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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Nowhere man; a Searchlight report into BNP leader wannabe Eddy Butler.

 Nowhere man

As part of our series looking at the wider British right, Searchlight assesses the prospects for Eddy Butler.

After Eddy Butler failed last summer to surmount the impossibly high hurdles that Nick Griffin placed in the way of anyone hoping to challenge his leadership of the British National Party, the big question among Butler’s supporters was whether to keep on fighting within the BNP or form a new party.

Butler was against a new party. He had been there before and in surprisingly similar circumstances. Shortly after Griffin replaced John Tyndall as BNP leader in 1999, the party’s treasurer and deputy chairman accused Griffin of financial wrongdoing. Griffin responded as he always does, by expelling his accusers. Butler and several others left the BNP in disgust and in December 2000 formed the Freedom Party.

Apart from getting one councillor elected in South Staffordshire in 2003 the Freedom Party made little impact and by 2006 was dead. Butler had already returned to Griffin’s side in 2003 after realising that the BNP, which had won three councillors in Burnley in May 2002, had the better prospects.

Butler’s opposition to forming a new party proved prescient. In October 2010 some of his former supporters, together with others who had fallen foul of Griffin, set up the British Freedom Party. They soon fell out with each other publicly and nastily, its leadership went through a number of changes and although it may field a few candidates in this year’s local elections, it has zero public profile and no attractive personalities.

Butler and many of his supporters believed that the future for the far right remained in the BNP. Whereas many disillusioned members were leaving the party, Butler urged supporters to renew their membership so they could vote in a future leadership election. He went to great trouble to contribute to a “consultation” on changes to the party’s constitution, only to have his effort rejected.

However, if Butler thought he could carry on agitating against Griffin inside the BNP, he must have been very naïve, surprisingly so for someone who has been active on the far right for 30 years and has an honours degree in history and politics. Butler was first suspended from the BNP, then expelled, though he retains his employment on the European Parliament payroll with Andrew Brons MEP, who has maintained a somewhat uncomfortable fence-sitting position between Butler and Griffin.

On 24 December Butler changed his view on whether party members should renew. Reminding his readers of Griffin’s financial mismanagement, which had left the party with debts of over £500,000, Butler declared that members get: “No chance to vote on anything, no chance to decide anything. He [Griffin] will never allow anyone any chance to vote on anything.” Griffin had to be “starved out” said Butler, adding: “This is harsh but it is the only way.”

Since then Butler has continued waging war on Griffin from the comfort of his blog. Many of his articles, and those of a handful of guest writers, contain insightful analysis and plenty of useful information for anti-fascists. But it is unclear quite where Butler hopes to go. Constant calls for Griffin to be removed are not accompanied by any strategy for achieving that aim.

The BNP constitution, which requires a challenger to obtain the support of 20% of all party members of at least two years’ standing, remains in place and it is unclear when changes discussed at last year’s BNP conference might be put to a vote. The first problem a challenger faces is to find out which members to canvass, as the party does not supply a list.

Nevertheless a group of party members grouped under the banner of BNP Reform 2011 has said a leadership challenge will be mounted this summer, although: “To protect the candidate and ensure he/she is not expelled or suspended before the period for leadership nominations we shall not be revealing his/her identity at this time.”

BNP Reform 2011 is independent of Butler, though many of its members supported him last year and Butler has condemned Griffin’s moves against the group. Several prominent party activists have been suspended recently by Griffin’s henchman Adam Walker, the BNP’s national organiser, simply for attending reform meetings.

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