BNP - the disastrous war of the roses

Nick Griffin Image copyright Other
Image caption Nick Griffin squeezed home narrowly ahead of his rival in the BNP's ballot

A ferocious "war of the roses" over the leadership of the far-right British National Party has left it badly split and potentially mortally wounded.

Nick Griffin squeaked home by just nine votes in this week's national ballot of party members to retain the chairmanship he has held since 1999.

Griffin, who sits as Member of the European Parliament for the North West region, faced a strong challenge from the other side of the Pennines.

His only rival in the contest was the party's other MEP - Yorkshire and the Humber's Andrew Brons.

"Probably, this was the worst mandate the Chairman could win," Brons wrote to his supporters on his BNP Ideas website shortly after the result was announced.

"In effect, the party is split from head to toe and there remain grave questions of doubt over the fitness of many existing officers of the party to exercise control over its operations."

It is a far cry from the high point of the 2009 European Parliamentary elections when Griffin and Brons shocked the political establishment by mustering enough popular support to take the party's first seats in a UK national election.

Their European seats were both won by the narrowest of margins, but it raised expectations that the self-proclaimed defenders of the "British indigenous population" could be on the verge of further breakthroughs.

Griffin defiant

Instead, Griffin's disastrous appearance on the BBC's Question Time a few months later and an embarrassing result in the 2010 general election has led to vicious infighting which could yet see the BNP implode.

In his own statement issued shortly after the election Nick Griffin said: "The time for division and disruption is over; now is the time to heal. Now is the time to move on. Now is the time to get back to work.

"We have a party to build and a nation to save. Let us go forward together!"

Griffin's rallying call might be too late.

In an online video election webcast recorded at the start of the campaign, Andrew Brons said members and activists had been voting with their feet for at least and year and leaving the party.

'Civil war'

At one stage he claimed a third of the membership and two thirds of its activists had left because of what he called Griffin's "unnecessary civil war" to stifle opposition.

The BNP has always been cagey about its total membership but this election for its national leader reveals just how small it has become. The number of ballot papers returned was just 2,316.

In fact, across every council in Yorkshire, the party could muster just 50 candidates at the 2011 elections earlier this year. Not a single one mustered enough votes to become a councillor.

The nightmare is not over for Nick Griffin or the BNP.

In his latest blog "Reply to Dissatisfied Supporters" Andrew Brons issues a clear warning: "If the leadership wants peace, he can have peace and we can get on with work that will contribute towards our substantive aims.

"If on the other hand if he were to choose war, he would meet an equal and opposite force."