Curious George

It’s difficult to know quite what to make of the news that George Ashcroft, a Tory local election candidate in Telford, was at one time the Midlands regional organiser for the National Front, albeit that he was known in those days as Wayne Ashcroft.

Mmm… what is with Tories and changing their name to George?

For one thing, it seems to have taken the Tories rather a long time to uncover the connection between ‘George’ and ‘Wayne’ – not only has he been a member of the Conservative Party for five years, but unless there’s another Conservative activist named George Ashcroft in the town – and the electoral roll from Telford shows only two individuals of that name – the candidate formerly known as Wayne has stood, unsuccessfully, for election to the Borough Council as a Conservative on at least one previous occasion (2003); coming fourth of six behind two Labour candidates and an independent.

MADELEY [2]
David Davies Lab 826
Gillian Green Ind 728
Arnold England Lab 682
George Ashcroft C 533
Jeremy Haigh C 473
Patrick McCarthy Ind 438

And, as the BBC report notes, he is also currently a Conservative parish councillor in Madeley – as is evident from this set of Parish Council minutes from April 2006, which record his apologies for the meeting.

Once one becomes aware that George used to be Wayne, evidence of his past involvement in far-right politics is not difficult to come by, as in the case of this article on the subject of the National Front joining forces with the BNP, which dates from July 1998:

Wayne Ashcroft : We are undertaking discussions about unity with the British National Party. Keep an eye on us.

Englishmen advancing with new people and fresh ideas

LONDON – The National Front, once the arch-nemesis of communism, is making a startling comeback. Begun in the Eighties as a rebellion against alien immigration, The Front rapidly took on a pop-culture mystique in Britain. The infusion of Skinheads, who the press derided as “yobs” or hooligans, boosted The Front’s numbers and influence. Fronters battled Reds in the streets and came out bloodied, but triumphant. However, growing pains ensued. A staffer was discovered to be a homosexual. A bandleader quit in a row over money. Rivalries broke out between officials. The biggest schism took place over whether the group should adopt rehashing World War II or being active in modern-day politics.

As correspondent K. Schmidt observed, “Nationalists in Europe seem to make better use of their organizational skills. There is more urgency in their actions than in America.” The Front reached its pinnacle in 1989 when it hosted delegates from the English-speaking world and signed the New Atlantic Charter, pledging Anglo-American unity. Shortly after, Chairman Ian Anderson bolted to form the National Democrats, which tried to distance itself from the “rowdy” crowd that congregated in pubs and mixed it up with the Left in the streets. The lilly promptly lost its gilt. The rival British National Party took up the slack, even electing Deron Breckon to a city council post. But critics noted that the party seemed mired in ante-bellum issues and personality clashes.

Forced into Exile

Leading speakers Martin and Tina Wingfield left the country in disgust and took up residence in France, where The National Front of Jean LePen has made exceptional strides and now holds the balance of political power. Rising stars James and Paul Nash quit altogether, while Lady Birdwood, the most revered rightist activist in England, cut short her activism as she celebrated her ninety-second birthday. Enter Wayne Ashcroft, a youth fired from his job for opposing immigration, who is now organizing marches and demonstrations. “We are undertaking discussions about unity with the BNP,” he says. “Keep an eye on us.” Ashcoft credits The Front’s chairman, John McAuley, with making new strides. He, also, invites stalwarts to his annual meeting in October. Ashcroft has been beaten twice by immigrants, but remains undaunted.

And this from June 1999

Despite Hoax, Ashcroft Keeps Stiff Upper Lip

Combat-18 affair hurts National Front web site

LONDON – The long-suffering National Front, plagued by leader ship squabbles, a hoax and policy gaffes, has shut down its Internet site. Sys-op Wayne Ashcroft reported that his Directorate was hopelessly mired between the Old Guard, which resisted new technology, and younger members who championed newer, more activist, methods.

Ashcroft was repeatedly threatened with dismissal for conducting Internet broadcasts which criticized Front programs. His work was many all the more difficult by the leftist Tony Blair regime, which hauled rightists off to court for criticizing minorities and communists. Former youth leader Nick Griffin was convicted of violating the Race Law, but his summoning of Negroes in his defense further splintered his supporters, many of whom disdained any complicity with non-Englishmen. Departure of the talented Kelvin Sanderson, who directed overseas operations, took its toll, as well.

Shadowy Figure Looms

The Front was blamed for bombings which rocked alien neighborhoods. Reporters also put blame on Combat 18, a shadowy outfit some claim was launched by a man called “the Rabbi,” which had been vying to challenge the Front. By the time links to the Front were proven a hoax, many Fronters had quit.

Meanwhile, a key ally of the Front, the Freedom Front of South Africa, caved in to aboriginal violence and shut down. Many of its leaders joined the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, headed by Eugene Terre Blanche. Mark Cotterill, a Front organizer, moved to America where he has attempted some independent, anti-immigrant activity. The British National Party has reported gains, however, fielding a full slate of candidates for Parliament for the first time in its history. “I will keep working for the cause,” said a harried but undaunted Ashcroft.

Carroll Blackledge

All seemingly very damning, then.

