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Page last updated at 11:31 GMT, Thursday, 25 March 2010

Profile: British National Party

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

BNP leader Nick Griffin
Mr Griffin was educated at Cambridge University and has four children

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.

Under Mr Griffin's 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.

Whites-only policy

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".

But its whites-only membership policy was successfully challenged in court by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and in February, at an extraordinary general meeting in an Essex pub, the party voted to allow black and Asian members.

However, a Times reporter who tried to cover the vote was forcibly ejected - a move Mr Griffin said showed the party had not gone "soft".

Anti-BNP protests outside the BBC
There were protests at the BBC when Mr Griffin took part in Question Time

Until recently the BNP had enjoyed very limited electoral success.

In 1993, Derek Beacon won the party's first council seat 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 in the 2001 general election, it won 47,000 votes after putting up 33 candidates.

That year 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.

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

European gains

By now, though, 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.

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.

In Dagenham, east London, it seized 11 of the 13 seats it contested, becoming the second party on the council.

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

BNP campaign van in Sunderland
The BNP has two Members of the European Parliament

But the biggest coup came in June 2009 when the BNP won 943,000 votes (6%) and gained two seats in the European Parliament elections - Mr Griffin for the North West region and Andrew Brons 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 protests when Mr Griffin was invited on to the BBC's flagship political discussion programme Question Time.

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.

List leaked

But it remains a relatively small outfit compared to the mainstream parties, and 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's membership list was leaked onto the internet, including names, addresses and in some cases telephone numbers, on to the internet and party members received abusive phone calls from anti-fascist campaigners.

Despite claims by the party that the leak was part of the campaign to sabotage it, it was a disgruntled former member who eventually admitted responsibility.

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