The Board of Deputies has launched a nationwide campaign to stop the British National Party from winning seats in June’s European elections.
The growing threat posed by the far-right party was highlighted by the Board’s anti-racism co-ordinator Ruth Smeeth, who told a plenary meeting in Oxford on Sunday: “BNP leader Nick Griffin could be representing the Manchester Jewish community in Europe.”
Board president Henry Grunwald left deputies in no doubt about his feelings, saying: “If you don’t do something about this, then you might as well not bother to come back as deputies.”
Over the next month, under the slogan Your Voice or Theirs, the Board will distribute 1,000 special kits containing posters, leaflets and balloons, to help get people out to vote for a mainstream party.
Previous elections have shown that a high turn-out usually means defeat for the extreme right-wing party, which will be putting up candidates for every European seat.
The Board has identified the three areas most at risk of returning a BNP MEP as those with the biggest Jewish populations — the North West, where party leader Nick Griffin will be standing; London; and the South East.
In the South East, where 10 seats are up for election, the BNP needs only 7.5 per cent of the vote to win a seat and only 8.5 per cent in the other two areas.
Every MEP receives £250,000 and the suspicion is that much of that will be funnelled back to party headquarters to fund other campaigns.
Ms Smeeth gave deputies a sombre briefing about just how successful the BNP could be in Europe — and how that success will be used as a springboard for a future UK general election.
She warned that voters should not be taken in by the party’s charm offensive or its attempts to convince people that it is no longer antisemitic.
Griffin even gave an interview to Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper.
“The BNP has one councillor in Epping, Patricia Richardson, who says she is Jewish and who appeared on every single piece of literature they published. During the Gaza conflict, Nick Griffin issued a statement supposedly supporting Israel. On the last weekend before the London Assembly elections, we know Richard Barnbrook’s campaign workers were knocking on the doors of Jewish homes in Edgware, Golders Green and Finchley — but they didn’t get a very positive response.”
Mr Barnbrook was elected to the London Assembly.
Ms Smeeth added: “They are still the fascists we know them to be — they have not changed. I was getting worried because they were toning down their rhetoric so much. But they still claimed that they failed to get more seats in the London Assembly because Jews control the media.”
Ms Smeeth said predictions were that the party would poll more than one million votes, up from its total of 808,000 in 2004. “We expected them to do very well even before the economic problems started. Now they could get more than 10 per cent of the overall vote,” she said.
In 2004, Nick Griffin also stood for the North West constituency, but failed to be elected because he effectively abandoned his own campaign to support others. This time, according to Ms Smeeth, he will be concentrating on making sure he is elected. If he is, he will waste no time in developing the party’s contacts with extremist groups across Europe.
Last October, Griffin took up invitations to visit Hungary’s right-wing Jobbik Party, and the Czech Republic.
If he wins a North West seat, say observers, he is likely to try re-establish the pan-European parliamentary alliance of right-wing groups that collapsed two years ago when five Romanians walked out, leaving the group short of the number of seats it needed to sit as a parliamentary bloc.
The Board’s initiative received immediate support from the United Synagogue, whose president Simon Hochhauser, also a Jewish Leadership Council executive member, urged council representatives to get members of their local congregation to vote. Gerry Gable, founder and former editor of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, said: “This should be taken very seriously indeed. The BNP is still a relatively small organisation but it has been raising thousands of pounds since last year for this campaign. It is trying to make itself look like a genuine national organisation.
“The answer is to mobilise a huge amount of voters to make it impossible for the party to cross that threshold.”