The Rise and Fall of Britain's Most Famous Racist Politician
Nick Griffin's expulsion on Tuesday drew the veil over an era in British far-right politics where it both tipped towards respectability and lurched from calamity to disaster like a drunk clown at a six-year-old’s birthday party.
(Collage by Marta Parszeniew)
All political careers end in failure, the saying goes. But some end in more failure than others. Lost his seat in the legislature. Declared bankrupt. Replaced as party leader. Expelled from the party. But Nick Griffin’s 2014 has formed a terse headstone to what had been a brilliant career. He had been leader of the British National Party for 15 years—the longest run at the top by any major UK politician since the 19th century. His expulsion on Tuesday drew the veil over an era in British far-right politics where it both tipped towards respectability and lurched from calamity to disaster like a drunk clown at a six-year-old’s party. Rest in peace, Nick. This was your life in politics.
Born: March 1, 1959
HE HAD A VERY NORMAL CHILDHOOD
Griffin spent much of his youth “counting black people walking down the streets of London." Just like most of us, his grandfather once asked him to choose a book from his personal collection of fascist literature. Like many of us, his parents met while heckling Communists at a Young Conservatives meeting. Like everyone’s dad, Nick’s dad has claimed that, “in many ways the BNP are too moderate for me." Nick’s wife later claimed that his parents’ great sin was believing that the sun shone directly the ass of their boy.
But all the same, Griffin’s boyhood seems a cold, distant place from the outside. His dad’s electronics business in Barnet, London failed, so Griffin senior taught himself accounting, while they lived in “genteel poverty," becoming habituated to sugar sandwiches for dinner. The family moved up out of the city. His dad ended up as a Conservative local official. Nick ended up as one of two boys at an all-girls private school, after winning a scholarship. His nickname at the school, St Felix’s, was apparently “Nick The Prick."
Up to Cambridge: 1977
PRIVATE SCHOOL, OXBRIDGE: HE WAS EXACTLY THE SORT OF ESTABLISHMENT INSIDER HE RAILED AGAINST
Griffin did well at school and hence ended up at Downing College, Cambridge, studying law. As others dreamed loftily of investment banking roles in Hong Kong, of working their way diligently to the middle of the civil service, there, on the fringes of their awareness, Nick was joining the National Front (NF) youth brigade. This led his to get beaten up by Communists after a rally in South London. So, he got into boxing, got good at it, and ended up representing the university, winning two bouts and losing one. Academically, he was mediocre.
(Photo by Tom Johnson)
The White Noise Music Club: 1979
HE WAS INTO THE RACIST BAND SKREWDRIVER LONG BEFORE PLAN B HAD THE T-SHIRTS
In 1979, he started putting on racially supremacist gigs in his dad’s backyard—founding the White Noise Music Club. Later, he worked with the whitest white power band of them all, Skrewdriver.
1980: Italian fascist Roberto Fiore flees Italy for the UK and befriends Nick
HE QUICKLY BACAME A BIG DEAL IN THE NF AND HELPED FOREIGNERS MOVE TO THE UK
By 1980, he was a leader in NF’s National Directorate, and editor of the NF’s youth paper—Bulldog—and ran twice in UK parliamentary elections, garnering about one percent of the vote.
It was around this time that he set up something called EasyLondon—which still exists—in collaboration with his friend, notorious Italian fascist Roberto Fiore, who was hiding out in Britain in the 1980s, waiting for the heat to die down on a warrant in connection with a bombing in Bologna. It involved subletting apartments to foreigners so that they could steal houses, then helping them get jobs so they could steal other jobs. The profits from Fiore and Griffin’s co-ventures were apparently channelled back to a range of fascist groups, which is probably still a nobler endgame than most London landlords.
Various far-right factions in Dover last week (Photo by Alex Cornish)
1983: Leaves NF to form NF Political Soldier
HE EXPERIMENTED WITH FORMATS
In 1983, the writing was on the wall for the National Front, much as it is for the BNP now. Splitting into a range of meaningless splinters of angry bald men, Griffin dragged himself and some colleagues off to form a new group called NF Political Soldier. Then, in 1989, he, Fiore and Patrick Harrington put together a new faction: the internationalist, anti-capitalist, third-wayist International Third Position. They were a hodgepodge tribe who believed in the environment. Yay. Wealth redistribution. Yay. And racism. Boo. But Griffin soon tired of his new pals, leaving in 1990, and exited politics for three years.
