On 14 July the combined forces of the far right will once again march in London in support of the imprisoned far-right “journalist”, and former leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson.
On 9 June, this far right — the Democratic Football Lads Alliances, For Britain and other groups — managed to mobilise up to 15,000 people to a rally in Whitehall. There is no guarantee this loose alliance will be able get the same numbers this time, but they should not be underestimated. The left, labour and anti-fascist movements need to pull out all the stops to build a strong opposing force on the streets of London on 14 July.
In previous periods of intense far right activity, which never brought such numbers onto the streets, the opposition managed to bring out thousands to oppose them. However, over recent years the labour movement has outsourced “anti-racist” activity to groups like Unite Against Fascism, and more recently Stand Up To Racism, and consequently has forgotten the necessity of independent mobilisations and campaigning.
In addition, the Socialist Workers Party, who run SUTR and UAF, no longer have the capacity to bring out the numbers they once did.
The mobilisations on 6 May and 9 June led by these groups were very weak in comparison to the thousands that were brought out against the EDL at their height in Leeds, Bradford and Bolton. This new movement has deliberately chosen to gather in Whitehall in central London, away from local communities and town centres. That also makes mobilisation against them more difficult.
It is the responsibility of the left and labour movement to make its own efforts to bring people onto the streets — and in numbers. The Labour Party has over 500,000 members, a huge potential force. Local branches and constituency Labour Parties could turn themselves into hubs of activity to oppose the far right. This would involve mobilising for the demonstrations and also campaigning for positive alternatives to the social discontent the far right feed on. Trade union branches can do the same.
Unlike the BNP and EDL the new far right, in focussing on Tommy Robinson’s imprisonment for contempt of court, is using the banner of free speech, railing against the establishment for colluding to destroy British and western values. For example UKIP leader and MEP Gerard Batten has spoken of wealthy foreign financiers who are trying to undermine these values. This new far right openly embraces conspiracy theories and fake news. The antisemitic undertone of the propaganda is becoming more prominent, alongside anti-Muslim bigotry.
UKIP are trying to position themselves as a political expression of this movement. Under Nigel Farage, the Party dissociated itself from the organised far-right, banning membership for anyone who had previously been in the EDL or BNP. That would have excluded Tommy Robinson, but UKIP are now very keen to support him.
Now that Brexit has officially been “won” and apparently (if not in reality) is about to be delivered by the political establishment, UKIP have struggled to find their political place. Electorally they are in steep decline. Under Batten UKIP have taken a sharp turn to the right.
Since 9 June UKIP have had an influx of alt-right members who want to consolidate the right wing turn. YouTube figures like Count Dankula (Mark Meechan) and Sargon of Akkad (Carl Benjamin), as well as Milo Yiannopoulos and Paul Joseph Watson, want to establish a secure foothold for their ideas in the UK. Some have chosen UKIP as a vehicle.
The rise of far-right populism cannot be disentangled from the rise of Trump and Brexit. Trump’s election, the early prominence of alt-right figure Steve Bannon and the apparent neutrality of the White House on the fascist and white-nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville, have emboldened the far-right across the US and Europe.
US Republican senators have raised the “Free Tommy” campaign in the Senate; there have been demonstrations in support of him across Europe from France to Hungary.
While Brexit is not the main point of these demonstrations, the far right’s new confidence is certainly linked to the Brexit vote. For some Leave voters the vote represented a kick back against multiculturalism and freedom of movement. It is no coincidence that hate crimes have risen since Brexit. While the targets of much of far right rhetoric are Muslims (only a small proportion of whom would be affected by changes to freedom of movement from the EU), the aspiration to a less diverse Britain is quite clear.
The labour movement must oppose the far right politically and not just with force. In the first place we must undermine the roots of racism and xenophobia by taking on people’s “concerns” about migration and proposing instead working-class unity and a labour movement that fights to win.
The labour movement needs positive demands. We should be unashamedly for freedom of movement and for stopping Brexit.
In place of austerity and cuts we propose a mass campaign of council house building by a Labour government, maximum rents in the private sector, and substantial rises in funding for schools, the NHS and other local services, all of which have been decimated by coalition and Tory cuts since 2010.
For more information on the demonstrations in Leeds and Wakefield see here