Hounslow councillor Phil Andrews
He describes Nick Griffin as his 'old mucker', led a facist movement for more than a decade and has a conviction for assaulting a police officer. Former National Front leader Phil Andrews, who is now a Hounslow Councillor, talks BNP, racism and his shameful past with ED SAUNT.
Phil Andrews is an affable and popular councillor with a wife, two young children and reputation for speaking up for his constituents.
Yet his new life as a community-spirited family man sits in stark contrast with his murky past of racism and violence as a ringleader of the National Front.
The 48-year-old, who represents Isleworth, is quite frank when talking of his shame at his past but, while he now denounces the ideology of the far right, for some people – including MPs Ann and Alan Keen – the damage has already been done.
Councillor Andrews was born in Isleworth and attended Isleworth Grammar School. His father owned a window cleaning business and he had a comparatively normal childhood, yet by the age of 16 he was involved with a radical wing of the National Front that believed a nationalist revolution was essential to the future of Britain. They used violence to put forward their message and in 1987 Councillor Andrews was jailed for assaulting a police officer.
You were a member of the National Front between 1977 and 1989. Were you a racist person?
Odd though it may sound I don't believe I was a racist when I joined the National Front. It was more a case that I was fascinated by some of the more superficial trappings of fascism. However, I could not have remained a member of such an organisation for as long as I did without taking racist views on board and, although I didn't consider them racist at the time, I would certainly say in retrospect that the views I held during my time as a member of the NF were racist.
Are you ashamed of this period of your life?
Indescribably so. However, I do feel that my experiences as a leading fascist over such a long period of time, although I regret them, leave me uniquely placed to work against racism and the BNP today.
In 1986/7 you spent some time in prison - are you ashamed of this?
Although I am ashamed of my activities generally during my time as a far-right activist I maintain my innocence of the particular charge which resulted in my imprisonment in 1986.
Do you feel you deserved to be jailed?
Not for the charge made against me, which was false. However, during that period of my life I did a lot of bad things which could easily have resulted quite reasonably in my being imprisoned so I am quite philosophical about the whole thing.
Since forming the Isleworth Community Group you have denounced far right parties and racism. What was it that changed your views?
I actually denounced far right parties and racism before I helped form the ICG. There was no one incident leading to a Damascene conversion as has been the case with some others.
Basically during the 1980s I became increasingly interested in community politics, first as a cynical means to an end and later in its own right.
For some years I tried to reconcile my far-right views with my increasingly genuine commitment to the community but, after a time, the conflict which was inherent between the two became more and more obvious to me. I came to see the whole community as being something to which I belonged and wanted to defend rather than just those members of it who were of my race.
Do you think it is truly possible to change from such a radical viewpoint?
Why not, when such a viewpoint is so fundamentally wrong? When I ceased to be involved with the far-right I had just turned thirty. At the same age Benito Mussolini and Sir Oswald Mosley, who both for all their faults were highly intelligent men, were socialists. And yet is there anybody who would seriously question the authenticity of their subsequent conversion to fascism?
If it is possible for intelligent people to change radically for the worse at such an age, why is it so difficult to believe that somebody could finally wise up and change for the better?
Do you think people believe you have changed?
I guess it depends on which people you are referring to. My family know I have changed. My colleagues know I've changed. Most of my constituents know I have changed.
For anybody who genuinely believes that it is not possible for a person to see sense and abandon the politics of hate for something more positive and agreeable, or who believes that membership of such an inhuman party or adherence to such a perverse ideology can never be forgiven, I have sincere respect.
You have described BNP leader Nick Griffin as your 'old mucker' - did you once consider him a friend? How closely did you work with him at the NF?
Yes. Nick Griffin was a fellow member of the NF's National Directorate and he and I worked closely and I believe got along well together. I regarded him as more level-headed than most of the other NF leaders.
When did you first meet him and what was your impression of him then?
It would have been either late 1977 or early 1978, probably 1977. He was, at the time, the NF's Student Organiser. He came across as intelligent and I guess I looked up to him a little, although I wasn't overwhelmed by him. I also came to know him as somebody who was potentially very changeable, who could flit seamlessly from believing in one idea to another. In retrospect this would appear to have been sound judgement, even if I must say so myself.
What did you think of his appearance on Question Time last week?
I have to admit I've not seen it yet as I was at a meeting on the night and went off on holiday for the weekend the day afterwards. But the consensus seems to be that he fared rather badly.
Do you think inviting him on the show was the best way to tackle the BNP?
No I don't, and, to be honest, I don't think that tackling the BNP was the intention. If he had performed well it would have been a terrible own goal. And even though he performed badly there will be a view held by many that he was the victim. He will also prolong the publicity with his complaint against the treatment he received.
This was really always going to be a win-win for Griffin and the BNP. His very presence meant the BNP was being accepted into the mainstream and the BBC ought to have known better.
He, like you, claims to have changed his views. Do you think he has?
I don't think you are comparing like with like. He has consistently changed his views within the context of the far-right and I see no reason to doubt the sincerity of this. I, myself, was doing it all the time during my own time as a far-right activist.
But my views have changed very fundamentally - from hardline racist to unconditional anti-racist - whereas any change of his is simply a matter of degree. I've no way of knowing whether he has genuinely rejected his previously held views on the Holocaust, for instance, because I no longer know the man and haven't seen him nor spoken to him for eighteen years. But his apparent conversion to a comparatively more democratic outlook smacks to me of being tactical, in much the same way as was that of National Front leaders in the 1970s.
Do you appreciate that to many people you and he will be thought to be merely showing a facade of decency to mask your underlying racist views?
Again you are making an unreasonable comparison. Taking him at his word, Griffin has changed from wanting non-white people to leave the country by force to wanting them to leave by persuasion. He still wants them to leave, his is still a very fundamentally racist viewpoint.
I am a passionate defender of the multi-ethnic society and strive to promote cohesion in a vibrant multi-racial society. I oppose all forms of racism unreservedly. There is nothing close to being a comparison between any change on Griffin's part and my own journey.
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