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Friday, 24 August, 2001, 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
BNP: A party on the fringe
BNP supporters
BNP supporters celebrate a rare election victory in 1993
Edgar Griffin has been expelled from the Tory Party for his links with the far-right BNP - a party that remains isolated in British politics.

Just as you could once distinguish a Conservative MP from a Labourite, by the three-piece pin-striped suit versus the brown anorak, so it was easy to identify a far-right activist - jackboots, tattoos and a skinhead haircut.

But the far right in Britain today, or at least some elements of it, have become altogether less visible.

John Tyndall
Party founder, John Tyndall
Under its current chairman, Nick Griffin (whose father, Edgar, has been expelled from the campaign team for prospective Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith) the British National Party has been trying to give itself a makeover.

The party, which marks its 20th anniversary next year, has sought to tone down its racist bullyboy image, in an apparent bid to imitate the electoral success of the French National Front and the Austrian Freedom Party.

Once all but banished from our television screens, the BNP has gradually surfaced in the media in recent months, to comment on the racial tensions that sparked a series of riots in the north of England this summer.

Mr Griffin has used the unrest as a platform to voice the party's stance on immigration and racial integration.

BNP general election facts
1997: Fielded 57 candidates; won 35,833 votes
2001: Fielded 33 candidates; won 47,225 votes
But he has also used his appearances on television, radio and in the press to try to convey a different image of the party, which is widely associated with promoting racism.

Formed in 1982 by John Tyndall, the British National Party's guiding principle has always been to oppose non-white immigration into the UK and endorse repatriation of blacks and Asians living in Britain.

But in the minds of the public it became inextricably linked with the National Front, which had been co-founded by Mr Tyndall in the 1960s and had a reputation for ruthless violence against immigrants.

As leader of the BNP, Mr Tyndall did nothing to assuage opinion, prepared as he was to be photographed in jackboots and armbands in front of pictures of Adolf Hitler.

Criminal conviction

Mr Tyndall was convicted of incitement to racial hatred in 1986 and has been jailed three times.

Nick Griffin
Cambridge graduate and convicted criminal, Nick Griffin
The subtle change of tack came after Mr Griffin took over at the top in 1999. In its new guise, the BNP rejects accusations that it is racist and it says it has severed links with the National Front.

Under its current policy, the party backs an immediate halt to "all further non-white immigration" and the "voluntary resettlement" of non-whites to "their lands of ethnic origin".

Some critics of the party, who include the journalist Nick Cohen, say in the small print it endorses considering "forcible repatriation" for those non-whites who refuse to return, although no reference can be found to this on the BNP's website.

Political analysts believe the shift in BNP policy is designed to appeal to middle class white suburbanites who feel alienated by multiculturalism and liberal values.

Cambridge graduate

Mr Griffin, a Cambridge law graduate, is pictured on the BNP website in a family shot with his wife and four children. However, no mention is made of the fact that he too has been convicted of inciting racial hatred.

Edgar Griffin
Edgar Griffin, who sparked the latest controversy
At the general election in June, he stood for the seat of Oldham West and Royton, where weeks earlier racial tension had led to rioting, and won 16.4% of the vote. The party made significant in-roads in another Oldham seat and in Burnley, but elsewhere it struggled.

In London, where 14 of its 33 candidates stood, it failed to make significant gains. In the East End seat of Bethnal Green and Bow, where the party did best in 1997, the BNP saw its share of the vote halve from 7.5% last time to just over 3%.

See also:

11 Jul 01 | Wales
Welsh BNP festival 'unwelcome'
24 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Tory expelled over BNP row
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