|Wrong Priorities Wrong Results||Election analysis by John Tyndall|
Five years ago, just after the Euro Elections of 1999 and while I was still chairman of the British National Party, I convened a conference of top party officials to discuss the outcome of those elections and the lessons they had provided for us. High on the agenda of this conference was the proposition that fighting for seats in Europe, though it had brought us some very welcome spin-offs in publicity and recruitment, had not repaid the huge investment the party had made in money and effort, and that we should seriously consider abandoning Euro Elections for the foreseeable future.
For myself, I was about 95 per cent convinced in this view; but I wanted to hear the opinions of others before incorporating it firmly into party policy. From the very beginning, I had not been among the most ardent enthusiasts in the party for contesting Euro Elections, but I had been persuaded by others that we should give it a try. Both principle and expediency had governed my thinking on this. In principle, the BNP should decline to recognise the legitimacy of the European Parliament, which it might have appeared to be doing by taking part in European Elections. Against this was the view that by contesting elections to the Parliament, provided we did so on sufficient a scale, we could obtain the benefits of TV time and the postal distribution of vast numbers of election leaflets that would get across our policy for quitting the EU and serve as an excellent means of recruitment. It was a view that merited strong consideration.
But this view - the expedient view - seemed strongly balanced by an alternative view, also based on expediency. This was that the sections of the British public accustomed to support the BNP on issues like immigration would not necessarily do so on Europe - even if, as was far from certain, they were sufficiently motivated by the European issue even to bother to vote at all.
The UKIP factor
Added to this was the fact that in the Euro political arena we would be opposed by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which would probably appeal to a wider section of the Euro-sceptic voters than we could. In other words, in contesting Euro Elections we would be fighting at a decided disadvantage in relation to UKIP. In elections where immigration was a major issue, we would be fighting on a battleground favourable to ourselves; in those where the main issue was Europe, we would be fighting on ground favourable to UKIP. So it transpired in the 1999 Euro Elections, in which UKIP won three seats and the BNP none.
I approved the decision to contest the Euro Elections in 1999 because it was something that had not been tried, and had it never been tried there would forever have lingered in the party the feeling that we had forfeited an opportunity from which we might have derived massive benefit.
But in the outcome I came to believe that the benefit, though not to be derided, did not justify the mammoth effort we had put into those elections. I put this matter up for debate in the party, and waited to receive some feedback. But then events overtook us; I was replaced as party leader and my part in the debate (if there was any) was at an end.
I changed my opinions on Euro Elections very slightly as a result of the great successes the BNP enjoyed in the North West of England in the general election of 2001 and the local government elections in 2002 and 2003. Because of these, I felt that we should contest the Euro seats in that region and maybe two others, as there seemed the possibility of a return that could send one BNP candidate to the Euro Parliament.
However, I never entertained the wildly optimistic expectations of success that were expressed in official party publications, which projected onto the North West Region as a whole the excellent votes we had received in just a small number of areas there. This very cautious viewpoint of mine as discussed privately with some close friends and associates in the party, and there was general agreement on it among us, some of them not even entertaining my hope that we might get one candidate elected in the North West. We did not bring this viewpoint to general notice within the party, as it would no doubt have invited the accusation that we were putting a damper on things and undermining members' morale and resolve! We quietly kept our own counsel and waited to see whom events would prove to be right.
One factor which contributed to our caution was the certainty that UKIP would be contesting the Euro Elections everywhere, including the North West of England, and that party would make considerable inroads into our support. At that time we did not anticipate the tremendous surge that UKIP would make in the last weeks of the Euro Election campaign, with a huge publicity drive backed by financial resources way out of our league, with big mass media coverage and with several popular celebrities jumping on board. This clearly was not foreseen either by the present BNP leadership, and we do not hold them to blame for this. But what the leadership should have foreseen from the very beginning - based on our 1999 experience - was that Euro Elections did not provide favourable ground for a massive commitment of money and effort to them by the BNP, particularly with UKIP as rivals in the field, as it was always certain they would be.
Local government elections should have had priority
Where the favourable ground did undoubtedly exist was the arena of elections to local government all over England and Wales. It was on this ground that the BNP had consistently done well and consistently performed better than UKIP. There existed huge opportunities for it to build on this success and win many more seats this year. But it required that overwhelming priority be given to local government elections, and a relatively minor commitment to Euro Elections, with far fewer regions contested. But instead, the party leadership decided on the very reverse. The overwhelming priority was given to the Euro Elections, while local government elections came off second best by a long way.
A hugely ambitious fund-raising campaign was launched to pay for the fielding of Euro candidates in every region of mainland Britain, and a great deal of money was raised due to the magnificent sacrifices of great numbers of party supporters, who had been persuaded that these sacrifices were worthwhile. Had even half of this money been devoted to enabling the party to make a stronger challenge in local government elections, with a higher volume of literature output, with posters and many other local election aids, that challenge would have been immensely strengthened. In the end, the party emerged with no Euro seats and just four council seats more than it had had previous to these elections, but in many areas BNP candidates came so close to winning that that extra money could well have tipped the scales between defeat and victory.
