The leaked BNP membership list looks like being a story that is going to run for some time now – the epitome of the ‘gift that keeps on giving’ – and looks like saving us from having the media totally dominated by some fuss about a dancing competition on the TV.Â The whole circus is casting light on some neat ironies and the reactions are far more interesting than the leaked list itself.
The initial fuss was when the list was posted online on a blogspot/blogger site.Â Despite this being hosted in the US, it disappeared fairly quickly (opponents of Redwatch take note!).Â The irony of this is that, as posted on that site, the list was actually fairly useless.Â It was posted in 20 or more chunks by surname.Â Each chunk was a plain text series of names and addresses laid out in such a way that it was virtually impossible to do anything with it except look for a specific person.Â If that site had not been taken down far fewer people would have looked for, and found, the same list in a single text file, laid out in fixed-length columns and easy to import to a spreadsheet.Â Even better, they could have found the same data already in Microsoft Excel format.
I am sure that most interested parties are more interested in searching by location than by name.Â That would have been a laborious task on the original blogspot site, but a doddle with the spreadsheet so the rapid response to that original posting has led people to the same data in a much more dangerous format.
To anyone who has been even remotely involved in databases the structure of this data is as interesting as the data itself. The two formats it has been published in are very different.Â Presuming it was stolen in only one of the formats a lot of work went into converting it to the other one.Â I’m guessing it was an Excel file that was nicked: you could write a macro to generate a report that laid out the data in the other format – but why bother?Â As a spreadsheet or flat file it was much easier to use.
Also interesting, and leading to some questions from the Data Protection Registrar, is what types of information the BNP feel it is necessary to keep.Â More important to that, from a data protection point of view, is the fact that the database still contained records of ex-members.
From the clues in the list, it is a pretty crappy system they have, which is surprising given the BNP’s track record of very effective use of technology. There is a comments field that is used for multiple purposes – the bane of any database administrator’s life. Obviously the organisation is concentrating too much on ethnic cleansing to bother with some much-needed data cleansing.
As for the data itself, there is some debate about how up-to-date it is.Â The BNP spin doctors are being quite successful in putting across the idea that the whole lot dates back to last year and many newspaper stories are now quoting that as fact.Â However, if that is true you do have to wonder why there is a note against somebody in Coventry that says:
Was 15920 (04). 07 card lost: replacement sent 2/7/08
Note the past tense.Â It sort of suggests that the file was being actively updated as late as four months ago doesn’t it?Â Another note against somebody in Oxfordshire mentions that somebody who resigned in August 2005 was allowed to rejoin in February 2008.Â This not only reinforces the proof that this is not a copy of the database from last year but also implies that somebody who resigned still had their record in there after their resignation.
A further implication of this is that it helps to work out what the membership total really is.Â Nick Griffin had been talking up the membership figures and claiming some impressive numbers but this list has about 12,800 names on it.Â Â We have already seen that it includes past members as well as current ones so it is inflated in that way.Â BNP spokestwunts have been claiming that some names on the list don’t belong because they are not members, so take more off for that.Â Â There also seems to be a habit of Nazi parents enrolling children into the BNP (with their consent? with their knowledge? who know?).Â Make allowances for all that and you come to a number much lower than what Griffin has been telling the faithful and they are not happy about it.
One very specific example shows that not everybody on the list is a BNP supporter.Â Look carefully and you will see the name Ian Campbell on there.Â Ian Campbell was the Guardian journalist who went undercover, so I’m guessing he will not mind his name being quoted. The comments field notes:
Guardian plant (‘undercover’ report written for the Guardian 20/12/06. 07 renewal payment received 23/12/06
So…Â he published his story on Dec 20th.Â Three days later they received his payment for renewal?Â It doesn’t say whether they banked the cheque, but nearly two years later he is still on their records. Curious.
For me, it is the reactions, especially from the BNP that are most amusing and illuminating.Â Possibly the biggest irony is the BNP’s use of the Human Rights Act to get the information suppressed, when one of their policy platforms is a total opposition to the act, and possibly to the whole idea of human rights.
