It may seem odd to those looking in that Britain, the country that stood for a while alone against Nazi Germany, a country whose supposed tolerance of immigrants is legendary and a country that has never been particularly attracted to the further poles of ideological extremity, should be host to an overtly racist party, the British National Party, which advocates compulsory repatriation.

But it is, and until today, this same British National Party (BNP) was a "white’s only party". In Germany the successors to the Nazi Party are banned, and in the United States, supporters of the Klu Kux Klan and other white supremacist groups are widely seen as belonging to the lunatic fringe. The British National Party, some 14,000 strong and performing strongly in local and European Parliament elections is entirely legal, and to growing numbers of Britons, quite respectable.

The reason why the leader of Britain’s band of fascists today accepted that Asians and Black Britons can now join – and don’t expect a stampede – is that the party found itself falling foul of the race discrimination laws. Given that there has been fairly strong anti discriminatory law on Britain’s statute books for some time, it seems strange that the law has taken so long to catch up with the BNP. But now that it has, there will be at least one individual sending in his cheque to join his white brothers and sisters, Mr Rajinder Singh, who bizarrely has already appeared in advertisements for the party. The BNP’s leader, Nick Griffin today declares “Now no one can accuse us of being a racist party – although I expect a trickle, rather than a flood” of non white members.

The BNP is rooted in a small but active, occasionally violent and vociferous tradition of English Fascism that first found its voice through former Labour politician, turned Nationalist, Oswald Mosley. His toothbrush moustache and squads of thuggish black shirts mirrored that of Hitler’s top lip and Ernst Rohm’s brown shirts respectively. They were to meet their physical denouement in the 1930s “battle of Cable Street”, in East London’s Jewish quarter, and were forced into abeyance by the Second World War. But there is something as persistent, as it is repelling, about British Fascism’s ability to re-group, through post war groupings such as the League of St George, Combat 18 and the National Front.

In whatever form the fascists have appeared they have acted more as provocative irritant than anything else, although those immigrants or sons and daughters of immigrants who have been on the sharp end of a fist or a broken window might beg to argue differently. Over the past decade however, the latest manifestation of British fascism, the British National Party, has begun to edge into the vacuum left by the shrinking of the Labour movement, and what is perceived as abandonment of Labour of its working class base. This has been coupled with a period of massive migration from Eastern and Central Europe, leaving the field wide open to those who hope to profit from a groundswell of popular discontent.

Ironically, the BNP’s acceptance today that it cannot bar non-white members, may well be the best thing that has happened to it in a long time. Not only will hardly any non-whites join, but the BNP will be able to claim that it is now non racist. Since even many racists tend to get angry when they are accused of being racists, this all confers further respectability on an extremist far Right party, and at a time when memories of war time Nazi atrocities are beginning to dim.

The BNP is on a roll in Britain today, and while it will not get anywhere near Government, it is working its way into the mainstream while maintaining its essential ideology. Expect to hear and read a lot more about Nick Griffin and his not so merry band of men in the months to come.