Last year, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) initiated County Court proceedings against the British National Party. The premise for the case was that "the terms on which the BNP admit persons to membership is in breach of the Race Relations Act because it discriminates against persons on the grounds of race."
In response, the BNP announced a "General Emergency Meeting" to "discuss the party’s membership criteria." As I wrote at the time, claims that this amounted to an "outflanking" of the CEHR rang hollow, especially as they flew in the face of earlier claims that "the British National Party doesn't throw in towels," and desperate pleas for cash in order to fight the case to the bitter end. This did not go down well with nationalists, the case fanning the flames of factionalism and giving dissident groups plenty of ammunition against BNP leader Nick Griffin.
Now, though, it emerges that Griffin may not have surrendered quite quick enough. According to the Times, Griffin "could be jailed over its illegal “whites only” membership policy" as it is believed he "will be unable to comply in time with a court order forcing him to change the BNP’s constitution to admit Asians, blacks and members of other ethnic minorities." The paper notes that this "could paralyse the right-wing party at a time when many at Westminster believe it is on the verge of winning its first seat in parliament with the support of disillusioned former Labour and Tory voters."
However, there is much more than the BNP's electoral fortunes at stake here.
Of course, I utterly despise the BNP. They are reactionaries and fascists, and attempts to gain political power and put their ideology into practice should be met with fierce resistance. That is why militant antifascism exists, and the people of Britain should not be shy of using direct action to stop the BNP from putting their ideas into practice.
However, although antifascism is an end in itself, it is also a part of class struggle. It is emphatically not a defence of the status quo, and should not be conducted in league with the state.
As such, having the state decide what can and what cannot function as a political party is a dangerous precedent. Although the BNP offers them a convenient excuse to enact such a policy, they would be far from the only target. As experience with both the police and the intelligence services should show, the "domestic extremists" of the radical left are always far more of a concern to those in power. Reactionary movements such as fascism can be used to serve propaganda needs, and even the physical suppression of dissent, whilst genuine radicalism threatens established power.
As Greg, who writes at The Anti-Politician, tells me from his experience living abroad;
This kind of tactic happens in Thailand all the time. Using the courts as a weapon is what started all the riots last year. Thailand is looked upon as an immature democracy and in turn, they look on the UK as a model for mature democracy. By imitating Thailand, we're putting ourselves to shame.
It is not yet clear what will actually happen and how much the potential consequences for Nick griffin have been exaggerated by media bluster. However, given that what we are witnessing is state suppression of rival interests, I would caution antifascists against seeing any kind of "victory" in this event.