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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 April, 2005, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
BNP's 'secret' manifesto launch
Sketch
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter

It was no coincidence that the British National Party chose St George's Day to launch their general election manifesto.

Nick Griffin

But there were no union flags or crosses of St George outside the Festival Hall in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, the back street Nottinghamshire venue the party had hired for the occasion.

Only the presence at the entrance of three thick-set security guards, dressed in identical black suits, suggested there might be anything unusual going on inside.

The BNP claimed not to be worried about disruption by anti-fascist protesters, but the location had not been revealed to media organisations until the early hours of Saturday, and then it was changed - twice.

Press pack

Journalists were searched rigorously on the way into the hall.

The rows of empty seats suggested the party had succeeded in throwing all but the most determined off the scent - something the party's press officer cryptically suggested had been part of the plan all along.

READ THE MANIFESTO
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Earlier this month, I watched Robert Kilroy-Silk's Veritas, the UK Independence Party and George Galloway's Respect launch their respective manifestos in the full glare of the Westminster press pack.

But here the reporters were outnumbered by security personnel, whispering into their cuff-mounted microphones and adjusting their dark glasses.

BNP chairman Nick Griffin - flanked by the party's local candidate and two female party members - briskly trotted through the highlights of the party's manifesto for the benefit of the television cameras.

Repatriation

Like Veritas and UKIP, the BNP wants EU withdrawal and an end to mass immigration.

But its 53 page manifesto goes further, calling for a programme of "assisted repatriation" of immigrants and preferential treatment for "Britain's aboriginal people" in school places and housing.

Other policies, such as the abolition of income tax in favour of a massive increase in VAT, caused a few raised eyebrows among the few correspondents present.

We are not looking forward to it at all, we are just saying it is going to happen unless something quite radical is done
Nick Griffin on the prospect of racial violence

And surely the party was not serious about bringing home troops from Iraq to station in Kent to "secure Britain's borders"?

"That is really a soundbite. It highlights two things we want to highlight, which if we put them down in plain, boring black and white would get missed," said Mr Griffin after the cameras had stopped rolling.

'Foreign invasion'

What about requiring ex-service people to keep loaded assault rifles in their homes?

"It is good for decent people to have guns because it's a guarantee against foreign invasion, against crime, against tyranny."

The BNP polled nearly a million votes in last June's European elections, but with immigration now high on the political agenda, Mr Griffin says he expects to lose votes to the Conservatives and Labour on 5 May, in the majority of the 118 seats the BNP is fighting.

BNP manifesto launch
Few reporters made it to the launch

"We are very happy that the old parties are now talking about these issues because in the long term what they will do is legitimise discussion of these issues and legitimise our position - and make the public realise they can talk about them, it's not taboo any more and, in the long run, they [the big parties] will raise expectations they cannot meet."

Mr Griffin says it is "more unlikely than likely" that the BNP will win any seats on 5 May, but it will, he claims, come second or third in a number of constituencies.

"The simple fact is, once you have thirds and seconds, you are one MP's dodgy heart away from having a by-election you can win."

Racial violence

Mr Griffin denied his party's real agenda was to stir up racial hatred and play on people's fears, even claiming it acted as a "safety valve" for racial tension in some areas.

Nevertheless, his politics seemed driven by a belief that widespread racial violence is on the verge of erupting in the UK and that "when it happens", the BNP "will be blamed".

"We have got in this country at present something like 50 or 60 Belfasts or Londonderrys just waiting to go bang," he says.

But isn't that what the BNP wants?

"We are not looking forward to it at all, we are just saying it is going to happen unless something quite radical is done."





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