I expect many of my regular readers may already making predictions about where this is going, and that I will shortly be getting around to lambasting the Tories in Telford for admitting a fascist ‘ringer’ into their midst – and they would be right…

…but only so far the bit about lambasting the Tories is concerned – Ashcroft, himself, may be a rather different matter.

You see, for all that there may appear to be a slight temporal discrepancy in Ashcroft’s account of his leaving the National Front; he says 1998, the article above was published in June 1999, (although is does appear on a US-based website and the story, itself, is undated, so it may be that this discrepancy rests with the website rather than Ashcroft), we are still talking about events which took place 8-9 years ago when he was 20-21 years old. He’s now 30 years old and much can change in the space of 8-9 years.

Before condemning Ashcroft for past misdemeanours, as local Tory leader, Andrew Eade, seems intent on doing:

The Telford and Wrekin Tory leader Andrew Eade told the BBC Politics Show that Mr Ashcroft should go.

The Conservative Party said it was investigating the matter.

…one should at least make some effort to ascertain whether Ashcroft is genuine in stating that he is ‘deeply ashamed’ of that period of his life and has moved on in his political views to something rather more moderate.

Yes, he has changed his name in the intervening period, and may well have not disclosed his past associations to his Conservative Association. That, if it is the case, may look a little suspicious, but it may also have been no more than necessary step taken in order to leave behind his past completely and make a fresh start – the earlier of the two articles above does suggest that his political views, at the time, cost him his job on at least one occasion. Ashcroft may well have taken the view that the stigma attached to his identity as Wayne the NF organiser made it impossible for him to get on with his life without a change of name.

Before condemning Ashcroft for his past, therefore, one should first make some effort to establish whether or not his views have changed in the intervening years, or have some evidence to show that they haven’t, and here’s where, if one takes the time to look, one comes across a rather curious thing.

In 2000, it appears that Wayne Ashcroft, as he then was, turned up at Warwick University’s library and deposited an archive consisting of 0.412 cubic metres of documentation relating his role as National Front organiser, covering a period from 1995-1999, plus an extensive range of far-right publications and literature dating back as far as 1939.

This archive includes a considerable number of private internal documents including internal correspondence, membership records, agendas and minutes of meetings and even two years worth of financial records – information that may well have been highly damaging to the NF at the time, not to mention that the mere act of placing this documentation in the public domain could easily have exposed Ashcroft to the risk of revenge attacks from the remaining members of the party.

Notes on the archive do, in addition, clear up the uncertainty as to the date of his departure from the National Front as the archive includes his letter of resignation from June 1998, although it does note that he remained involved to some degree in a revived Worcester branch until mid-1999 – the only documents in the archive that date to after his resignation are, however, merely newsletters and newspaper clippings, which does support the view that he was effectively out of the loop from 1998 onwards and operating only at the fringes of the movement.

This, to say the least, is a very unusual turn of events.

Its certainly not unknown for ex-members of far right group to go ‘walkabout’ with some of the paperwork on leaving due to falling out with their party, but it is very unusual for such documentation to then be deposited in a University library – the more usual use for such documentation is either for extracting a measure of revenge on former party ‘colleagues’ or to facilitate the formation of a breakaway party. However, so far as one can see, Ashcroft’s decision to deposit this documentation appears to mark a complete break with the far-right, there being nothing after this point to connect him, either as Wayne or George, with any far-right political activity until recent interest is his past surfaced in the last few days.

This does, therefore, seem to suggest that Ashcroft may be genuine is stating that he regrets his past association with, and involvement in, the National Front, in which case, given the amount of time that has lapsed, it would be unduly harsh of the Tories to hold his part against him out of nothing more than a bit of blatant electoral expedience.

Ashcroft’s past does, in the circumstances merit some investigation but, at the same time, his actions in 2000 in placing into the public domain, a substantial quantity of confidential documentation relating to the internal workings of the National Front would seem to count in his favour and support his contention that his political views have materially changed over the past 8-9 years. Only, I would argue, if evidence emerges either of a continued association with the far-right since joining the Conservative Party or that he continues to harbour unacceptably extreme views on questions of race and ethnicity – which may still not be the easiest determination for the Tory Party to make – would there be any justification for his removal as a Conservative candidate or, worse, his expulsion from the party.

The fair thing to do in this case, is to permit George the opportunity to give his side of the story and then allow the electorate to decide whether they believe that, on this occasion, a one-time leopard really has changed his spots.

Certainly, unless local Tories possess adverse information about Ashcroft’s character or behaviour since joining the party, information that is not, as yet, in the public domain, then the reaction of Andrew Eade, in calling for his removal as a candidate – and maybe even from the party as Eade is reported to have said only that Ashcroft ‘should go’ – smacks more of panic in the face of assumptions as to how news of Ashcroft’s past may impact on the party’s electoral prospects this week than of any intent to afford him a fair hearing. On that basis alone, and with Eade already having set himself up as a de facto judge, jury and executioner, I would hope that Conservative Central Office will step in, if they have not done so already, and afford Ashcroft a fair and unbiased hearing, especially when there is evidence, in the form of the documents given to Warwick University, to suggest that Ashcroft may have genuinely repented of his past political misdemeanours.

