Far Right targets the suburbs

Revealed: How the far-Right targets suburbs by stealth

A community action group campaigning to save local shops and running a May Fayre sound harmless. But its leader was a prominent member of the National Front …

By Andrew Gilligan

Evening Standard, 23 April 2007

FORTY MILES apart, two different election candidates are presenting two different faces of the Right. Ian Anderson, a community activist standing for election in Epping, is talking about the need to save the town’s small shops, the iniquity of fortnightly refuse collections, and the inadequacy of the local council. But he has a past that not all his voters might know about.

An hour and a half round the M25, on this St George’s Day afternoon, several members of the BNP, ‘Britain’s foremost patriotic party’, are more than half-way through their most patriotic endeavour yet: to become local councillors to the Queen.

For the first time in history, and much to the consternation of the locals, the BNP is standing candidates in the expensive environs of Windsor. From one of the wards they are contesting, you can see the Royal Standard fluttering over Windsor Castle as Her Majesty winds up her Easter break.

‘I would like to feel the Queen approves of what we’re doing,’ says Matt Tait, 22, the BNP’s own standard-bearer in Windsor’s Clewer North ward, generously overlooking the fact that Her Majesty is herself of German ancestry. ‘One of the main issues is to keep Windsor as an English town. We do not want to become like Slough.’

The Queen can, in theory, vote in this election, although she does not seem to be on the register (her husband is listed, under the name ‘HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh’). It does, however, seem rather unlikely that she, or many other Windsor residents, will be turning out for the BNP.

The racist party’s presence in this middle-class town is the result of a kind of accident: the three days of disturbances last year that followed firebomb attacks on a Muslim-owned dairy that was seeking planning permission to add an Islamic education centre on its site.

It is also supposed to symbolise what is being called the BNP’s ‘push into the suburbs’, with far-Right candidates fanning out from their traditional council-estate territory into such unlikely places as Shrewsbury, Harrogate, and Henley-on-Thames.

In the South-East alone, the BNP is standing in 20 councils, including Horsham, parliamentary seat of the Tory chairman, Francis Maude, where the party won 13 per cent in a council by-election only five months ago.

But what Windsor actually turns out to symbolise is the BNP’s enduring Achilles heel. For while it has sharpened up its suits and slickened up its rhetoric, the party is still finding it difficult to field credible candidates.

Unprecedentedly for a man seeking election, Mr Tait refuses to have his picture taken for fear of being identified. He said: ‘I would rather keep my job, at least until the election. I’m not too sure my boss would want one of his staff as a BNP candidate.’

He also told a local paper that immigration will cause London to run out of drinking water, saying: ‘We should not allow mass immigration, especially in the Thames area, because the more immigrants there are, the less drinking water there will be.’

The vast majority of the more than 700 BNP members standing in next month’s local elections are, like Mr Tait, paper candidates, standing simply in order so that the party can claim itself to be a national force.

And even in areas where they are elected, BNP candidates’ performance is often lamentable. Many have criminal records, giving new meaning to the term conviction politics; the chances of their appealing to middle England remain quite limited.

At least as worrying, perhaps, is the growth of another political species: former members of the far-Right who are re-entering politics new, respectable and community-friendly guises.

In the Essex town of Epping, there is a new party called the Epping Community Action Group (ECAG) standing candidates for the local town and district council. It seems quite unexceptional: it organises a popular annual ‘May Fayre’ on a recreation ground in the town, it campaigns to save local shops and wants to open a community centre.

ECAG’s officers include a former mayor of Epping, Audrey Wheeler, and it has formed some links with local Liberal Democrats. It is well supported in the town, with 270 members, and says it is confident of winning at least one seat in next week’s elections.

But the thing about ECAG is that its guiding light, Ian Anderson, was for more than 25 years a senior activist in the National Front. In the 1980s, he was a frequent attender of ‘white power’ demonstrations and stood trial after leaflets inciting racial hatred were found in his flat (he successfully argued that the flat was used by others and said he had no knowledge of the leaflets’ content. He was acquitted).

His car was firebombed in a dispute between NF members over money. From 1990 to 1995 he was the NF’s chairman, before leaving to form a new far-Right party, the National Democrats, for whom he contested a parliamentary by-election in 1997.

The National Democrats’ manifesto at that election advocated repatriation for blacks. ‘We believe it will never be possible for the large non-white population currently resident in Britain to retain their culture and identity and to live harmoniously with the white population,’ the document says. ‘Their presence, through no fault of their own, is detrimental to the unity and cohesion of the nation and threatens our traditions and way of life.’

Members of the existing mainstream parties in Epping Forest, where there are also six BNP councillors, are deeply concerned about ECAG’s rise, though none would go on the record about it.

Mr Anderson, for his part, told the Standard that he has not been involved in far-Right politics for at least 10 years. ‘I think my opponents are using my past as an excuse,’ he says. ‘They can’t attack us over anything else, so they’re dragging that up.’

He insisted that he would not ally with the BNP if he was elected next week. ‘I wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole,’ he says. In the claustrophobic world of the far-Right, the National Front and the BNP were mortal enemies.

But when asked if he had changed his views, he replied: ‘Only to the extent that times change and practical politics have changed. There were sillinesses that went on with the NF – stupid marches in silly areas. It was a very negative organisation. We are trying to do something positive here.’

The Standard has established that, according to its latest official return to the Electoral Commission, Mr Anderson remains chairman of the National Democrats, an avowedly racist party, although an inactive one.

He also publishes a journal entitled The Flag, a name also once used by the journal of the National Front. Back issues include articles on topics such as ‘Ethnic diversity – Britain’s timebomb?’

And the current issue proclaims: ‘The world is overpopulated – but not by us. Every day there are an extra 221,000 on our planet, almost all from underdeveloped countries.’

One of Mr Anderson’s colleagues in the Epping Community Action Group is Tony Bennett, who was expelled from the UK Independence Party in 2004 after publishing a pamphlet describing Mohammed as a paedophile.

Yet Mr Anderson insists that his political ambitions no longer extend any further than the town boundaries. And he may well have good grounds for confidence in the forthcoming election.

Among the people of Epping, his racist history is of little interest. ‘I do know about them and I think they are doing good work,’ said Tony Baker, a local resident. ‘As far as I’m concerned all that NF stuff is in the past.’

But what the people of Epping should know is that ECAG is just one of a number of respectable-looking community organisations set up by former members of the National Front.

In the borough of Hounslow, the Isleworth Community Group now has six councillors, and actually runs the council in coalition with the Tories. The Isleworth Community Group is controlled by Phil Andrews, a former NF activist with a criminal conviction for a race-hate attack on a black policeman.

In Havering, a party called the Third Way has sprung up with a community-based agenda to save local shopping centres and fight ‘overdevelopment’. Third Way’s leader, Graham Williamson, is a former senior activist in the NF.

‘Epping is a small market town,’ says a leading member of one of the other political parties. ‘People don’t really want to believe that anything as nasty as the NF and the BNP is taking hold in their community. They want to think well of people. But the trouble is, you vote for the ECAG and you really don’t know what you’re getting.’