What’s Happening in the UK Far Right? July 29, 2011Posted by Garibaldy in British Politics.
The fact that Anders Breivik had links with the EDL has provoked a great deal of debate and discussion about the far right in the UK, including David Cameron ordering the security services to examine the far right in more detail. There had already been a lot of discussion caused not only by the EDL’s series of hate marches, but also by the BNP’s results in the last election and the ongoing bitter divisions within the organisation. Matthew Goodwin, academic author of a book on the BNP, concluded in the aftermath of the elections that the BNP as an electoral force was dead due to its failure to gain support from “women, young people, and more insecure members of the lower middle class”, unlike several counterparts abroad. That the BNP is finished has become a common perception, although others point out that the number of total votes the BNP received had not fallen a great deal, and that its electoral wipeout in Barking had more to do with the mobilisation of the Labour vote than any fall off in support for the BNP. They argue that it remains a real danger, and that complacency cannot be allowed to set in. With the problems besetting the BNP, attention has shifted towards the EDL. So where does all this leave the far right? – that’s the question being asked in in a Guardian podcast feature Matthew Godwin, the journalist Matthew Taylor who spent four months undercover inside the EDL, and Dan Hodges of Searchlight. I’m not sure there’s a lot of revelations in it, but it’s interesting to listen to.
Just this month, Nick Griffin was re-elected as head of the BNP for a four year term. The election, and the run up to it, revealed many of the problems the BNP is suffering from. This video, taken at a BNP meeting held in Brussels, revealed the extent of the split within the party, with its two MEPs at loggerheads, and a substantial proportion of the audience utterly hostile to Griffin. Adding to these tensions were rows over internal democracy, organisation, finance (including the influence of its main financial backer) as well as electoral results. And the equality commission’s success in making their whites-only membership rules illegal also stimulated discontent. The result of the recent leadership election show the toll these arguments have taken on the party. The leaked membership list of a couple of years ago suggested a membership of around 11,000. Just over 2,000 people voted in the leadership election, which Griffin won by just nine votes from his fellow MEP Andrew Brons. It’s clear the BNP hsa severe difficulties, but we should remember that these are problems it would have given its eyeteeth for ten years ago. It’s probably too early to write the BNP off completely the way some people have been doing, especially if Griffin is able to secure a tighter grip on the party, and focus efforts on holding his European seat. The question also remains of where its voters will go, and those people who appear to have dropped out. It’s likely that many voters will stick with the BNP, others will go to the UKIP or the Tories, or stop voting. I doubt myself for all the rhetoric that many Labour voters had switched to them. The activists are a different question.
This seems to be one the threats posed by the EDL. The decline of the BNP is likely to result in some people who had been prepared to give politics a go turn back to the traditional methods of the far right – street thuggery and intimidation (there might be a parallel here with some groups on our own island). And the EDL offers a vehicle for that. The fact that the EDL is peremeated by the culture of football hooliganism makes it a useful vehicle for such people, even if it has a smattering of ethnic minorities who are prepared to make common cause with neo-nazis due to their joint hatred of Islam or paranoia about sharia law. The chants that can be heard at the average EDL march are a mix of English football chants, (England til I die), the updating of some old classics (no surrender, no surrender, no surrender to the Taliban), and other Islamophobic material (Muslim bombers off our streets etc). However, the fact that the EDL can accomodate such diverse groups may hamper it becoming the vehicle the neo-nazis want it to be, and so they may drift off elsewhere. Again, it seems too early to say what’s going to happen.
Regarding the links between Breivik and the EDL, the group’s leader, Stephen Lennon, was interviewed on Newsnight. I thought he stuck to his script, and just kept going. Every time Paxman hit him with something, Lennon kept to his message, which included reading a part from Breivik’s manifesto that was critical of the EDL for being non-violent and naive. He did, however, warn that something similar might happen in the UK if “working class people” were denied the voice that the EDL was providing them, citing ASBOs served on himself and others that ban them from attending parades. Someone I spoke to thought Paxman had come out on top, but it seemed to me he was under-prepared (mixing up the EDL website with facebook for example) and seemed strangely reticient in the face of Lennon’s refusal to be moved off his script (judge for yourself here).
The participants in the Guardian podcast made the point that the Home Office has refused to classify the EDL as an extremist far-right organisation. The Breivik link has focused some media attention on whether the tolerance shown towards the EDL by the police and the political parties might allow it to flourish. Certainly the EDL leadership, as the Lennon interview showed, is keen to be seen as a democratic and peaceful organisation. However, the Hope Not Hate blog has already produced evidence that Lennon was being economical with the truth. The Labour Party in particular has a responsibility to put pressure on the government and the police to have the EDL treated differently. Its strategy of tension through street marches and provocation against Muslims must not be given the free rein it has been so far. To some extent, it is as dangerous as it is allowed to be.
The signs, then, seem to mixed regarding the far right’s future in the UK. It seems likely that it will be less prominent in mainstream politics, but there is a real danger that its presence in the streets will rise, which is why it is important that groups like the EDL are deprived of the tolerance being shown them by the right within the political establishment.
UPDATE: Meant also to raise the issue of the so-called lone wolf terrorist more. The UK has already seen deaths at the hands of one of these, David Copeland. There are, I think, also around 20 far right people in gaol for terrorist-linked offences – stockpiling explosives etc. It’s far from inconceivable that another one will emerge, probably targeting Muslims.