Page last updated at 17:03 GMT, Friday, 10 November 2006

Profile: Nick Griffin

Nick Griffin
Mr Griffin says he is a defender of Britishness
Since becoming its leader in 1999, Nick Griffin has attempted to rebrand the British National Party in an effort to make progress at the ballot box.

A smartly-dressed, Cambridge-educated family man, he has written of the need to "normalise" the party.

He has a controversial past, which includes a 1998 conviction for incitement to racial hatred for material denying the Holocaust.

But he has repeatedly insisted the BNP is not a racist group.

He has portrayed himself as a defender of free speech against the politically correct "liberal establishment", even posing for the cameras with a gag across his mouth at election counts.

'National songs'

Under Mr Griffin, the BNP has branched out from its traditional preoccupations with immigration and racial politics, projecting itself as a defender of the British way of life,

Its Land and People campaign focuses on environmental concerns and calls for national flags to be celebrated as "symbols of our Christian heritage".

The party also supports Greenpeace in its fight against Japanese whaling ships and the RSPCA's campaign against the docking of dogs' tails.

It has pushed for BBC Radio 4 to reverse its decision to scrap the early-morning UK Theme - the five-minute medley of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish songs beloved of middle Britain.

On its website the BNP portrays itself as the only party which will "defend our traditional principles against the politically correct agenda" of Tony Blair and David Cameron.

But the BNP under 47-year-old Mr Griffin is still best known for its political involvement in areas with racial tensions.

It has performed well in some local council elections - but has also been accused of stirring up antagonism - particularly against Muslims - in places such as Oldham, Burnley and Bradford.

Mr Griffin has repeatedly warned of an explosion of racial violence.

At the launch of his party's election manifesto last year he said the BNP's open discussion of such issues could even act as a "safety valve".

His rhetoric has often been that of an aggressive defender of "British" traditions and values.

"I'd rather die today with my pride intact, fighting for what I believe in, than live the rest of my life as a sniffling pathetic slave to a multicultural society," Mr Griffin said in one speech.

Family involvement

Born in 1959, the BNP leader comes from a wealthy family with a history of involvement in right-wing politics.

His father, Edgar, was a longstanding member of the Conservative Party, but was expelled in August 2001 over his links with the BNP.

He took his son to his first National Front meeting at the age of 15.

Mr Griffin went to Cambridge University in 1977, where he studied history and law at Downing College.

While there, he founded the Young National Front Students and gained a lower-second-class degree and a boxing blue.

Mr Griffin rose through the ranks of the party, becoming the national organiser by 1978.

The National Front gradually fell apart in the late 1980s and Mr Griffin was instrumental in founding one of the more obscure factions to come out of the split.

It was called "the International Third Position", which advocated a right-wing cross between socialism and capitalism.

In 1990, Mr Griffin had an accident that left him blind in one eye.

He then experienced financial difficulties in 1991 after a business project he was involved in went badly wrong.

Mr Griffin joined the BNP in 1995 and ousted John Tyndall as leader four years later.

He has since attempted to emulated the electoral success of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of France's right-wing National Front, who came second in the country's presidential election in 2002.

Elation gains

Mr Griffin has improved the BNP's showing, but to nothing like the same extent.

In the 2005 general election, the party raised its total number of votes to 192,850 - from 47,219 in 2001.

Mr Griffin himself polled 4,240 votes in Keighley, West Yorkshire - 9.16% of the total cast.

The party contested 119 seats but failed to win any.

In May, it doubled its number of council seats from 20 to 44, making gains in traditional Labour heartlands in the East End of London in particular.

But despite claims by Mr Griffin that the party had seen an upswing in support since 7 July terror attacks in London, its annual accounts showed it gained just 146 members during 2005, to bring its total membership to 6,502.

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