Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Thursday, 22 October 2009 13:42 UK

Profile: British National Party

BNP campaign van
The BNP has won council seats in some parts of the country

The British National Party was formed by John Tyndall, co-founder of the National Front, in 1982.

He led the BNP until 1999 and died in 2005.

His successor was Nick Griffin, a Cambridge law graduate who lives in mid-Wales with his wife and four children.

Before becoming leader, Mr Griffin was a full-time political writer and organiser for the BNP. He has been involved in far-right politics for 30 years.

In 2006, he faced trial on race hate charges, along with party activist Mark Collett, prompted by speeches filmed by a BBC team, which showed Griffin describing Islam as a "wicked, vicious faith".

Both men were acquitted of charges of inciting racial hatred.

Under his leadership, the BNP has sought to decontaminate its racist public image and present itself as a defender of the British way of life, even appropriating patriotic symbols such as the Spitfire and Winston Churchill - much to the anger of Mr Churchill's family.

Until 2001, the party advocated forced "repatriation" of non-whites. It currently backs an immediate halt to all immigration, and the "voluntary resettlement" of legal immigrants and British citizens of foreign descent to "their lands of ethnic origin".

Limited success

But its whites-only membership policy has been successfully challenged in court by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Mr Griffin will now have to persuade the membership to ditch what has been one of their core principles.

Until recently the party had enjoyed very limited electoral success.

In 1993, Derek Beacon won the party's first council seat, in a by-election in the Millwall ward of Tower Hamlets in east London, but the seat was soon won back by Labour.

In the 1997 general election, the party fielded 57 candidates and saved three deposits, winning 35,000 votes. Four years later, it won 47,000 votes after putting up 33 candidates.

In that 2001 election, Mr Griffin 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.

It contested 119 seats in the 2005 general election, slightly increasing its total share of the vote but failing to win any seats.

By now, the party was beginning to gain a foothold in a number of former Labour heartlands around the country, capitalising on the disenchantment of white working class voters.

Internal rows

Mr Griffin had narrowly failed to gain a seat in the 2004 European elections and in the 2006 local elections the party doubled its number of councillors. It seized 11 of the 13 seats it contested in Dagenham, East London, becoming the second party on the council, gained three seats in Stoke-on-Trent, in Staffordshire, and picked up a handful of seats in Yorkshire and the South-East of England.

Mr Griffin has sought to professionalise the BNP's structures and made much use of the internet to mobilise support, claiming to have the most visited political party website in the UK.

But it remains a relatively small outfit compared to the mainstream parties, with around 6,000 members and it has been hit by internal dissent with some members unhappy at Mr Griffin's perceived dominance and what they see as the watering down of its hardline stance on race.

It has also faced an increasingly vocal and well-funded campaign against it, which draws support from all the mainstream parties and which has sought to exclude it from debate and deny it a platform.

In 2008, the BNP was hit by the leaking of its entire membership list, including names, addresses and in some cases telephone numbers, on to the internet, with party members facing abusive phone calls from anti-fascist campaigners.

But despite claims by the party that the leak was part of the campaign to sabotage it, it was a disgruntled former party member who eventually admitted responsibility and was fined for publishing the document.

In 2008, the party achieved a breakthrough when Richard Barnbrook was elected to the London Assembly.

But their biggest coup came in June 2009 when they won 943,000 votes (6%) and gained two seats in the European Parliament elections - 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.

It gave the party a national platform for the first time and led to a storm of controversy when Mr Griffin was invited on to the BBC's flagship political discussion programme Question Time.

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