1985: Marries Jackie
HE HAD A VERY NORMAL DOMESTIC LIFE
Nick once invited biographer Dominic Carman to his house in Wales a few years back. Carman described the fiesta of kitsch within as containing “scenes from Arthurian legend." The meal was sausage and mash. The wife was plump, and “unremarkable, apart from being married to the BNP leader." Indeed, Carman recalls her as seeming a bit sad at being described that way, and confessed that she’d always assumed Nick would grow out of his NF ways. This English Eva Braun was a district nurse, who’d been visiting her sister at Cambridge when she had the outrageous good fortune to meet the future ex-BNP leader.
Jackie Griffin couldn’t have been more wrong about her man giving up his old ways, but domestically at least, theirs has always reportedly been a happy marriage. They have four kids, all now in their twenties—Rhiannon, Elin, Richard and Jennifer. All of them speak Welsh.
1991: First bankruptcy
HE WAS BANKRUPTED NOT ONCE, BUT TWICE
When he was declared bankrupt earlier this year due to a legal dispute with his law firm, landing him with £120,000 (just under $193,000) in fees, Griffin tried to spin it off as no big thing. First off, he assured everyone that, unlike Westminster member sof parliament (MPs), members of European Parliament (MEPs) are legally allowed to continue their work after bankruptcy. Besides, he added, he would be better able to advise constituents dealing with debt issues. “I am now turning the experience to the benefit of hard-up constituents by producing a booklet on dealing with debt,” he said.
His constituents wondered why he didn’t have that one nailed down already, because in 1991 Griffin gone through his first bankruptcy, owing £65,000 ($104,000) after being obliterated by the property crash of that year. For someone at the aggressively anti-capitalist end of the far-right, always putting the “socialist” into National Socialist, Griffin had somehow contrived to do very nicely out of property speculation during the late 1980s. He’d bought houses, then flipped them into more houses in France, until an accident where he lost his eye cleaned him out.
It has been speculated that he lost his eye on survivalist maneuvers, training for a coming race war, but Griffin insists he was burning trash when an unexploded shotgun cartridge went off inside a bin. Either way, he was unable to finish the renovations he needed, as the market crashed and interest rates skyrocketed, the banks foreclosed, and his parents had to sell their own home to help him ward off total calamity.
1995: Joins BNP
HE SAW AN OPPORTUNITY
Griffin joined the British National Party in 1995, at the personal behest of its then-leader, John Tyndall. He’d spotted his moment, and by the end of 1993, the BNP seemed to suddenly have real traction. Griffin soon set himself apart, launching the party’s in-house magazine, and agitating as a modernizer. If it was knuckle-dragging under Griffin, the BNP under the late Tyndall was positively cro-magnon. There had been a tight focus on Jew-hating, and initially a focus on compulsory, rather than voluntary, repatriation of foreign-types. Griffin started the party’s long march towards relative—relative—social acceptability.
(Photo by Henry Langston)
1999: Rise to power
HIS RISE WAS AS SHORT AS HIS REIGN WAS LONG
By 1999, he was ready to make his move, standing in leadership elections against Tyndall, who secured only 30 percent of the vote. Once in power, he set about implementing his agenda—coming up with the new logo, embracing the media, and finagling support from the many jagged far-right splinter parties of the time, most notably the National Democrats.
2001: Oldham lights his fire
HE IS A MARTYR
Following some nasty race riots, the BNP managed to score third place results in two Oldham (greater Manchester) constituencies in the general election. It was Griffin’s first real tester as leader, and he came through strong, standing himself in Oldham West, and receiving 6,500 votes. There were no addresses from the platform at the count of either, after election authorities banned them. Griffin and his fellow candidate for Oldham East then wore white gags in protest against being barred from making inflammatory speeches in a powder keg.
2006: Acquitted on hatespeech charges
AS A MAN WHO THOUGHT HITLER “HAD MAYBE GONE A BIT FAR,” IT IS UNSURPRISING HE HAS HAD A FEW HATESPEECH TRIALS IN HIS TIME
After a 2004 BBC documentary, The Secret Agent, went undercover inside his outfit, Griffin and Mark Collett were brought up on charges of inciting racial hatred for certain comments they’d made about Islam. He was also accused of calling murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence a drug dealer and bully who stole younger students' dinner money. They were acquitted in 2006. In 1998, Griffin had already been convicted of “publishing or distributing racially inflammatory written material” in an issue of The Rune, his anti-Semitic fanzine.
Richard Barnbrooke, The BNP's first London Assembly Member (Photo by Henry Langston)
June 4, 2009: Euro Elections
HE HAD A FEW GOOD YEARS
2009 was Griffin’s breakthrough. It had been telegraphed in the BNP’s growing number of local council seats for a while—they were already the second largest party in the London borough of Barking & Dagenham. And in 2008 they won a seat on the London Assembly. People were starting to take Nick seriously. But the 2009 European Elections saw Griffin’s personal triumph—he became an MEP with six percent of the national vote. The kids at school had been wrong. He was a winner after all. He got pelted with eggs at his celebratory press conference outside the Houses of Parliament, but public office was lending the BNP enough credibility that the party’s London Assembly Member, Richard Barnbrooke, was able to invite Griffin to an event at Buckingham Palace. Of course, the Palace revoked the invitation, saying Nick had used it to promote his party.
