded costs so far against the BNP because they should have appointed a lawyer sooner.
That's the current state of play. The CEHR are represented by a top barrister, and the BNP is trying to raise cash to stay in the game.
However, in this game the deck is stacked. The government has a new Equality Act before parliament whose ostensible purpose is to roll up all preceding legislation into a single Act. The real purpose, of course, is to add in a few more titbits like positive discrimination and the abolition of the BNP, at least in its present form.
So the CEHR knows it will win; if not under the present law then under a new law, largely unwritten so far. (Although, the Equality Bill is supposedly so bloated now that it may actually be impossible to get it passed before this government dies in May 2010.)
Let's turn to the substance of the CEHR's complaints.
The easiest to dismiss is number 3 - that BNP elected members do not attempt to represent ethnic minorities in their constituencies. This is based on a quote from BNP Chairman Nick Griffin to the effect that ethnics will continue to "go to" the Labour party.
This hinges on what is meant by "go to". The CEHR seems to think it means the BNP wants ethnics to take their problems to Labour politicians, whereas it seems clear from the context the Nick Griffin was simply saying he expected ethnic minorities to continue voting Labour like they mainly do. The BNP has always been clear that its politicians will represent and work for all constituents, not just white ones.
Moving back up the list of complaints we have number 2 - employment discrimination. Now I don't know if employees of the BNP even have to be members; asking for a membership number doesn't mean you won't get a job if you write NONE in the box. The BNP is painfully aware that some people are simply not allowed to join the party. If someone in a profession where BNP membership is forbidden wanted to put in a few paid hours at the BNP on a part time basis I cannot imagine the Party declining their services simply because they weren't a member. (Although most such people would be unpaid volunteers so this is a bit of a non-issue.)
However, precedent has already been set, not least by the Labour party in government, that "political jobs" may be restricted to party members. Think Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair's spokesman, he was technically a civil servant, paid for by the taxpayers, and yet his position was not advertised generally and party allegiance was a requirement. Political jobs are de facto, if not de jure exempt from some aspects of employment law. The major parties would be greatly inconvenienced if this changed.
So that leaves number 1 - the big issue - white-only membership. This issue stems from the fact that the BNP wears two hats. Its first hat is nationalism. It is the Party which advocates nationalism, the ideology, just as other parties advocate socialism or unfettered, globalised capitalism. This hat isn't a problem. A brown or black person could be a nationalist just as much as a white person. Colour or race doesn't determine ideological outlook.
The second hat the BNP wears is more problematic; it's the party which supports rights for the indigenous peoples of the British Isles - who happen all to be white.
As an aside: some people wonder - why on Earth do whites need their rights supported? Surely they already have all the representation they need. Well, consider, we natives are probably already a minority in our own capital city and demographic trends indicate we will be a minority in the entire country within most of our lifetimes. Also note that some of our largest growing minorities are noticeably less tolerant of outsiders than we have been of them. You only have to look at how blacks are treating whites in South Africa - 3,000 white farmers killed, endemic black-on-white crime - or how Christians are treated in Muslim countries, to see that us becoming a minority in our own lands will be problematic, to put it mildly.
As the BNP's second purpose is to support and represent the natives, naturally membership is restricted to natives, hence to whites. The BNP certainly does not take the view that whites are superior to other races, nor does the BNP hate blacks or browns. It's simply that the Party's job is to represent people who happen to be white.
The BNP can point to a lot of organisations which are race or religion based. However they are not political parties, and they generally do allow all-comers, at least in the small print. The National Black Police Officers' Association recently changed (or possibly, clarified) their rules to allow white police officers to join. The usual refrain is that this is an association ABOUT a certain ethnic group but not RESTRICTED TO that group, ie, if a white police officer were particularly interested in minority issues he could join the NBPOA.
So the BNP cannot use other organisations as precedents for race-restricted membership. Any minority group that has a formal restriction will be removing it as we speak.
