The party secured more than one million votes at the European elections in 2009
Loss of final councillor signals far-right BNP's demise
The UK’s far right British National Party is to lose its last elected councillor in the country, making its demise official and complete.
Brian Parker, who sits on Pendle Borough Council in Lancashire, will not contest his seat in next month’s local elections, and there is no BNP candidate to replace him.
Mr Parker's announcement marks the culmination of a near decade-long downfall for a party that once appeared poised to break into mainstream British politics in the late 2000s.
The BNP's first councillor was elected in 1993. Under former leader Nick Griffin it reached its high point in popularity in 2008 and 2009, gaining a seat on the London Assembly and more than a million votes in the European elections. The latter allowed it to send two members to the European Parliament.
In October of 2009, the BNP was invited on to Question Time, the BBC’s flagship political debate programme amid controversy about the its racist links. The party had a whites-only membership policy but this was banned by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2009.
The BNP largely stood on an anti-immigration, anti-Islam platform. In 2010, a party activist was cleared of hate speech after distributing leaflets blaming Muslims for the heroin trade. The leaflets claimed followers of Islam should "apologise and pay compensation".
However, Mr Griffin was expelled from the party in 2014 after being accused of trying to destabilise the party, and by 2015 its membership had dwindled to just 500 from more than 10,000 in 2010.
A BNP spokesperson said: “Brian Parker is the most successful BNP councillor ever, serving three terms. We wish him well in his retirement."
But the spokesperson said that the party still had a number of councillors in unpaid positions on town and parish councils — the lowest elected offices in the UK.
“Because our members are true patriots, they are honoured to serve their communities in the much underappreciated positions as community, parish and town councillors.
“Over the years we have found that other political parties, and indeed the media, disgracefully discount these essential unpaid roles and are obsessed with paid positions only.”
Nick Lowles, of Hope not Hate, an advocacy group that campaigns against fascist groups, said: “The BNP as a force died a while ago, and we face new threats from an increasingly online and violent far right. But it's good to take a breath, to celebrate the official end of the BNP.
“I remember how shocked people were when the first BNP councillor was elected in 1993. Things were really grim from 2002, first in Burnley and then in Barking and elsewhere. Two-thousand and six was their breakthrough with 33 councillors and strong results in another 80-plus wards.
“The BNP was cocky, it thought it was its time. But we fought them at every step.”
As Mr Lowles indicates, there are concerns that the downfall of the BNP is partly due to the rise of other far-right movements in the UK.
Figures released last month showed a big increase in the number of far-right referrals to the UK government's counter-extremism programme Prevent. Police also warned that they had foiled four major far-right terrorist plots in the past year.
One of the group’s thought to have aspirations to the BNP’s mantle on the far-right of UK fringe groups is Britain First. Although unsuccessful in elections, it managed to garner more than 2 million "likes" on Facebook before being banned from the social network this year.