Out of focus
And that is not all. Money aside, the focus of the party's leadership was so heavily tipped towards the Euro Elections that, again, local government elections came off second best. Everywhere, we relied on energy and initiative to be shown by local leaders, who simply did not receive the backing and encouragement from the top that they should have done. Considering this, their efforts were highly praiseworthy. Particular praise must be given to the efforts made in Bradford, where four councillors were elected, and in Epping Forest, where three BNP candidates got in.
Doubtless, party spin-doctors will make a big issue out of the fact that one of these three was the Jewish candidate, Mrs. Pat Richardson. However, two other candidates (non-Jewish) were also successful, and it is fair to say that it was the well-organised local campaign, rather than the identity of one of the candidates, that was decisive in this poll.
The party did not, in the end, get the hoped-for councillor on the Greater London Authority. Here the UKIP intervention was a handicap (two UKIP candidates were elected). The party leadership was not to blame for the UKIP factor here, as it was in the case of the Euro Elections, but it stands to be indicted for putting less effort into the GLA than it should have done. We know of cases of London activists being diverted to campaigns outside the Metropolis, when just that bit more effort there could have tipped the scales between the 4.7 per cent we received and the five-plus per cent that might have won us one seat.
One factor that was trotted out as justification for the excessive commitment to the European Elections was the massive Euro payroll: the obscene salaries and allowances doled out to MEPs with the obvious intention of making them compliant and ready to put their jobs before their countries. It was proclaimed to the BNP membership that the party would reap massive benefits from this bounty by way of its own MEPs making over 40 per cent of their earnings to party funds (an allocation which would still have left them with incomes only dreamt of by the vast majority in the party). There have been some in the party who have maintained that it was this expected financial bonanza, rather than any rational calculation of political benefits, that shaped the decision to go flat out for the Euro seats rather than concentrate more resources on getting councillors elected. This will probably forever remain a bone of contention in party circles, but at the end of the day the proof of the pudding must be found in the eating, and those who determined party strategy in the 2004 elections must be judged by the results obtained. The big Euro payola did not materialise because the seats were not won; the rest becomes academic.
Factors in previous success
When the BNP was scoring spectacular electoral successes in 2001, 2002 and 2003 we maintained in this journal that this was due to remarkable climatic changes in British public opinion, not to various policy and presentational gimmicks adopted by the party. We added, of course, that much credit had to go to local organisers and activists in the successful areas, who had fought intelligent and energetic campaigns.
We must be consistent with this principle and acknowledge that disappointments in last month's elections cannot be laid entirely at the door of the party leadership and blamed on its various gimmicks, which I have always maintained have made no difference one way or the other to electoral performance. This time climatic conditions were less favourable to the BNP than in the past, and the tremendous build-up given by the media to UKIP, allied to its lavishly financed publicity campaign, undoubtedly contributed to this. The BNP will have also suffered from increased public hatred of the Blair Government - particularly in connection with Iraq - and a desire to deliver a blow against it by any means available. These factors most affected our party in the Euro Elections, but they did have consequences elsewhere which were outside our own control, notably in London.
Nevertheless, the disastrous decision to throw the preponderant weight of BNP resources behind the drive to win seats in Europe must still be accounted the main factor in last month's frustrated efforts. This factor, unlike some others, was within the party's control, and it badly failed to get its priorities right. In particular, it failed to concentrate more effort in those wards where existing council seats were being defended, with the result that a number were lost.
There is an interesting aside to all this. The UKIP leadership, no doubt under pressure from the party's grass roots, altered its former policy of refusing to face the immigration issue, and came out with a watered-down manifesto for controlling the immigrant influx. With recent trimming of BNP immigration and race policies, together with the fielding of a Jewish candidate and the inclusion of a Sikh in a BNP election broadcast, the consequence was very little clear water on this key national issue between the BNP and UKIP. What it amounted to was that where immigration was concerned UKIP was permitted to steal most of the BNP's clothes. If the public wanted a half-baked policy for dealing with immigration, shorn of any mention of the racial factor, it was presented with a much more attractive one in UKIP's case, backed as this was by a high-powered and amply financed PR machine rather than the shoe-string budget on which the BNP was forced to operate. This was unintelligent politics, coming from people who are constantly lecturing us all on intelligent politics.
We should end this sobering analysis on a note of optimism. The BNP has missed big opportunities in these recent elections due to foolish strategies, but its overall percentages of the vote have been impressive. The political landscape is not greatly changed from what it was when we shook the nation by our successes last year. There is still a tremendous tide flowing against the globalist establishment and in favour of nationalism. That establishment has emerged much weaker from these elections than it was previously. Our opportunities are correspondingly much greater than they were previously. If there is any change in the landscape at all, it is a change that favours us in the times to come.
We should remember another thing from the 1999 Euro results. Although UKIP got three MEPs elected, it didn't do them much good in political terms. Within a year they were convulsed by internal quarrels - as was predictable in a party with no ideological backbone, lacking in strong leaders and full of people looking for a political 'quick fix'. But we need to learn some very fundamental lessons from our own wasted opportunities of 2004. There must be a serious debate within the party over where we are going to go from here, and that debate must not be stifled by the mini-totalitarians amongst us, who view criticism of party decisions as treason to the party itself.
The activists who have worn out footwear trudging the streets in recent campaigns, and the donors who have dug deep in their pockets to meet hugely ambitious financial targets, have a lot of questions to ask. They are entitled to be listened to, and now is the time for this process to begin.