At the very least, Ashcroft is entitled to both to due process and to a fair hearing, for all that these concepts appear rather lost on Andrew Eade.

  • Nick Watson

    The story was broken on the BBC Politics Show in the West Midlands on Sunday. You can watch the programme again by following this link and clicking on Latest Programme. I have to declare an interest here as the programme’s producer.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/politics_show/6587859.stm

  • That’s a bit of a first – spammed by the Beeb…

    (I’m kidding of course).

    I’ll certainly give the programme a once over, although I will say that I’m not criticising the Beeb for breaking the story.

    Ashcroft’s past does raise questions that need to be asked – and answered, of course – and I’ll admit that I was more than a little surprised when I came across the archive at Warwick and realised the significance of its contents.

  • George Ashcroft

    A very fair and balanced assesment of the situation. In actual fact you will see from the programme that Andrew Eade did not call for me “to go” but rather that “It might be better for all concerned if Mr Ashcroft did not continue with his campaign”. A slight difference in wording but nevertheless significant. It is the case that I ceased to be involved with the far-right in 1998 and by 1999 I was out of the loop completely and by my own choice. Over the past 9 years or so I have made many friends in the Conservative Party and also in the Labour Party. All of whom have helped in my progress and development as a person and also with my political
    rehabilitation. I look back on my teenage political activity with a deep sense of regret-I will never get those years back. However, I have come to realise that racism is a poison and the harm that it can do to individuals and communities is very real indeed.

  • George:

    First, thanks for responding and I hope the adverse publicity this generated does not unduly affect your vote tomorrow – not that I’m wishing you success you understand (being a Labour Party member), simply a fair and honourable defeat in which your past history has not been a factor in the outcome. 🙂

    I would be lying if I said that when I started digging into this I did not expect to find information that would add a couple of knots to the rope, if not kick the chair out from under you altogether. Something about your name – back in the days when you were ‘Wayne’ – rang a bell, but I could not place quite what it was that got my ‘more to this than it seems’ bump going.

    So turning up the archive was rather a surprise to begin with (although it did jog my memory as to why your ‘name’ seemed familiar) – and I have been at the anti-fascist ‘game’ for a considerable number of years, so its significance was readily apparent no soon as I became aware of its contents.

    If one thing is becoming increasingly apparent in regards to your own party, it is that there is a significant and genuine will to leave behind the ‘nasty party’ appellation that does derive from a desire to move on, rather than cynical expediency. However its also clear that some of your members have yet to come to terms with the very different narrative understanding on race and ethnicity that this necessitates.

    The gaffes do continue, periodically, but seem to stem more from a little ignorance, naivity and lack of understanding of the issues than, for the most part, any serious intent and the tone of such errors is more ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ than ‘Rivers of Blood’ these days.

    My feeling is that if your party can look beyond matters of mere appearance and appreciate fully how significant a change in understanding you’ve undergone as part of your personal/political ‘rehabilitation’ then you may well be of considerable assistance in helping your party to construct and cement the new, inclusive, narrative it needs for the future.

    Rather than trying to duck the issue out of anxiety over possible electoral ramifications, your party may be better served by seeking to draw on your experiences to help it through this period of change. Slating your party for some of its members rather unenlightened views may well provide my own party with some measure of short-term electoral advantage, but in the long run its better for both politics and Britain if all our major parties can be free from the spectre of racism and racist attitudes, both because it allows us to debate issues like immigration and social cohesion in a measured and sensible fashion and because it further marginalises the extremists.

    All the best, George.

  • George Ashcroft

    Again, your assesment is an accurate one. Permit me to indulge in some argument. The pace of change in this country and abroad, in terms of technology, communications and the environment is such that both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party have to be at the fore-front of the debate as to how globalisation may be used to harness individual creativity and freedom across borders.

    How we in the UK are able to deal with and harness the increased challenges and also the opportunities that these developments afford. Both Conservatives and Labour increasingly recognise the responsibilities that we have in relation to bringing about prosperity and hope in developing nations whilst mindful of our collective responsibility towards our shared environment. I am certain that the re-modeling of the Conservative Party is taking place with many of these sentiments in mind.

    The full debate around the impact of globalisation is yet to unfold. The issues that it raises are in my view increasingly relevant to “ordinary people” at the local level. I have no doubt at all that the Conservative Party as a whole will become more relevant to that debate as a result of the changes that David Cameron and others have made. And that those changes enjoy widespread support within the party as a whole.

    The pace of change I feel is irresistable and I do not believe that this is a bad thing at all. The opportunities that we all enjoy in a modern society are a wonder to behold. In light of these obvious realities I have found the positions of the BNP to be increasingly irrelevant, discredited and even ludicrous when set against external and global challenges. Quite apart from the odious and pernicious racism that is central to their philosophy and the terrible effect that these sentiments have upon individuals and communities.

  • hi if this is george ashcroft my ols dance teacher i would realy lyk to get in touch with u i am sean wyllie lauras old partner conyact me please on onecut21@hotmail.com thanks x