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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Nick Griffin: Right-wing chameleon
Nick griffin, Chairman of the British National Party
Nick Griffin is transforming the image of the far-right British National Party. But is this just a repackaging of old prejudices? By Bob Chaundy of the BBC's News Profiles Unit.

Whenever you read or hear about the British National Party, you are sure to come across the name Nick Griffin.

This is the man who, in June's general election, polled 16% of the vote in Oldham West where, at the declaration, he stood in a mock gag.

Griffin at the Oldham West declaration
Nick Griffin polled 6,500 votes in Oldham West
It was his protest against the banning of the traditional post-election speeches following the racial disturbances in the area.

This 42-year-old smooth, articulate, Cambridge-educated leader of Britain's only serious far-right political party is, on the surface, far removed from his predecessor John Tyndall, whom he succeeded as the BNP's chairman last year.

Griffin is media-friendly, even though he accuses the media of being complicit in what he calls the liberal establishment conspiracy in the creation of the multicultural society he despises.

His is the party that claims to be standing up for the rights of white people in Britain whose traditions and values, he feels, are under threat by immigrants.

'Different, not better'

Yet, under Nick Griffin's leadership, gone are the hateful expressions of blatant racism. "The BNP does not claim that any one race is superior to any other, simply that they are different," explains its cosily-renamed party magazine, Freedom.

Oldham riots
Panic on the streets of Oldham
"The party merely wishes to preserve these differences which make up the rich tapestry of human kind." Preserving these differences in hot-spots such as Oldham or Burnley would, he says, involve building Belfast-style peace walls.

But is this merely a case of repackaging traditional right-wing prejudices? Professor Roger Griffin - no relation - of Oxford Brookes University thinks so.

"Nick Griffin is trying to modernise the BNP by adopting the language of right-wing leaders such as Le Pen in France and Haider in Austria. But under the cloak of loving difference, there is essentially a Nazi-style hatred of racial inferiors."

Nick Griffin's involvement in far-right politics is said to have begun when his father, a right-wing Tory councillor, took him to a National Front meeting at the age of 15.

'Social pariah'

He was brought up in rural Suffolk, far from the front-line of multicultural Britain. A bright student, he gained a place at Cambridge where his work as a National Front activist made him a social pariah. He left with a law degree and a boxing blue.

Defend rights for whites with well-directed boots and fists

Nick Griffin, 1995
In the 1970s, Nick Griffin became what the National Front referred to as a political soldier, working hard to establish members in residents' and tenants' associations.

The party saw the future as needing to build up its base from the grass-roots in a new kind of politics, influenced by fascists from Italy, and by Colonel Gaddaffi's ideas on people's committees. Griffin even travelled to Libya to try to secure funds for the party but failed both in that quest and to excite any public interest.

After leaving the National Front in 1989, he formed the International Third Position (ITP), which aimed to transcend what it saw as the twin evils of capitalism and communism.

Griffin's Mind Benders pamphlet
The "Jewish conspiracy" booklet
But he left shortly afterwards to join the BNP. He soon announced himself as a Holocaust denier and, in a 1997 booklet entitled Who are the Mind Benders?, Griffin outlined a Jewish conspiracy to brainwash the British people in their own "homeland".

In 1998, Griffin was found guilty of distributing material likely to incite racial hatred, for which he received a two-year suspended sentence.

Courting middle England

But, realising that this style of politics was not attracting much support, Nick Griffin began his so-called modernising process that began to manifest itself in the adoption of the language of mainstream politics.

If you're interested in confrontation and violence, don't bother us

Nick Griffin, 2001
The party began campaigning on the same kinds of issues. His populist pamphlets began to criticise the government's soft stand on paedophiles, and hit out at the National Farmers Union, and he initiated a Save Our Sterling campaign.

He claims that the bitter election rows over asylum seekers has legitimised his party's stand on racial separation.

But Griffin's latest reincarnation has bemused even his former allies.

Nick Griffin
Nick Griffin: Smooth-talking and media-friendly
The ITP stated in an e-mail newsletter, "He has been a conservative, a revolutionary nationalist, a radical national Socialist, a Third Positionist, a friend of the 'boot boys' and the skinhead scene, a man committed to respectable politics and electioneering, a 'moderniser'. Which is he in reality?"

Nick Griffin lives with his wife and four children on a smallholding near Welshpool in mid-Wales where he raises pigs and chickens. He has made much political capital from the racial tension in some of Britain's poorest areas, saying they justify his party's separatist policies.

Griffin claims that his tiny party's core values are shared "by a large majority of our fellow Britons". Whether the multicultural society he loathes is too embedded and popular to be dispensed with remains to be seen.

The BBC's Jeremy Paxman interviews Nick Griffin

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