Socialists in Britain had a pretty awful 2020, but it’s slightly heartening to note that the far right in the UK had a bad year too.
In some ways things look favourable for them. Millions of voters voted Tory without any particular love for that party in 2019, on the basis that a hard Brexit and Boris Johnson would deliver on jobs, reverse the decline of northern towns, restore national prestige to where it was in the 1950s, or reverse the UK’s cultural and ethnic diversity. None of that was ever going to happen.
Meanwhile the socialist left and the trade unions have been mostly on the back foot. But the far right have decided to hitch their wagons to two political dead ends.
One is the anti-lockdown and anti-vax movement. A plebeian far-right mass movement is not going to be built out of an alliance of new-age hippies, tin-foil-hat conspiracists, and arch-Thatcherites who suggest that our parents and grandparents dying is a price worth paying for the good of the economy.
The far-right might have made more on headway appealing for a much more authoritarian lockdown and trying to racialise issues around who gets the vaccine first. The police complain about being unable to deal the number of people wanting to shop their neighbours for often minor or imagined infractions of Covid guidelines. In any case, the far right isn’t appealing to that crowd.
The far right has also hitched itself to a culture war. That culture war is being led by upper-middle-class, middle-aged Spectator and Telegraph readers, and often focuses on institutions such people care about.
But opposing post-modernism in universities or diverse casting on TV is not great terrain for radicalising the self-employed ruined by Covid, bankrupted small business people, or squeezed workers.
Anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim elements of culture war might help the far right. But on the whole a culture war led by the likes of Laurence Fox, Toby Young, and Claire Fox is unlikely to help build a new street movement.
The far-right protests in London against Black Lives Matter were weak, and saw scuffles between various far-right groups.
Maybe the far right’s “brightest” hope is Farage’s attempt to refound the Brexit Party as the “Reform Party”, aiming to drag the Tories even further to the right on migration and cultural issues.
But so far Farage shows no ambition to act as anything beyond a ginger group for the Tories. His enterprise looks unlikely to interact directly with street fascists or to rally the far right. And even the ginger-group path looks a bit redundant when people like Priti Patel or Jacob Rees Mogg are in the Cabinet.
A number of fascists and far right figures said they joined the Tory Party in 2019 after Johnson became the leader. How many of them remain and how active they are seems to be a moot point.
Several Tory MPs have been caught meeting with the far right both in Britain and internationally. Daniel Kawczynski was at a international meeting early in 2020 with Matteo Salvini the leader of Italy’s far right La Lega party and others similar. Dehenna Davison MP was pictured with activists from the far right, including one who has expressed admiration for Hitler.
The greatest influence of the far right in Britain comes from the financial and political links between the British Tory right and governments influenced by the far right, like Viktor Orban’s in Hungary, Putin’s in Russia, Modi’s in India, Bolsonaro’s in Brazil.
The “Red-Brown” strand may expand. George Galloway’s “Workers Party of Britain” combines social demagogy, anti-migrant sentiment, class-struggle rhetoric, and nationalism, and still probably sees itself as on the left, even as it was willing to support Farage. Paul Embery, though feted by the right, sees himself as a dissident leftist rather then as a partisan of the right.
Over time such types of Red-Brown politics could harden into an integral part of the far-right ecosystem.
It looks like a revival for the more traditional far right will have to adapt to a more Red-Brown politics — welfarist, pro-nationalisation, with demagogy against the rich and corporations.
To combat that, the left and labour movement must provide the fighting opposition to this government that the “moderate” Labour leaders fail to give.
There is also an ideological fight. Working-class socialist political consciousness does not come about naturally as a result of life in capitalist society. It requires organisation and education, exposure to political ideas as well as involvement in struggle.