Comments from an international lawyer:
1. I felt a weird sense of time lag while reading the letter from Mr. John Wadham, Chief Legal Officer of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The letter itself was written on 22 June 2009 soon after the BNP achieved two seats in the European Parliament. But what was Mr Wadham doing before that? Let us refresh our memory here.
The BNP is not represented in the British Parliament yet, but one can safely discern an alarming trend. In the 2005 UK general election, the BNP won 0.7% of the popular vote, which was the eighth largest share nationwide. From then on, it has steadily increased its share of the vote, finishing fifth in the 2008 London mayoral election with 5.2% of the popular vote.
This happened in London, the most urbane and cosmopolitan city of the nation, where Londoners successfully sent Mayoral candidate Richard Barnbrook to one of the London Assembly's 25 seats.
The BNP holds several metropolitian borough council seats at the moment, and now the latest election not only produced the BNP's first county council seats in Lancashire and Leicestershire, but also elected the BNP Chairman, Nick Griffin, from the North West region to the European Parliament together with Andrew Brons from Yorkshire and the Humber on 4 June 2009.
Mr. Wadham says the Equality and Human Rights Commission bears "primary responsibility" to discharge "a statutory duty (by virtue of Section 8 of the Equality Act 2006) to encourage good practice in relation to equality and diversity, to enforce the equality enactments and to work towards the elimination of unlawful discrimination."
This duty cannot have suddenly popped up after the last election results! The Commission itself was established, as Mr. Wadham says, under the Equality Act of 2006, but the BNP has been in existence since 1982.
It is understandable that the Commission must have been alarmed as the BNP, in Mr. Wadham's words, "has recently made successful gains for the first time in a national election. This has increased public interest and scrutiny."
Could this be a calculated understatement to play down the absence of a more vigorous performance of "a statutory duty" by the Commission to monitor the conduct and activities of the BNP? It is difficult to accept that "the Commission has received complaints from individuals about the BNP's constitution and membership criteria" simply as a result of the BNP's recent successful gains.
2. Now that the Commission has finally acted on behalf of all citizens, it is our duty to keep a close watch on the performance of the Commission in carrying out its "statutory duty" with respect to the Race Relations Act 1976, relating to:
1. The BNP's constitution and membership criteria;
2. The BNP's recruitment and employment policies, practices and procedures; and
3. The provision of services by elected officers to their constituents and/or members of the public.
On each of the areas concerns mentioned above, the Commission has made the following decisions, the implementation of which we have to keep vigil:
On the first item mentioned above, the Commission requires a written undertaking on behalf of the BNP:
- That the BNP will amend its constitution forthwith and in any event by no later than 1 October 2009 so as to ensure and to make transparent that it does not discriminate against potential or actual members on racial grounds; and
- That pending the adoption of the amended constitution, the BNP will not refuse membership to any individual on racial grounds.
On the second item, the Commission requires a written undertaking on behalf of the members of the BNP that the BNP will not discriminate contrary to the Race Relations Act in its employment and recruitment policies, procedures and practices.
On the third item, the Commission requires a written undertaking on behalf of the members of the BNP that the BNP will not discriminate on the grounds of race or colour in the provision of services to constituents and/or members of the public through or by its elected representatives or those acting on their behalf.
The Commission must receive all these undertakings from the BNP by 16:00 on 20th July 2009.
3. For the purposes of transparency and accountability, it is expected that the Commission will disclose to the public all the necessary information on the progress of compliance on the part of the BNP to the requirements listed above.