Ironically, one of the more fundamental Human Rights which the CEHR should be exercised about is Freedom of Association, which is both freedom to include and exclude with whom you associate.
But this is an argument the BNP is not going to win. If they win in court then the law will be changed and the CEHR will be back for another bite at the cherry.
One wonders what the CEHR expects to gain when it wins its court case. The most obvious "victory" would be to bankrupt the Party though legal fees and thereby stop it operating (or at least put it on an equal footing with the Labour party which has been bankrupt for years.)
I hope and expect that the BNP will know when to fold; and to realise that it's better to live to fight another day than to die for the principle - at least in this case. The CEHR may be hoping to run up massive bills and then actually pursue members of the BNP for payment.
A second tier "victory" for the CEHR would be to win the court case to establish the principle of open membership and then other organisations could dilute the BNP by having a large cohort of ethnic minorities join and wreck the Party from the inside. This seems an unlikely strategy. It would be expensive and difficult to organise enough people to join to out vote the existing 12,500 (and growing) membership. The anti-BNP political organisations, eg the UAF, are not mass membership organisations. They simply don't have the foot-soldiers to carry out that kind of operation. If they did, they would already have done it using eligible members; they are a small number of very active people, not a solid mass of concerned individuals like the BNP. These days even the large political parties such as the Conservatives or Labour are hollowed-out organisations with no real grass-roots. They consist of a lot of full-time chiefs and some part-time Indians who'll turn out once every four or five years for elections.
So the CEHR is probably expecting to follow its court "victory" with a series of financially punitive enforcement actions: fines for failing to have enough ethnic minorities in the membership; fines for failing to tick the right politically correct boxes and jump through the right hoops; death by a thousand cuts.
The very least the anti-BNP forces can be hoping for is that the Party's top personnel and funds will be tied up in legal action in the run up to the next general election.
So, although it is right for the BNP to defend its position to a certain extent, it would not be right to risk the existence of the Party on this one court case. It's not like this is a fair fight - as I've already said, the deck is stacked.
And one has to wonder - how bad would it be if membership were opened to all British citizens?
The main problem, I think, would not be hoards of blacks or browns joining. It would be disaffected whites leaving. Quite a lot of members are more hardline than the BNP's current leadership - wrongly in my view - success at the ballot box requires not frightening the Great British Public with extremism or overt unfairness. The BNP used to have a "blacks out" stance which required all non-white immigrants to leave. This was not a recipe for electoral success and has rightly been dropped. The current "permanent guests" policy is an easier "sell" to the voter.
However BNP members for whom "blacks out" was non-negotiable have already left, and are either not affiliated to a party at the moment, or have joined a further right party such as the British Peoples' Party. It should be noted though that these "disgusted of Tonbridge Wells" types generally still vote BNP; even the BPP advocates voting BNP unless they have their own candidate in the election.
I suspect the Party could open its doors to all comers without much problem. Few ethnics would join and of those that did many would be more fanatically devoted to the cause than the current white members. Note that white BNP members are alarmed and concerned about Muslim fundamentalism while Hindus and Sikhs hate with an abiding passion (largely a legacy of the partition of India.) Meanwhile the existing white members would see the larger picture and tolerate the imposition.
And there would be an upside. It would be a stick to beat the media with. Currently the BNP is held back by a lack of reportage, or biased reporting aimed at discrediting the Party. The tabloids love to print a story about shaven-headed, tattooed, sig-heiling BNP members running amok. The fact that this is always complete fiction doesn't deter them. And the BBC simply ignores the BNP as much as it can decently get away with. The BNP's policies and position on the great issues of the day are not reported and as a result most voters do not realise there is actually a genuine choice - not just three flavours of the same choice. Without the excuse of the party being "racist" the media would have to normalise their reporting. The Nazi image needs to be quashed before the BNP can be truly successful at the polls.
So open membership could actually be turned to the BNP's advantage in several ways. It's not the end - but that doesn't mean I'm suggesting giving up without a fight.