From the looks of it, this was very much an inside job.Â Apparently the membership list was a very closely-guarded secret.Â Even local groups only got heavily censored extracts from it: very few people would have had access to the whole lot.Â The BNP is not a happy party and has more internal strife than most parties, so it is not unimaginable that somebody at the top took a copy to cause trouble.Â And yet somehow Griffin still tries to suggest that this was a Labour party plot.
He said he had no problem with publication of members’ occupations but listing their names and addresses represented “a nasty piece of intimidation on behalf of the Labour regime”.
Or maybe he doesn’t.Â Very crafty use of words there – but that has been printed everywhere.Â Doubtless an attempt to appeal to the raving paranoia in the rank and file that caused many of them to join in the first place and persuade his mambers that the problem is not with his inability to keep any sort of harmony in the party – its all a dastardly plot.
The most illuminating aspect of the whole affair is the demonstration of how organised and disciplined the party is at one level.Â The leadership may be in disarray and trying to stab each other in the back, but the troops continue to carry out orders with frightening effectiveness.
This is demonstrated in two ways.
Firstly, study the leaked list a bit.Â You will find that members are in surprisingly short supply in some areas.Â For example, in Crawley, there are only 50 members – and that is assuming that every single Crawley name in there is not a lapsed member or unwittingly signed up child – with nearly half of them coming from just three neighbourhoods (Furnace Green, Pound Hill and Bewbush)Â In Broadfield there are only three members and yet the amount of stuff we get from them makes you think there must be dozensof them.Â It is the same with the Tories, except they make themselves look more numerous by throwing Lord Ashcroft’s money at it – the BNP largely depend on a few people being incredibly hard-working/committed/fanatical.Â Seeing the incredibly low membership numbers for them confirms what I suspected about them.
So the first demonstration is in the data, but the second is in the reaction to it.Â The BNP have always been good at orchestrated campaigns of disinformation on the Internet using multiple sock puppets.Â They obviously put out the word about what mesage they want to get across and then members (possibly using multiple alisases) bombard bulletin boards, blog comments, news sites comments, wiki discussion pages and any other channels they can find all saying more or less the same thing. The idea is two-fold: to get a particular idea or ideas repeated often enough that they register with the public and to make it look like there are more BNP supporters than there really are.
The irony here is that actually overdo it.Â One of their favourite devices in the past has been to have somebody say “I used to belong to Labour/Tory/Lib Dem party and I am really moderate but I got disillusioned and joined the BNP because they were the only party talking sense about [insert one of non-overtly racist policy topics here]”Â If one person says that it might be persuasive.Â If a couple say it you might start to wonder if they have a point.Â When dozens of them say it in loads of widely-different sites all using similar forms of words it just looks like an orchestrated letter-writing campaign.
Well that is what is happening now.Â Bulletin boards and the comments sections on blogs are quite busy right now but a couple of things crop up with unfeasible regularity:
- People claiming to be ex-BNP members and saying that the fact they are on the list ‘proves’ it is one or two years out-of-date.
- People claiming to have been receiving lots of threatening/abusive phone calls since publication
- People saying they are proud to be on the list, nothing to be ashamed of, etc.
Anyone would think that there were swarms of BNPers out there… but we now know that their membership probably amounts to an average of little more than a dozen per parliamentary constituency across the whole country.
For what it is worth, anybody who has ever stood for election or signed a candidate’s nomination papers can be easily traced.Â Certainly few people in Crawley who are interested in politics will be unfamiliar with the names Grice, Atkinson, Trower or Galloway. Their affiliations have been in the public domain for years yet I have heard nothing about harrassment campaigns. Why should that happen now?
Anyway, the whole thing just goes to show that it is not all doom and gloom in the papers all the time: sometimes there is top-quality entertainment too.Â The only dark cloud on the horizon at the moment is that the excellent Wikileaks site is unavailable because of overloading.Â I wonder why that could be…