Nick Griffin's British National Party, already under investigation for breaches of electoral law, is facing fresh allegations of corruption. Panorama uncovers new evidence of financial documents being falsified and fabricated in order to deceive the Electoral Commission. The programme also has evidence of the BNP's failure to declare major donations to the party.
As Darragh MacIntyre reports, the BNP, which is better known for its controversial views on race, is in debt and according to its own published accounts appears to be technically insolvent.
Sadly British Nationalism seems to have factionalised into about three different groups, each feuding with the others. In one corner you have the British National Party itself; still run by its recently re-elected (by a tiny margin) chairman, Nick Griffin, MEP. The BNP has been hemorrhaging members, down to about 10,000 from a peak of 14,000, and is in severe financial difficulties. It is fighting legal battles on several fronts: notably from suppliers who haven't been paid and former members of staff seeking wages owed to them and compensation for wrongful dismissal. The BNP's continued existence is genuinely in doubt.
In the next corner you have Andrew Brons, MEP. Yes, the BNP's second member of the European Party is now feuding with the party chairman. The battle is being fought online here. Andrew Brons challenged Griffin for leadership of the party a couple of months ago, but failed by just a few votes.
And there is another corner. It's called Britain First. It's not a political party; it calls itself a "movement". It's actually constituted as a not-for-profit limited liability company. At the moment its long term plans are not very clear. It's just recruiting members, running roadshows and generally raising its profile. So far there is no mention of selecting candidates and standing in elections. However, it's pretty clear this group is intended as an heir apparent waiting in the wings for the death of the British National Party. The BNP portrays Britain First as a simple money-making scam whose sole purpose is to obtain donations from concerned patriots casting around for some life-raft organisation to cling to. The BF on the other hand treats the BNP as a dinosaur about to become extinct - it criticises the Party while being careful to avoid criticising the members, who it wishes to recruit.
Prominent amongst the members of Britain First is one Jim Dowson. He has been mentioned before on this blog. He was employed by the BNP as a fundraiser and he was quite effective at that. However, he was never a member of the BNP, he had no ideological commitment. He was a hireling, not a supporter. Prior to his association with the BNP he raised funds for anti-abortion campaigns, mainly in Ireland. He's from Northern Ireland. It was at his initiative that the BNP set up a call centre in Belfast. Now it seems he has draped himself in the flag and is calling himself a Nationalist.
Other founder members of Britain First used to be senior members and employees of the BNP. They seem, mainly, to be united in a dislike of Nick Griffin.
There's no denying that Griffin has fallen down on the job of leading the BNP. The main problem is the Party finances. Griffin has acquired a reputation as a poor money manager. The accounts for 2009 were submitted late to the Electoral Commission and were qualified by the Auditors. A significant payment of around £40,000 to an individual has been denied by the individual in question, which raises the issue of where has that money gone. The Party made a loss of nearly £60,000 on the year (though compared to the loss of around £200,000 in 2008 this could be viewed as an improvement.) As the Party has no formal overdraft facilities these loses are simply unpaid bills to suppliers and unpaid wages to staff. This inevitably breeds resentment and even fear; fear among the senior staff that they may be held personally liable for the debts. The Party has no limited liability. Not surprisingly, many of them have left.
And the accounts for last year, 2010, have not yet been filed. They are already three months overdue. The suspicion must be that the Party is bankrupt but Griffin doesn't want to admit it.
This is the basic premise that Panorama will advance tonight; that the BNP is bankrupt. The Party itself has not cooperated in the making of the programme, mainly because of the BBC's past record of undercover filming, which led most notably to chairman Nick Griffin and then Director of Publicity Mark Collette's trial at Leeds Crown Court on charges of promoting racial hatred, charges of which they were entirely exonerated it must be recalled.
Meanwhile over in the Britain First corner, they have been collaborating with the BBC; somewhat to their own distaste because the BBC is not loved in Nationalist circles, but they seem determined to deal a fatal blow to the BNP.
Tonight we will find out if they have been successful.