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Feature article

Mainstream politician or diehard racist?
In many respects Nick Griffin is the BNP. Since he took over the leadership from John Tyndall in 1999, Griffin has set about transforming the party with what appears, on the face of it, to be a radical overhaul both of policy and image.

He has been the driving force behind this. It is clear that many of the initiatives, such as FAIR and the setting up of the Ethnic Liaison Committee, have originated from him.

He is a leader, unlike any other in the history of the far right in Britain, who realises the importance and significance of using the media.

Much is made on the BNP website of Griffin's "successes" in interviews with John Humphries and Jeremy Paxman.

Nick Griffin
Nick Griffin speaks at the RWB event in August 2001

audio Nick Griffin: "We are a party motivated by one word above all else - love"

Griffin has not been shy of publicity over the years. His current dominance of the party and its membership can be attributed to his success in courting the media.

The publicity stunt is a feature of the party that Griffin has created. He knows how to get publicity, whether it is the photo-opportunity of T-shirts and gags on General Election night or the BNP "clergy" handing out anti-Islamic leaflets outside Canterbury Cathedral.

The fact that he is comfortable and able in front of the camera and with print journalists makes him an attractive proposition for the media. But for many in his party there are risks in playing the media game.

Throughout this investigation Panorama encountered individuals who made it clear that we were not welcome. This happened on several occasions, even at events where approval for filming had been given.

Suspicion of journalists is widespread and there is a sense of paranoia that pervades the party. This runs contrary to the image that the BNP has become more open and accessible.

Few are as confident as Griffin in the adage that "all publicity is good publicity" but while the Party continues to attract attention then he will be given the benefit of the doubt.

Nick Griffin at the Oldham West count for the 2001 General Election
Nick Griffin protests at the ban on post-election speeches in Oldham

Far right links

While the party has cleaned up it's image, Griffin has not banned those who are known to have links with the extreme far right group, Combat 18. He argues that the Party offers such individuals another route to express their pride in being white.

He has been accused in the past by his critics of "political opportunism", as a man who has pursued his own agenda at the expense of his beliefs. The evidence that we have uncovered in this investigation would suggest something more sophisticated and more complex.

In his comments about race and racism it is hard not to come to the conclusion that what Griffin is talking about is a shift in tactics and strategy rather than any fundamental shift in belief.

His advocacy of "community politics", on the face of it, is no different from what the Liberal Democrats might argue as a way of building up support at local level. But the reality of how that strategy is being implemented is quite different.

There is little evidence of local campaigns about building on "green belt" land or concern about broken pavements. Instead, the targets are ethnic groups or asylum seekers. The information that is put out on BNP leaflets and publicity is often inaccurate and misleading.

Nick Griffin claims that the BNP will continue to attract white voters because as a group they are being ignored, and indeed treated with contempt, by the main political parties. The BNP are seeking to exploit that situation by playing the race card.

With Griffin at the helm, the BNP pose a bigger political threat than at any other time in the history of the far right in this country.

Combat 18 logo
Some BNP members have links to the far right group, Combat 18
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