Page last updated at 08:22 GMT, Friday, 23 October 2009 09:22 UK

Profile: Nick Griffin

Nick Griffin
Mr Griffin says he is a defender of Britishness

Nick Griffin is leader of the British National Party and has been a member of the European Parliament since the 2009 elections.

A smartly-dressed, Cambridge-educated family man, he has written of the need to "normalise" a party which has its roots in the fascist National Front and, when he took over as leader in 1999, was chiefly associated in the public mind with skinheads and swastikas.

At the time, Mr Griffin said the party had to rid itself of the "three H's" which he defined as hobbyism, hard talk and Hitler.

He has portrayed himself as a defender of free speech against the politically correct "liberal establishment".

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

And to his opponents, his decontamination of the party is only skin deep.

During a controversial appearance on BBC One's Question Time, he insisted his views had been widely misrepresented in the media and he denied a string of statements attributed to him, including a quote from 2006 in which he said "Adolf went a bit too far".

"I am not a Nazi and never have been," he said.

"I am the most loathed man in Britain in the eyes of Britain's Nazis. They loathe me because I have brought the British National Party from being, frankly, an anti-Semitic and racist organisation into being the only political party which, in the clashes between Israel and Gaza, stood full square behind Israel's right to deal with Hamas terrorists."

'Traditional principles'

Asked, however, by presenter David Dimbleby if he had ever denied the Holocaust, he did not answer directly, replying: "I do not have a conviction for Holocaust denial."

Asked about a quote attributed to him in which he equated six million deaths in the Holocaust with the flat earth theory he replied that "European law" stopped him explaining.

Afterwards he complained that he had been treated unfairly saying much of the show had been a "beat up Nick Griffin programme instead of Question Time".

Under Mr Griffin, the BNP has sought to branch out from being solely preoccupied with immigration and racial politics, projecting itself as a defender of the British way of life.

On its website the BNP portrays itself as the only party which will "defend our traditional principles against the politically correct agenda" of the political establishment.

But its core policy remains an immediate end to all immigration and the "voluntary repatriation" of legal immigrants and British citizens of foreign descent. Until 2001, the party advocated forced repatriation.

And the BNP under 50-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 imminent explosion of racial violence in the UK. At the launch of his party's 2005 General Election manifesto 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.

In 2004, he was secretly filmed by the BBC telling a crowd Islam was a "wicked, vicious faith".

The footage sparked a police investigation but Mr Griffin and BNP activist Mark Collett were cleared of race hate offences in 2006 after two highly-publicised trials.

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.

After attending a private school in Suffolk, 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, who is married to a former nurse and has four children, rose through the ranks of the party, becoming national organiser in 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 emulate 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.

Election gains

In the 2005 general election, the BNP increased its total number of votes to 192,850 - from 47,219 in 2001. The party contested 119 seats but failed to win any.

In 2008 it also saw Richard Barnbrook elected to the London Assembly.

But their biggest breakthrough came in June 2009 when they gained two seats in the European Parliament - Mr Griffin was elected for the North West region and Andrew Brons picked up a seat in Yorkshire and Humber, where he won 10% of the vote.

The party did not significantly increase its support on the 2004 European elections but benefited from a collapse in Labour's vote, which saw millions of that party's core support staying at home.

The result thrust the BNP into the spotlight in a way that it had never experienced before - with its opponents stepping up their campaign against it.

Mr Griffin was egged by anti-fascist protesters when he attempted to hold a press conference opposite the Houses of Parliament - and the Equality and Human Rights Commission launched a legal bid to force the party to change its membership rules, which excludes non-Caucasians.

Mr Griffin has used his new-found position in Brussels to make a series of controversial statements, including a call to sink boats carrying illegal immigrants from Africa and comparing senior military figures who criticised his party to Nazi generals at the Nuremberg trials.

But the greatest controversy has been around Mr Griffin's appearance on the BBC's flagship political discussion programme Question Time.

Opponents of him being on the programme believed the move handed him the legitimacy he has long coveted and to which he was not entitled.

But the BBC argued that as a democratically elected politician, whose party gained nearly a million votes at the European elections, he was entitled to a platform.

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