October 22, 2009: BNP on Question Time
THAT WAS CONTROVERSIAL, WASN’T IT?
Since he was at the height of his popularity, the BBC decided that it was duty-bound to invite Griffin to shoot the shit with David Dimbleby and some panellists in London. It was so controversial that the Wikipedia article on this one chat runs to 6,000 words. Outside the studio, people protested. Inside, the focus was on asking Nick why his views are so abhorrent. In the end, Nick Griffin complained more than anyone, saying that he had performed so badly because everyone in London hates him, as it is too multicultural.
The EDL hoovered up support for far-right causes (Photo by Henry Langston)
June 27, 2009 onwards
THE DEMISE OF THE BNP
As time went on, the BNP ended up being kicked around. The party was the butt of many jokes, and was forced to leave its premises in the Gloucestershire countryside after residents objected and they were subject to increasingly ominous threats of bankruptcy. After a poor showing in the 2010 general election, the party lost many of its council seats in the 2011 local elections, and Griffin narrowly survived a leadership challenge.
The far-right’s attempt to look respectable so that they could win elections was coming undone. Meanwhile, a tanning salon owner with a fake name started a Facebook group that became a social movement—the English Defense League, or EDL. Soon the vanguard of the BNP’s remaining support base began to bleed away onto their mean streets, preferring to drunkenly fight each other than to contest elections. To cap it all, Tommy Robinson later declared all that fascism to be a load of bullshit anyway. Typical.
Collage made with elements of image by Ricardo Stuckert/ABr
June 2013: Holiday in a warzone, because IDK
HE WENT ON HOLIDAY TO SYRIA IN 2013
Everybody loves a bargain. Especially when they’re about to be declared bankrupt for the second time. But Nick’s trip to Syria last year was a pure headscratcher. He started out in Lebanon, tweeting out things like: “Puzzle 4 journalists: Why am I in Beirut right now?” No one knew. He posted pictures of “typical Beirut corner shop fruit bar," and out of focus shots of downtown public squares. Soon enough, though, he was in Damascus and photographing himself chilling with Syrian Prime Minister Wael Nader Al-Halqi.
This capped a long tradition of opportunist associations with scumbags. In the 1980s, Griffin went to Libya at the behest of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to see if they could make common cause. He praised the Ayatollah Khomeini back in the days when he was far more of an anti-Semite than an Islamobphobe, and made common cause with Nation Of Islam boss Louis Farrakhan for his black-separatist views. Of course, he also made nice with David Duke, the ex-Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Later on in 2013, Griffin went on another jaunt, to Azerbaijan, in time to see their corrupt regime teeter its way to another rigged election. “The system here is far more transparent than back home,” he noted with his trademark sagacity.
July 2014: Loses MEP seat
September 2014: Kicked out
HIS DOWNFALL WAS VERY SWIFT, IN THE END
In July, Griffin lost his MEP seat as the party returned to the wilderness. He stood down as chairman to stave off a vote of no confidence and was given the title of "honorary president" as a parting gift. In his expulsion hearing, the ex-leader was accused of harassing staff, making physical threats, and bringing the party into disrepute, "deliberately trying to cause a crisis" and disobeying instructions. “Nick did not adjust well to being given the honorary title of President,” the new leader, Adam Walker, said after his expulsion this past week. “And it soon became obvious that he was unable to work as an equal member of the team, and alarmingly his behavior became more erratic and disruptive.”
(Photo by Alex Cornish)
October 2014 to the future: a new dawn?
HE ALLIED WITH OTHER FASCISTS
Is Nick’s career dead, or is this in fact just the start of a new chapter? Griffin has said that he will start a new movement and told VICE News that this "will be be seen as the preeminent national movement in Britain” in the “not-too-distant future." And it’s possible that VICE was in the delivery room of this new movement as it was born. Last weekend, our reporter was in Dover as Griffin addressed a protest, railing against the immigrants and comparing them to “Norman bastard” William the Conqueror.
He said he was happy to stand with members of far-right splinter groups that he would have spurned as BNP leader. The man who had led the way in creating a far-right party with an air of respectability was happily standing with a guy with a Wolfsangel flag and activists from the National Front—where it had started all those years ago. Could it be that there, in that Dover parking lot, a new chapter in the career of Nick Griffin started? Or was he just desperately reaching out to anyone still impressed enough by him to want to pose for a picture?