By Brian Wheeler
VENUE: Stoke-on-Trent city council.
Not his knight: Did St George's Day go to Nick Griffin's head?
The oak-panelled debating chambers of Britain's town halls would normally be out-of-bounds to fringe outfits like the BNP, but they have seven councillors here, which allowed them to eschew the traditional room above a pub for their manifesto launch. Their hopes of making further progress in Stoke on 6 May took a big dent when local party kingpin Alby Walker quit in protest at what he said were the "Nazi sympathies" of some BNP members - something vehemently denied by those present at the launch. "I have been to loads of BNP meetings and the only time the Holocaust is brought up is when it is brought up by the media," said party member Craig Pond. BNP deputy leader Simon Darby, who was master of ceremonies, has hopes of becoming the party's first MP in Stoke Central.
ATMOSPHERE: By the standards of previous BNP events, which have been surrounded in secrecy that would not disgrace an episode of Spooks or an illegal rave, this was almost normal. We were asked to rendezvous at a back street car park near the city centre. So far so hush-hush. But instead of being whisked off to a secret location the media simply milled about for a bit until someone figured out that they were probably holding the launch at the nearby town hall. So we wandered off there. The police presence and small anti-fascist demo outside was the clincher.
VISUAL STYLE: Army recruitment poster.
CHOREOGRAPHY: Jaw-dropping. The fact that it was St George's Day must have gone to their heads. How else to explain the sight of Nick Griffin bursting into the chamber accompanied by his own personal St George, a man in fancy dress who proceeded to hover about in the background in a plastic helmet and tabard while he made his speech, trying, not entirely successfully, not to look awkward.
STAR TURN: Step forward Britain's most reluctant knight Ian Kitchen.
The BNP election candidate and sometime security guard insisted afterwards that he did not feel the slightest bit silly. He had not realised he would be asked to don fancy dress when he arrived at the venue, he told me afterwards ("They looked at me and decided the suit would fit") but some have greatness thrust upon them and Mr Kitchen had been proud to do his bit: "As a member of the party I do as I am told." He added: "I am prepared to take a bullet for Mr Griffin. That is my job and that is what I would do. So compared to taking a bullet it is not a bad day". In that outfit, he should be more worried about arrows.
ANYONE ELSE? Mr Griffin's wife Jackie, whose only reported public utterance to date has been to say her husband has "never done a proper job," also put in an appearance. She did not get a chance to expand on this theme as she sat, in a floral-patterned summer dress, and watched her man do a round of interviews in the party's cramped council group offices, during which he revealed, among other things, that he thinks the British military has become "feminised" and that he had "reheated curry" for breakfast.
Jackie Griffin was at her husband's side at the launch
ANY PROTESTS? Initially a small picket of "Nothing British About the BNP" members, including some anti-BNP war veterans. By the time the event was over a sizeable group of anti-fascist demonstrators had gathered outside.
DO SAY: The BNP is not just about immigration any more. They have got a full programme of policies on everything from bringing the troops home from Afghanistan to faster broadband speeds.
DON'T SAY: They say they've changed but all this stuff about "countering jihad and the Islamic colonisation of Britain" sounds like straightforward prejudice.
KEY SOUNDBITE: "We mean business. We intend to take our country back."
TELLING MOMENT: Nick Griffin could not resist a swipe at his perceived enemies in the media, who had turned out in far greater numbers than at their 2005 manifesto launch (there were only two of us there on that occasion). He hoped the party would get fair treatment but he did not really care as it now had the most popular party website in the UK. "We don't need the media now. We can speak directly to the British people," he said before sweeping out of the room with the hapless Mr Kitchen in tow to do a string of "one-to-one" interviews with, er, the media. He did not take any questions from the floor.