British Democratic Party (1979-1982)

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Not to be confused with the current British Democratic Party.
British Democratic Party
Leader Anthony Reed Herbert
Founder Anthony Reed Herbert
Founded 1979
Dissolved 1982
Preceded by National Front
Succeeded by British National Party
Headquarters Leicester
Ideology Patriotism

The British Democratic Party (BDP) was a short-lived British nationalist political party in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1979, it attempted to present itself as a populist national conservative party and was led Anthony Reed Herbert as a breakaway from the National Front. The party was subject to criminal sabotage by Ray Hill who was working for the communist magazine Searchlight. It wound up operations in 1982 and joined John Tyndall in the British National Party.

Background

The BDP emerged following the 1979 general election in which the National Front (NF) had put up the greatest number of candidates in its history but with results falling way below expectations. The recriminations that followed this costly defeat saw Andrew Brons replace John Tyndall as chairman whilst a number of groups broke away, notably the New National Front and the Constitutional Movement.[1]

Within the NF, the Leicester branch had become one of the most active in the country and, since 1972, this group had been led by Anthony Reed Herbert, a local solicitor whose talent for organisation had made Leicester a model branch.[2] Reed Herbert took the opportunity provided by the 1979 collapse of the NF to launch his own group, selecting the name British Peoples Party. However, the name was quickly changed in order to avoid association with the earier British People's Party, a splinter group from the National Socialist League, organised either side of the Second World War.[3] The name was thus changed to British Democratic Party even though a British Democratic Party, a minor right wing anti-communist group, had also previously existed in the 1930s.[4]

The BDP shared with the Constitutional Movement a desire to move away from perceived fascism (broad sense) in general and Tyndall and Martin Webster in particular, with Herbert claiming that a stream of propaganda "exposures" in the controlled press of the revolutionary positions of both men had made the NF unpalitable for most of the middle-classes.[5] Effectively therefore the BDP sought to present a more "respectable" public image in contrast to that of the NF.[6]

Development

The BDP quickly gained a following within Leicester, capturing 11% of the vote in the first local elections it contested, a highly respectable score for a new and virtually unknown party.[5] However the British Movement's Ray Hill also became involved and after giving a copy of the party's membership list to Searchlight magazine, soon began secretly working for the Ziono-communist propaganda publication full-time.[7] Although never formally a member of the BDP Hill, on instructions from Searchlight, took a leading role in helping Herbert to organise the new party.[8] Hill also took over production of the party's newspaper British News.[9] Hill's association with both the BDP and BM was not unusual as BDP members Dave Gagin, Chris Newman, Jack Munton and Chris Harrison all held simultaneous membership of the BM.[10]

The association of Hill with the BDP meant that many of its activities were exposed in the press. Thus a celebration for Adolf Hitler's birthday held in 1980 in an illegal bar in the basement of the party's headquarters was reported in the Daily Mirror.[9] Hill also fomented a plan to take over the British Movement, suggesting t Herbert that the two groups could unite once it was successful, although this idea too was driven by a Searchlight plan to bring about divisions within the BM.[11] Hill further informed on BDP plans to obtain weapons and to set up an illegal television transmitter, although information about both schemes was initially vague.[12]

World in Action conspiracy

The BDP became embroiled in a 1981 scheme developed by the World in Action documentary series in which an American claiming to be a gunrunner (but who was actually working for the programme) was put in touch with the BDP. Before long, Hill became involved in order to facilitate the sting.[13] 'Bob Matthews', as the American claimed to be called, told Herbert that he needed a gun in order to raid a US Army armoury, and Herbert agreed to supply a single weapon for £200[14], with BDP member John Grand Scrutton chosen to ferry the weapon, a luger pistol, to a secret location arranged in advance with 'Matthews' before phoning the American to let him know more details. The resulting phone call, in which Scrutton suggested that the BDP could get hold of six more guns and telling 'Matthews' to send payments to Herbert's address was recorded by World in Action and broadcast in the show.[15]

Herbert learned of the ruse from a journalist just before the episode was screened as did Scrutton, whose finger prints were on the luger which was in police custody.[16] Herbert sent Scrutton, under Hill's care, to the Republic of Ireland but before long he returned to Britain and had to be brought back to Ireland by Hill.[17] Herbert eventually told Scrutton to go to South Africa and Scrutton, along with Hill, was put on a plane that stopped over at Paris-Orly Airport. However Hill had informed Searchlight about the plan and they in turn had tipped off the French authorities who arrested Scrutton and Hill before sending them back to Ireland.[18] Under Hill's prompting, Scrutton contacted the show's producer Geoffrey Seed and after three days of interviews they convinced him to return to Leicester and give himself up to police.[19] Scrutton did eventually return and made a full statement, but despite this statement no charges were ever brought against Scrutton or any member of the BDP in regards to the weapons offences.[20]

Disappearance

Despite the incident Hill, who had moved on to a new plan to work with and undermine John Tyndall, remained close to the BDP and sought to continue working to damage the party.[21] At this time the party also enjoyed the support of influential publisher Anthony Hancock, although he too was close to the BM and was less sure about Tyndall.[22] Nonetheless, the gun-running incident forced the BDP to cease almost all operations, and it came as little surprise when it was brought to a conclusion in 1982 by re-joining Tyndall and Hill as founder members of the British National Party.[23]

References

  1. R. Hill & A. Bell, The Other Face of Terror - Inside Europe’s Neo-National Socialist Network, London: Collins, 1988, pp.90-91
  2. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, pp. 85-86
  3. S. Taylor, The National Front in English Politics, London: Macmillan, 1982, p. 91
  4. Robert Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, Allan Lane: 1969, p. 289
  5. 5.0 5.1 Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, p. 92
  6. Peter Barberis, John McHugh, Mike Tyldesley, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations: Parties, Groups and Movements of the 20th Century, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000, p. 176
  7. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, pp. 93-94
  8. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, p. 98
  9. 9.0 9.1 Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, p. 98
  10. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, p. 135
  11. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, pp. 98-99
  12. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, p. 100
  13. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, pp. 100-101
  14. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, p. 101
  15. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, p. 102
  16. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, pp. 102-104
  17. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, pp. 109-111
  18. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, pp. 111-113
  19. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, pp. 114-115
  20. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, p. 115
  21. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, p. 165
  22. Hill & Bell, The Other Face of Terror, p. 229
  23. David Boothroyd, The History of British Political Parties, Politico's Publishing, 2001, p. 17