The Lessons of the First 20 Years
ANDREW BRONS, a founder member of the National Front in 1967, and the party's chairman throughout the early 1980's, takes a critical look back over the NF's first 20 years. Success and failure alike are examined, as Andrew asks, 'What are the lessons of the first 20 years?'
THERE IS no such thing as 'The History of the National Front'; there are as many histories as there are those who have taken part in it. Our perceptions of our party's development will inevitably be centred on the parts played, the stands taken or not taken and the choices made by ourselves.
I do not pretend that my account will succeed in being objective where others would have failed. Perhaps it is simply that I lack the imagination and capacity for self-delusion necessary to seeing one's own stands as a single grand strategy, from which the Party has deviated, only at great cost to itself.
We have certainly seen some spectacular triumphs: Martin Webster's 16% in the West Bromwich by-election in 1973; Mike Lobb's 11%, beating the Tories, in the Newham by-election in 1974; and my own rather more modest 8% (beating the Liberals) in 1977 in the Stechford By-election. The combined votes of the NF and National Party in 1976 in Deptford were greater than that secured by the winning Labour candidate; and the NP gained two seats on Blackburn Council.
Our votes in the GLC elections in 1977 appeared to be further evidence of an electoral advance that could not be stopped. It even resulted in an approach that was disdainfully rejected by the then Chairman from a person who is still a prominent politician ― and whose identity will remain confidential ― for so long as he continues to leave the usual plain brown package in the usual place!
Our determination to hold our lawful activities without interference has been almost invariably successful. The greatest physical challenges were undoubtedly at Red Lion Square in 1974; in Lewisham in 1977; and in Southall in 1979. At Red Lion Square the International Marxist Group charged towards our lines; found to their dismay that there were no friendly Dixons of Dock Green to hold them back; looked uneasily at the lowered points on our Union Flags; and decided that perhaps revolution was better left to rougher chappies more used to that sort of thing. They fled back to their lines accompanied by a thunderous chant of "The Reds, The Reds, We've got to get rid of The Reds". Lewisham was even bloodier (although there was no Kevin Gately for the Reds to canonise) but our column arrived at its destination. There was no march in Southall but our election meeting took place despite the presence of thousands of Asian demonstrators. At least Kevin Gately won some company; he was joined by fellow left-wing martyr Blair Peach.
The circumventions of march bans have resulted in many other memorable victories. We led the police in 1981 to think we were marching in Bradford and then turned up in Huddersfield. In 1984 we marched along the boundaries of Bedfordshire after the Chief Constable of that county decided to impose a ban on marches in every single Bedfordshire district. We then drove into the centre of Luton (the district in which we had originally intended to march) and held an open air meeting. The fact that there was not a hint of trouble at either, demonstrated quite incontrovertibly that the Chief Constable's decision was dishonestly and illegally taken.
Many have doubted the long-term political value of such stunts but they did win us publicity (particularly Martin Webster's lone march through Tameside) and brought public attention to the fact that we were being the objects of a cynical attempt to prevent freedom of speech and assembly. They also served a useful function in restoring and maintaining the morale of our members. Both effects diminished with repetition and eventually march bans were effected or claimed to be effected without a single line of publicity.
Perhaps more important have been the less immediately perceptible but more enduring changes of fortune that the party has undergone. On the debit side we have lost members and morale through the crushing of false hopes and disillusionment with internal strife. Some ― probably a minority ― made their most valuable contribution when they left. Some others were talented and loyal but simply found themselves on the losing side of a factional war that was not of their choosing. Probably most, like most other people, had virtues and flaws ― people who at different times have shown selfless commitment and selfish disregard for the principles we hold dear. It was the Party's failure that it did not manage to exploit their virtues without suffering from their faults. To be able to do that is the defining characteristic of an association of people that pretends to be an organisation.
Just as imperceptible but of equal importance were the people ― principally young people ― we attracted from 1977 onwards. They certainly lacked the political and administrative experience of those whom they replaced ― the older, more middle-class people, frightened by the violence and embarrassed by the smears. Some may have joined for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, many of them rose quickly to form a talented stratum of speakers and writers unprecedented in post-war Nationalist politics. It is true that some of them rose at a rate faster than their growth in maturity. Perhaps we should not blame undergraduates if they continued to speak out and write as if they were undergraduates. The massive expansion in talent has resulted in an improvement in the standard of articles and a transformation of the party from a reactive (NB: not reactionary) party that knew exactly what it opposed, but not what it stood for, to a Radical Racial Nationalist Party with a cohesive ideology and a comprehensive policy.
The splits that have occurred have invariably been rationalised as being political, ideological or strategic in origin. But those have never been the ultimate causes ― at least as long as we insist that a cause should precede an effect!
