August 25, 2011

Far-right activists unlikely to fade away

At last year’s general election, the far-right British National Party (BNP) were routed across the board. It was hailed as a knock-out blow to the country’s radical right-wing, to a brand of politics derided as intolerance in a suit. The BNP’s leader, Nick Griffin, lost out to Labour incumbent Margaret Hodge in the east London seat of Barking, and was dealt a frightful ear-bashing for his troubles.

“On behalf of all the people in Britain, we in Barking have not just beaten but we have smashed the attempt of extremist outsiders,” Hodge said after retaining her seat. “The message of Barking to the BNP is clear, get out and stay out. You are not wanted here and your vile politics have no place in British democracy.”

But events of recent weeks suggest that, although the BNP bogeyman may have been hobbled at the ballot box, the firebrands have not yet flamed out. Far from it. Two weeks ago, as the country was convulsed by riots, the English Defence League (EDL), a far-right ‘street protest movement’, seized on public outrage to reinforce its hardline anti-immigration stance. On September 3, another flashpoint looms, with the EDL planning a march through Tower Hamlets, organisers promising to take “our message into the heart of militant Islam within our own country”.

According to Matthew Goodwin, author of New British Fascism: The Rise Of The British National Party, there remains strong grassroots support for policies espoused by the BNP and its ilk, even if it has not been mobilised effectively.

“In Britain, we’ve never had an organisation that’s taken advantage of it, that’s presented itself as a modern, credible alternative – the BNP tried but failed miserably,” Goodwin says. “The traditional weakness in Britain is that these parties have shot themselves in the foot.“

According to Goodwin, the key driver of support for far-right parties like the BNP and, its apparent successor, the EDL, is opposition to immigration and the sense that the government is out of touch on this issue. In particular, though, those on the far-right are obsessed with the ‘cultural threat’ posed by Muslims, homegrown or otherwise.

“Even though the BNP is pretty much finished, the trends that fuelled its support remain in place,” Goodwin says. “That section of the public remains concerned about Muslim communities and the way they integrate and the way the major parties approach that.

“So while some people, especially on the left, were celebrating the failure of the BNP, I would be far more cautious because it’s not going to suddenly disappear. Where do all these ideologically committed activists go? Some of them are so committed that they won’t just withdraw, they won’t just decide that the time has passed. They’re more likely to conclude that direct action is the answer.”

The rise of anti-Islamic sentiment is not a peculiarly British phenomena. And, unavoidably, any discussion of its European counterpoints recalls Anders Breivik, who murdered 69 people in Norway last month. Breivik was a rabid Islamophobe who frequented hard-right websites and whose online manifesto fetishised a coming ‘clash of civilisations’. In discussing the resilience and ideological oomph of the British far-right, Goodwin ponders an uncomfortable hypothetical: what if Breivik had grown up in Leeds or Bradford or Birmingham, instead of Oslo?

“Breivik is not unique; the scale of violence was unique but his motivation was not unique. I must have sat down with 50 activists who talked about the same kind of direct action and the threat of Islam,” Goodwin says.

“So if Breivik was to implant himself in the British far-right or if there was a British equivalent, there’s no doubt the groups over here offer a climate for people like him and the frames to justify acts of violence.”

According to Goodwin, the internet and its seething miasma of hard-right proselytisation is a crucial factor in establishing these so-called frames – the fundamentals men like Breivik embrace, the prism through which they come to see the world.

“The internet enables the far-right to offer their view, their diagnosis with what’s wrong with the country, without interference from other media. It’s a process called ‘narrowcasting’, where people no longer tune in to BBC or CNN – they begin to get all their information from one forum, one source.

“These sites, like The Brussels Journal or the Gates Of Vienna, bring like-minded people together to exchange ideas and exchange tactics. The far-right has been one of the quickest movements to realise the potential of the internet.”

The robustness of this online community, broiling away in the corners of cyberspace, bolsters Goodwin’s conviction that, with or without the BNP, the sun is unlikely to set on these far-right groups any time soon; not unless governments can engage and ameliorate the grievances of those drawn to the right-wing fringe.

“I think the far-right will basically go in two directions,” Goodwin says. “You’ll have the organised parties who try to influence policy, but you’ll also have these groups, movements, lone wolves, who reject the ballot box, who come to the conclusion that the political parties haven’t made any progress. Where do those activists go? Do they just withdraw or do they adopt a more confrontational approach?”

TNT Magazine

Thanks to Greg for the heads-up


Anonymous said...

Islam had absolutely nothing to do with the cause of recent unrest in this country. It's as plain as the nose on your face. Analysis is one thing, barefaced lies are something else.

Greg said...


Anonymous said...

This article is welcome but states little that isn't obvious. Indeed the far-right embraced and used the potential of the internet far earlier and more effectively than the anti-racist movement. If you look at You Tube, one notable pro-BNP video has had nearly a MILLION hits, yet (Love Music Hate Racism notwithstanding), even after the major contest against the BNP specifically has been fought and (largely) won, Unite Against Fascism still doesn't even have an official You Tube channel, effectively abandoning a huge section of the internet to Nazi propagandists and leaving freelance anti-racists to plug the gap without any help from the established anti-racist groups

If you type "Unite Against Fascism" or "UAF" into the You Tube search window you get dozens of videos accusing anti-fascists of being "anti-British", "anti-democratic", "anti-free speech" (and far worse), but not one official UAF video explaining why they adopt a policy of No Platform. UAF's refusal to debate with Fascists is turning into a refusal to debate ABOUT Fascists, which has disastrous consequences for the public image of Anti-Fascism and leaves a field wide open for propagandists like the EDL to exploit. Hope not Hate's You Tube operation isn't much cop either.

Anonymous said...

I haave a lot of sympathy with his arguments. It is certainly important to keep up the fight against this sort of thing.
I think that the BNP got around 1% of the vote in the 1999 Euro-elections. So our objective must be to push them back down to that level next time.

That requires continued activity even where there is no BNP activity.

Anonymous said...

So here's no talk of all the smaller parties coming together, sidelining the BNP, and becoming one political forse then? Watch this space.

Anonymous said...

This article says what I have been saying all along. Beating down the BNP is not enough. We need to beat down the far-right IDEAS themselves. We need to make racism and Islamophobia as discredited as believing the Earth is flat. We don't need to waste time digging up dirt in the personal lives of the Flat Earth Society in order to prevent it from gaining ground, because everyone knows the idea is stupid. This is the kind of position we need to put the far-right into.

Fewer attacks on racists, more attacks on racism; that's how we will win.

ex BNP said...

The danger for the liberal / left is that the BNP did win the argument but had no electoral credibility.

One opinion poll after another suggests that the general public largely favours a far tougher line on immigration and a far more Eurosceptic stance than recent governments have delivered.

It will take some time but there will undoubtedly be another far right party, which may yet gain the electoral credibility which the BNP and the NF before it failed to achieve.

Huffing and puffing about the 'argument' is pointless. Just concentrate on the characters that emerge.

Anonymous said...

"the BNP did win the argument"

That's my point. We could have easily refuted them, but instead we chose to concentrate on BNP members. Let's not make the same mistake again.

"One opinion poll after another suggests that the general public largely favours a far tougher line on immigration"

As long as the debate about immigration is strictly about numbers, that's fine with me. But as soon as anyone starts arguing against immigration not on numerical grounds but on ethnocentric grounds, that's when we have to step in and refute them.