The principal cause has invariably been personal ― albeit personal rivalry for positions or personal feelings at being slighted by removal or attempted removal from positions. For people whose public reputation would hardly be considered to be noted for its sensitivity, we have sometimes shown ourselves to be remarkably petty in our response to being removed from positions that are only chores. People who have suffered a similar indignity at a local level wait for their first opportunity to join the opposite national faction from that supported by their local rivals. It really is a re-run of the English Civil War each time! Until we recognise this destructive tendency for what it is and make an intelligent effort to avoid it in the future, we have no right to ask the British people to entrust us with their country and their nation.
There can be no doubt that the greatest achievement to our credit ― one that outweighs all our flaws together ― is that we are recognised and understood by virtually the whole country, as the enemy of multi-racialism. We are a living denial of the myth that Britain is a successful multi-racial society (as distinct from a failed multi-racial state).
Our successful identification of the Party with the Union Jack is such that the mere sight of our Nation's flag produces instant connection with the National Front.
The National Front was formed in February 1967 from a merger of the League of Empire Loyalists and the British National Party (of which I was a member). In the following year the Greater Britain Movement was disbanded by John Tyndall and he advised his members to apply to join the new party. John Tyndall himself was allowed to join later in that year. 1968 saw the departure of one of the two joint chairmen, Andrew Fountaine, and the other, A.K.Chesterton, followed him two years later. His successor, John O'Brien, went off to form his own 'party' in 1972 and he was replaced by Kingsley Read (known affectionately as GHD).
By the end of 1975 Read and half the directorate had left to form the National Party that was an incongruous mixture of sound radicals like Steve Brady and Richard Lawson and Tory opportunists like Read. It was the most successful of any of the breakaway organisations and might have continued to be a threat to the NF had it not split within itself.
1980 was undisputedly a boom year for factions: we produced three within a few months! Anthony Reed-Herbert's British Democratic Party did not see its twelfth month; Andrew Fountaine's and Paul Kavanagh's Constitutional Movement survived in a semi-comatose state for about eighteen months, whilst John Tyndall found one way of avoiding splits in his New National Front (later the British National Party) ― keeping all the power in his own hands! The BNP has lasted longer than most splinter groups and attracted enough establishment attention to get John Tyndall and his newspaper's editor prison sentences under the Race Relations Act.
The latest division amongst the governing body, if taken at its face value, was the result of an outburst of schoolboy (or should I say schoolgirl) malice against Ian Anderson because (in Nick Griffin's words) "he was on his way back" ― after having given up the Chairmanship. However there is growing evidence that the Romanian/Libyan tendency were not simply inefficient when they failed to send membership cards to 80% of members. I was not surprised by their mentality in claiming that they had been spirited away by MI5 - that is unfortunately all too common in politics of all varieties. I was appalled to think that they should have so much contempt for our members that they should seriously expect them to believe this nonsense. I am only sorry that some people, who had shown, and may show again, considerable promise, should damage their credibility in this way.
However, not even this blow to the movement can cause it lasting damage. It has shown itself to be more resilient than that.
There are a number of very hopeful signs that brook well for the future. There have been two entirely peaceful transfers of the Chairmanship with the successor Chairman enjoying the full confidence and support of his predecessor. The last three chairman before the 1986 Putsch are close colleagues who enjoy mutual respect and confidence. Joe Pearce and Martin Wingfield both showed the spirit of sacrifice, by taking on the race tyrants head on: that will always be an inspiration to all true Nationalists. Although Ian Anderson was acquitted, he deliberately prolonged his own trial in order that he might be of assistance to Joe at his trial.
The recurrent problems of disunity in the Party always start at the top ― within the Directorate ― although they are invariably aggravated by local difficulties. There is no doubt that the proposed composition of the Directorate with a majority of Regional Representatives will go a very long way towards avoiding the personal friction that has caused so much harm to the Party we all love.
So far I have written as if I were a spectator, though not perhaps a disinterested spectator. However, there are few who have less right to disclaim responsibility for the troubles that have befallen our movement. I have been a member of the party since its foundation and I was a member of one of its constituent organisations before that. I have been a member of the party's Directorate (and now its steering committee) since 1974. I was Chairman for four and a half years for the second longest period and the longest continuous period. I am aware of a number of mistakes I have made or contributed to, though they were mainly sins of omission rather than commission. I tried in all cases to prevent the splits but always left it too late, though it is by no means certain that they could have been prevented whatever I might have done.
If Nationalism is to succeed it must effect a transformation not only in the Nation but in the Movement and the view that each member has of each other. I find the traits of some Nationalists irritating; they must find many of mine unbearable but of the thousands of Nationalists I have known I remember principally their positive characteristics. Perhaps only when we see in our current Nationalist colleagues their virtues before we see their vices, will the Movement have achieved its full maturity.
That transformation in our outlook may appear impossible. The idea that our success depends on it must appear to damn our chances, but I am an optimist; I know that we shall effect the transformation and I know that we shall succeed.
Editorial postscript: Andrew must indeed have learn his lessons well – in 2009 he was elected to the European Parliament for 5 years, as a representative for the Yorkshire and Humber Region. A collection of his speeches to the Parliament can be found in the booklet A Nationalist Perspective.